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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Deer processing remains steady as hunting declines

Despite declining deer hunting numbers in Michigan during the past few years, Michigan meat processors said their businesses have not been affected.

In 2010, Michigan hunters harvested almost 418,000 deer, a decline of 6 percent from 2009, according to a report compiled by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

About 656,500 people hunted deer last year, a decline of 4 percent from the previous year. There were an estimated 1.7 million deer in the herd last year.

But according to Rod Dejonge, owner of Blue Star Meats in Holland, after a dip six years ago, things have been business as usual for the past few seasons.

“I would say there is a big difference from six years ago, but not in the last five,” Dejonge said. “Numbers were higher then, but it has been pretty consistent over the past five years.”

Dejonge said he could not comment on this season’s business yet, since it is not over. However, he has noticed an increase in bow hunting during the past few years.

“Bow season was better last year,” he said. “I think a lot of that can be contributed to lifting the ban on baiting deer.”

Richard Rodibaugh, who helps his brother at Mike’s Deer Processing in Allendale, agreed with Dejonge.

“Our numbers have been about the same for a few years now,” Rodibaugh said. “We had a little decrease about four years ago, but since then, our numbers have stayed about the same.”

Meat processors might not be suffering losses, but Michigan hunters said they are noticing declining numbers of hunters every year.

“Numbers are definitely down,” said Cody Foley, a Blissfield resident and avid deer hunter.

Fewer people hunting is a national trend, not one unique to Michigan, according to the DNR.

Hunting numbers are down for several reasons, said Mary Dettloff, press secretary for the department.

“We have had population loss as well as an aging population,” she said. “Some people lack the time because of work and family.”

Foley blames the economy.

“I mean, it is an expensive sport,” he said. “Number one, hunting for a lot of people is definitely a middle class sport. Since our economy is bad, middle class people often cannot afford to miss a day of work, especially since opening day this year was on a weekday.”

Michigan is looking to increase hunting numbers by allowing supervised 10- and 11-year-olds to hunt with firearms for the first time this year.

Previously, hunters had to be 12 to bow hunt and 14 to hunt with firearms.

Young hunters must have a firearms deer license or antlerless deer license in order to hunt and only can hunt on private land. If the hunter has earned a hunter’s safety certificate, he or she must be accompanied by someone 18 or older. If the hunter has only an apprentice license, the supervising adult must be 21 or older.

“We are trying to recruit more youth hunters,” Dettloff said. “There is very stiff competition for their time with things like video games and parents wanting their kids to get involved in organized sports.”
By Alex Mitchell

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