By Don VanderVeen
Special to The Daily News
As the number of deer hunters and licenses issued throughout Michigan continues to decline, outdoor advocates in Montcalm and Ionia counties are attempting to buck that trend.
Both Jamey Sadler and Kevin Martin put their respective lifelong passions for the outdoors on public display by opening up sporting goods shops over the past year with hopes of promoting, preserving and renewing the heritage of hunting and fishing in the area.
“We try to get hunters in here and interested, and fired up for season,” says Sadler, owner of Sadler’s Great Outdoors in Six Lakes. “We try to get them educated and let them know what good hunting we have in this area, as far as state land goes.”
Kevin Martin and his wife, Nancy, own Magnum Sports in Greenville, and are also looking forward to the upcoming deer season.
“Hunting just doesn’t seem to be as big as it used to be, but there are still plenty of hunters who enjoy it as much as ever,” Kevin Martin said.
“Anybody who has ever sat in a tree and enjoyed the peacefulness of it all knows what I’m talking about. There is just something special about sitting out there and being outside. I just love it.”
Statistics show that there is a decreasing number of deer hunters in the state. The number of hunters in Michigan has fallen off from 934,430 in 1995 to 786,880 in 2011.
“In general, we are in a long-term and very slow decline in the number of hunters,” said Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officer John Niewoonder of the Flat River State Game Area in Belding. “It’s probably not a significant decline in Montcalm County, but there were fewer licenses issued in Ionia last year, primarily due to the large EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease) die-off.”
The disease wiped out almost 15,000 deer across the state, with at least 2,800 infected deer in areas of Ionia, Montcalm and Kent counties, last year.
“As a result, the harvest went down, especially the antlerless harvest. There were fewer deer and some hunters chose not to shoot any deer last year,” Niewoonder said.
With an estimated 1.7 million deer roaming the state, there is not only a bountiful harvest waiting to be culled, but a population that needs hunters in order to help create a balance. There are more than 50,000 car-deer accidents each year, along with residual effects of natural habitats and foraging that affects not only the deer population, but aviary and other animal ecosystems, as well.
Deer hunting combines both sport with effective wildlife and game management. It is a much-needed component that works hand-in-glove, balancing the equilibrium of the great outdoors on local, statewide and national scales.
“In Ionia and all counties around here, we have a lot of deer, and it’s an important component to deer management to shoot a lot of does,” Niewoonder said. “Hunters are generally a pretty consistent bunch. If they have property to hunt, they tend to stick with it if they have permission.
“Last year, because of the EHD outbreak, they either didn’t hunt as much, or resolved that they wouldn’t see as many deer. Overall, it didn’t create any mass movement or shift in hunting activity.”
Kevin Martin said he does not foresee a dramatic shift in the number of hunters and licenses issued this year.
“It will probably be about the same this year,” he said. “The ones who go north all the time are still going to do it. There are still a lot of guys who still get together for deer camp, but instead of going way up north, a lot of hunters stay home and hunt their own property or state land around here.
“What we need to do is start getting a lot more kids out there.”
Both Sadler and Kevin Martin agree that the key to increasing a new clientele of outdoor enthusiasts is exposing young people to the challenge and rewards of hunting and fishing through education, interaction and participation.
“It seems like our generation is giving up on the outdoor sports, and not encouraging our younger people as much as they used to,” Sadler said.
“We have a responsibility to get the next generation excited about outdoor sports and we try to promote it as much as we can.
“We need to get them off the video games and into the woods and on the lakes,” Sadler said. “They need to take a break from all those electronic devices and video games that take up so much of their time.
“Whether you’re deer hunting or squirrel hunting or mushroom hunting — or just taking a walk in the woods — just doing anything outdoors is great,” he added.
Don VanderVeen is an award-winning features, sports and entertainment freelance writer who lives in Gowen. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.