BIG RAPIDS — As it is every year at this time, the rest area off of U.S. 131, south of Big Rapids, was a busy place.

The DNR set up its check station for all day Wednesday and Thursday. Successful deer hunters from anywhere were encouraged to bring in their deer to allow DNR biologists, technicians and volunteers to examine the age and health of each one.

“We age the animal by its teeth,” DNR wildlife technician James Miller, who works out of the Paris office, said. “We look at the teeth wear on it. We measure the diameter of the antler beams. We tell how many points it is. What we’re looking at is to collect the biological data of the animal.”

Miller examine the teeth structure of one deer and determined that was  2 1/2 years old. He was able to tell that “not by the number of teeth, but by the tooth wear,” he said. “When they’re a fawn or a year and a half old, they’ll have what they call a milk tooth or a brand new tooth coming in. From that point on, deer have pretty specific patterns on how their teeth wear flat and depending on how far down it is and how much wear it is.”

Miller and his co-workers saw some unusual bucks Wednesday and Thursday.

“We had one with interesting drop tines, a 6-pointer on Wednesday,” he said. “One whole side of its rack was facing downward. We had a couple of nice dandies come though. For the most part, it’s an average year.”

Successful hunters, including Tyler Havenaar of Plainwell, received a patch from the DNR. He shot it in northern Lake County on Wednesday night. 

“It was getting toward the end of the night, gun shots went off and all of a sudden it was quiet,” Havenaar said. “He came sneaking up on me, looked down and was 30 yards from me, sniffing around broadside. I lined him up and took the shot. He led me on a wild goose chase. He ran 200 yards zig-zagging through pine trees. But we found it.”

Hunters battle fog early Tuesday morning on opening day while temperatures were warmer than usual.

Kailing speculated that the total numbers of deer would be close to 275 or higher at the end of the second day.

“That’s an average number,” DNR wildlife biologist Pete Kailing said of the number of deer brought to the station.  “Right now it’s just the beginning of the season. It has been 20 degrees above average in air temperature. Deer don’t like to move in that kind of heat.”

Two Ferris State University classes, with instructor Scott Herron, attended the check station on Thursday.

“They’re education majors who have an interest in biology and ecology,” Kailing said. ‘It’s a lab experience for them.”

Herron teaches integrated ecology offered throughout the biology department.

“We are looking at how the DNR manages deer population by doing deer checks,” he said. “I’ve had my students down in Lansing to the DNR disease lab. They’ve looked at the front end to how the DNR manages wildlife disease.”