By ALEX MITCHELL
Capital News Service
LANSING—Despite declining deer hunting numbers in Michigan over the past few years, Michigan meat processors say 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 that he could not comment on this season’s business since it’s not over. However, he has noticed an increase in bow hunting over 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 may not be suffering losses, but Michigan hunters say they are noticing declining numbers of hunters every year.
“Numbers are definitely down,” said Cody Foley, a Blissfield resident and avid deer hunter.
The Department of Natural Resources said that fewer people hunting is a national trend, not one unique to Michigan.
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 10- and 11-year-olds to hunt with firearms under supervision 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 can only hunt private land. If the hunter has earned a hunter’s safety certificate, they must be accompanied by someone 18 or older. If the hunter only has an apprentice license, they must have an adult 21 or older with them.
“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.”
Foley said he began legally hunting at 12 when he completed his hunter’s safety course.
“I think it is a good idea,” he said concerning the law change. “Obviously the law is going to help get more people out.”
However, he did pose some concerns despite having started at a young age himself.
“Ten is almost too young. We need to make sure these kids are well trained if they are going to be using firearms.”
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By ALEX MITCHELL