By CHRIS TOMASSUCCI
IRON MOUNTAIN - Thousands of hunters will take to the Michigan woods this weekend - seeking venison for their freezers and that elusive trophy buck - as firearm deer season begins Friday at dawn.
The season is open through Saturday, Nov. 30.
The 2012 season proved to be better than 2011 for many hunters in the state according to a report released by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Statewide, hunting success and hunter satisfaction increased, the 2013 Michigan Deer Hunting Prospects report said, with the majority of the increase occurring in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Lower Peninsula.
The increased harvest of deer in those regions was most likely due to slowly but steadily growing deer populations in many northern areas in recent years.
Looking at the upcoming season, the DNR report said some areas in the U.P. may see decreased numbers of deer this year, particularly fawns.
Despite last winter's late start and mild conditions through much of January, a late thaw made it difficult for deer in the U.P., where winter quickly increased in severity in February and continued until late April.
Don Ciochetto, owner of The Sport Shop in Iron River said many of his customers are reporting the deer population seems to be down from last year.
The forecast for opening day and the first week of the season is again looking mild. Meteorologists are calling for a high of 40 and partly cloudy skies on opening day in Iron Mountain. Saturday and Sunday look to be even warmer, with highs of 48 and 54, respectively, and a slight chance of rain.
Ciochetto said the warmer weather will be conducive to a lot of hunting. He predicts a good opener, despite the reports of a shrinking deer population over last year.
"It may be a bit warm Friday" Ciochetto said. "But I don't see that keeping guys out of the woods."
At Whispering Pines Outpost in Breitung Township, John Grier agrees.
Grier has been busy this week with hunters getting ready for the season, and many of them are reporting good signs in the woods.
"We've been hearing a lot more in the past few days about deer moving around out there," Grier said. "A lot of guys are seeing scrapes and rubs and it sounds like the rut is on."
The DNR report did have some good news for U.P. hunters.
Production of mast (fruit and nuts) has been plentiful throughout much of the region this year.
Hunters should target these areas and will want to scout for producing oak and beech trees, as well as fruit producing shrubs and trees such as apple and sumac.
Although hunters should expect to see fewer younger deer this season because of the late severe winter weather in 2012, a decent number of bucks aged 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 will be out there.
The Department of Natural Resources says antlerless licenses are still available, and antler point restrictions are in effect for certain areas.
Hunters are reminded to wear orange clothing and heed limits on bait that can be placed in some locations.
In Wisconsin, firearm deer season doesn't start until Saturday, Nov. 23 this year.
Wisconsin wildlife officials are planning to hold an online chat later this month on how to find a place to hunt this fall.
The Department of Natural Resources has scheduled the chat to start at noon on Nov. 20.
Participants can join the chat by visiting the DNR's website and searching the keywords "ask the experts."
DNR officials say their Explore Outdoors website allows people to search millions of acres of public lands and offers detailed maps of DNR properties.
Chris Tomassucci's e-mail address is email@example.com.