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'Almost apocalyptic' conditions for U.P. deer hunt

Brody Kopp, 10, of St. Clair Shores, Michigan, watches as his four-point buck is brought into Sommers' Wild Game Processing in Crystal Falls, Michigan on Nov. 19, 2014. (WLUK/Andrew LaCombe)
Brody Kopp, 10, of St. Clair Shores, Michigan, watches as his four-point buck is brought into Sommers' Wild Game Processing in Crystal Falls, Michigan on Nov. 19, 2014. (WLUK/Andrew LaCombe)
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CRYSTAL FALLS, Mich. - Most deer hunters will say that a little bit of snow on the ground is great for tracking.However, significant snowfall in Michigan's Upper Peninsula is keeping some hunters away from the woods. Michigan's firearm deer season began last Saturday.Along with temperatures around 20 degrees below average and a smaller herd of bucks, Michigan DNR Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason describes conditions as "almost apocalyptic" for deer season.Although she admits the conditions aren't ideal for hunting, the deep November snow won't stop Sarah Sliva of Crystal Falls."My husband says he created a monster because his wife spends more time out in the woods than he does," said Sliva.About 15 inches of snow is on the ground in Iron and Dickinson counties. Further west toward Ironwood, up to 50 inches of snow cover has been reported."It's bad," said Sliva. "Getting dumped on with all the snow really hurt. You can't even get into my deer blind right now."She believes a lot of hunters are staying home because unplowed roads are making hunting sites inaccessible.“Normally there would be a lot of vehicle traffic, that kind of stuff," she said. "You just can't get in there."Inside Fob's Restaurant, hunters from southern Wisconsin and Illinois say they have also changed their approach."I've gone out and walked around a little bit, but I didn't want to go too far, you know?" said Kirk Schmitz of Lake Geneva.The Michigan DNR reports 50 percent fewer deer have been checked-in this year across the U.P. compared to last year.Along with the weather, the DNR says there are more explanations for lower numbers. Very few antlerless deer permits were issued in the U.P. this year. And while encouraged, it's not required to check in deer."A lot of hunters are saying that they're seeing quite a few does and fawns," said David Dragon, a DNR Wildlife Technician. "A lot less bucks than usual, but that's also to be expected just because of the last two winters we've had."Dragon says the heavy snowfall caused deer to move around. Some hunters are finding them on migration trails."Doesn't seem like there's too much of a secret, just more so getting lucky and being in the right place at the right time," he said.The slow conditions in the woods are being felt in at least one local business which relies heavily on the deer season.Pat Sommers has processed meat in Crystal Falls for 22 years."I count on all the tourists that come in here and all the people from Lower Michigan and lower Wisconsin and Chicago area to come," said Sommers. "I expect these people to show up. That's my business."Sommers says his shop is the slowest it's been since 1997."On a normal day during a normal year, where this is kind of an abnormal year, we would see anywhere between 20 and 50 deer coming through the door," he said.This year, Sommers reports only six to twelve deer are dropped off each day at his Crystal Falls business. But young one customer was more than eager to drop off his first buck on Wednesday."I tracked it by myself, my dad just followed right behind me," said Brody Kopp of St. Clair Shores, Michigan.The 10-year-old spotted a four-pointer near Amasa."Then my heart was pounding. It felt like it was in my throat. And then I shot it, and I got a perfect shot right in the heart," said Kopp.He confessed that the deep snow tired him out walking back to camp. But he and other hunters are dedicated, no matter the weather."I work until one o'clock every day, and once I get out of work, I go home, take a five and then I hit the woods," said Sliva."If we had 40 feet of snow we'd come here," added Schmitz.Michigan's firearm deer season ends Nov. 30.The Michigan DNR believes some hunters may be waiting to check in deer. They can hang outside longer this year because of below-freezing temperatures.Conditions could get a little better in the U.P. this weekend as temperatures warm up, but rain is also in the forecast.