Were the bucks bigger back when?
Every November people flock to the northern Michigan woods for a shot at a nice deer. For some families, hunting is a tradition passed down from their ancestors who first settled in the area.
Prior to settlement, elk were more common in the forests of Northern Michigan and deer were sparsely found. In contrast, deer inhabited southern Michigan where more hardwoods, wetlands and meadows filled the expanse of land until settlement and unregulated hunting diminished the numbers.
Deer in the northern part of Michigan didn’t become plentiful until settlements sprang up and the forests were logged. When this area was so thick with forests the sun hardly reached the forest floor, thus there was not sufficient food for deer to flourish, according to Michigan DNR on-line article, “Deer Management History in Michigan.” The logging created more young forests, brush and openings for the deer to thrive.
The deer of Northern Michigan reached an estimated 1 million in the 1880s. This abundant number of deer was liberally used for large lumber camps that would rely on venison for months.
The advancement of the railroad in the area also brought with it commercial hunters who would kill hundreds and thousands of deer to ship to the eastern market for venison and sometimes just for the hides, according to “Deer Management History in Michigan.” This became such an issue that in 1881, a bill passed to make it illegal to sell game out of state.
Over time other regulations such as bag limits, designated seasons and use of a deer license came into effect. To regulate deer and repopulate their numbers, certain counties in Michigan would close seasons from three to 10 years. By 1925, the designated hunting season still in place, Nov. 15 through Nov. 30, was established.
From 1903 to 1908 Lake County had a closed season. By 1908, when hunting reopened, the Chase Items in the Reed City Clarion told, “A bunch of the Chase boys went to the woods on Friday for a big hu
nt. Word has been received that they have killed three deer. They are camped south of Nirvana.”
The following week it was reported, “The hunting squad from here returned home on Wednesday, bringing with them four fine deer, which was very good. They went up to the woods on Friday before, none of them having ever shot at a deer before. Their names are withheld by request.”
Old issues of the Lake County Star gave insight on the deer hunting in the 1870s. One issue from 1873 told, “A. S. Randall last week killed a deer that weighed when dressed 196 pounds. Mr. Oviatt killed one near the same spot that weight 213 pounds.”
The Nov. 28, 1877 issue reported, “Peter Dewress and John Mench had a hunt last Saturday and captured a 200-pound buck. Our thanks are due Peter for a generous slice.”
Some people were able to get numerous deer, as reported in the Nov. 25, 1875, issue of the Star, “T. Ball has killed 12 deer so far this fall.”
An account from the Chase Items in a 1878 edition of the Star reported, “The Indians are going for the deer. A party of five who have been here for the past few days have killed and brought in 10. Last week at Norway, two Indians killed six deer in one day.”
“Gus Monbray says he has had pretty good luck so far this fall hunting and claims to have slaughtered 36 deer and 3 bears,” according to the Lake County Star.
Some people from out of the area also had success, “William Monroe, of Grandville, Kent County, killed 32 deer during a seven or eight week hunt up on the Sauble northwest of Baldwin.” Nov. 29, 1883, Lake County Star.
“It would seem that more deer are being slaughtered this fall than at any previous season. We hear of one party of hunters from Indiana having killed 23 and another party three of Michigan hunters who have killed 10,” according to the Lake County Star.