American hunter | The gateway to the ‘Yooper’ deer
If analysts monitor everything consistently over the years, they will eventually collect enough data to review trends or dispel guesswork, be it about deer killing or the effects of COVID-19 on travel.
Good numbers tell good stories. Take a look at the Mackinac Bridge: The Mighty Mac is the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere, spanning the 8 km wide Strait of Mackinac between Lakes Michigan and Huron and connecting Lower Michigan with its Upper Peninsula.
Every November since the Great Bridge opened in 1957, an army of hunters has moved north across the strait to go to the UP Wildcamps to hunt “Yooper” deer from Bessemer to Sault Ste. Marie. Likewise, the toll workers on the Mighty Mac diligently counted every deer that the hunters had dragged home on their way home in the past 62 rehabilitation seasons.
Every deer hunter dragged home across the Mackinac Bridge since 1957 was entered in the bridge’s box.
Although the deer measurement of the bridge at the end of November is considered “informal” according to scientific standards, the toll workers dutifully ask all drivers of vehicles heading south how many deer they are transporting. And to make sure these numbers are not forgotten, the Mackinac Bridge Authority keeps these annual counts in their historical logs.
Charts and graphics based on the toll workers’ annual deer counts agree consistently well with the scientifically calculated harvest estimates of the UP. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources calculates these estimates shortly after the hunting season.
Consistent trend data
Of course, the annual harvest estimates of the DNR always show higher numbers than the bridge counts. For example, in 2019 the number of bridges decreased 21 percent from 2018, but the DNR estimated that the harvest was only 5 percent lower. Because many roads lead to UP deer camps. Thousands of UP deer hunters live in this remote region, and non-residents can travel to the UP from across northern Wisconsin.
Still, the number of bridges consistently reflects the gun season’s harvest trends, which increase in good years and decrease in bad years. In general, the November bridge count will confirm the decline when the UP winter weather is severe and harms the herd.
These trend indicators have been particularly accurate since the early 1990s when the Michigan DNR refined its calculations and estimates by incorporating deer hunting data from a variety of surveys, including reports of deer camps, voluntary checkpoints, and field inspections by conservationists – while also taking into account hunting conditions, the season snowfall, reports of deer activity, and the timing of Thanksgiving.
The Michigan DNR also looks at the Mackinac Bridge data, but it’s an exaggeration to say the agency’s biologists use these numbers to calculate the herd size and harvest for the November gun season. “Our statisticians certainly look at the bridge count and keep it in mind for our early harvest forecasts, but it’s just one of many sources we check,” said Terry Minzey, the Michigan DNR’s regional wildlife overseer at the UP
The bridge’s indicators of annual dead deer crossings may not be on point, but they do carry some weight with analysts. After all, they already have 62 years of uninterrupted data collection and a uniform counting method: handheld clickers.
ups and downs
Since the bridge opened in 1957, toll collectors have hit their clickers 420,204 times, an average of 6,777.5 deer per year. The highest number was in 1995 when hunters dragged 18,887 deer across the bridge. The third highest number came shortly afterwards in 2000 when 14,445 made that trip.
That was two of only nine years in the bridge’s history when the deer number exceeded 10,000, and it has not flirted with that level since. In fact, 35,113 deer passes, or an annual average of 3,511, have been recorded in the last decade. These are the lowest numbers since the 1970s. The record low was reached in 2015 with 1,500 deer.
The number of “Yooper” deer captured by hunters in 1995 and 2000 exceeded 10,000 each year. However, only 35,113 hunters have reported deer in the past decade. The average of 3,511 deer per year is the lowest since the 1970s. Image: Brian Frawley / Michigan DNR.
The best decade for deer occurred during the first 10 years of the Mighty Mac, 1957-1966, when hunters dragged 110,197 deer across the bridge, or an average of 11,020 deer per year.
Chad Stewart, Michigan DNR’s stag management specialist, said the bridge survey was of historic value. He said people look forward to hearing the balance sheet each year, often just to see how it is being followed with their own observations.
You can count me among those watchers, having hunted in Iron, Houghton, and Ontonagon Counties in the UP from 1986-1996. In terms of my deer sightings while hunting, no year came close to 1995, which coincided with the record bridge count that year. Likewise, my worst year for deer sightings was 1992, when the number of bridges (8,581) was 10,000 and more fewer than 1995. Nevertheless, my first year 1986 fared much better, although this year was the bridge’s worst record (4,713.) . ) Also, in the 11 years that I hunted the UP, I should note that I never crossed the bridge in those years since I live in Wisconsin.
Minzey views deer counting as a fun and helpful service provided by the hunting community’s customs workers. In contrast, the Mackinac Bridge Authority places high priority on the accurate count of cars, vans, and articulated trucks crossing the bridge. Because of this, we know the exact effects of COVID-19 on bridge traffic earlier this year during the spring summit of the pandemic.
Looking at the last seven February totals, a seven-year high of 216,732 vehicles crossed the Mighty Mac in February 2020. However, looking at the last seven March totals, a seven-year low of 177,904 vehicles in March 2020 was crossed by April 2020, with only 86,413 crossing vehicles. The number of vehicles crossed in May rose to 222,071, but the low from the previous seven May was 304,387 in 2014, or 82,316 more crossings than in May 2020.
Whether these bridge counts are deer or vehicles, their numbers tell compelling stories that stand the test of time.