(Photo by John Cook) Billboards like this one have popped up around Michigan’s Thumb in support of antler point restrictions. Signs against APRs are also becoming popular.

The buck stops here: Thumb hunters mull APRs

Ron Spaulding and Lonnie TerBush have campaign signs in their yards, but they’re on very different sides of a debate affecting about 54,000 deer hunters seeking white-tailed bucks in Michigan’s Thumb area.

The question is whether the state should require a buck to have at least four points on one antler before a hunter kills it in Tuscola, Huron, Sanilac, St. Clair and Lapeer counties.

One group of hunters wants to see an older group of bucks, said Chad Stewart, Michigan Department of Natural Resources deer management specialist, summarizing views of those for or against the antler point restrictions, or APRs.

“They’re generally unsatisfied with the current hunting conditions that they’re experiencing in Michigan, and they believe that seeing more of those older-age class bucks will increase their satisfaction in Michigan deer-hunting,” Stewart said.

Another group of hunters sees things differently.

“They’re quite perfectly content to harvest whatever is in front of them, and they place less value on an older buck,” Stewart said. “They’re going out there for another reason, and they don’t want that choice taken away from them, so they’re very vehemently against that restriction.”

The DNR plans to mail surveys by mid-January to about 2,000 randomly selected individuals who hunt deer in that five-county region.

If statisticians deem that at least 66 percent of hunters in the region support the proposed antler point restrictions, then the state Natural Resources Commission would consider implementing the restrictions.

The state is conducting the survey at the request of the Thumb Hunters for APRs, and the campaigns regarding the proposed APRs have intensified, with billboards and yard signs dotting Thumb-area highways and back roads.

The United Sportsmen’s Alliance has placed signs opposing the restrictions.

Spaulding, 59, of Tuscola County’s Elmwood Township, said he doesn’t believe anyone should be told what deer to shoot once that deer enters his land.

“I guess I would compare this to politics,” Spaulding said. “This would be like saying everybody should be a Republican or a Democrat.”

But TerBush, 66, of Tuscola County’s Watertown Township, figures it’s time for a change in Michigan deer-hunting circles.

TerBush said he owns land in Oscoda County where, in 2010, the DNR implemented antler point restrictions requiring purchasers of “combination licenses” to make sure one harvested buck had at least three points on one antler, and that a second harvested buck had at least four points. The state did away with those restrictions last year.

“I hunt there and I hunt down here, and I have seen the difference up there – in the past five or six years – in the size of the antlers, and the antler size there is unreal,” TerBush said. “If you go to the slaughterhouses up there, they’ll tell you it’s a record year, and they’ve never had so many 10-point bucks come in.”

Hunters clamoring for antler point restrictions, for bucks with bigger racks of antlers, and for land to lease during deer-hunting season, have separated friends and neighbors, according to Spaulding.

“It’s a money thing,” Spaulding said. “The chances are that these people that are into antler point restrictions are going to pay more money to lease hunting ground, because they’re more willing to come here because the horns on the bucks are bigger.

“That cuts out the locals that used to have neighbors that allowed you to hunt in exchange for work. Now all of a sudden (landowners) want the big dollars – and they couldn’t care less if it comes from Detroit, or if it comes from a block down the street.”

Money, however, is leaving Michigan in lost revenues not paid by state residents who seek big bucks elsewhere, TerBush said.

“All these hunters are leaving Michigan and hunting in Iowa, Kentucky, Kansas and Ohio,” TerBush said. “All our hunters are leaving the state. The DNR is really worried because when the baby boomers are gone, there aren’t going to be the hunters that they had. That’s what they’re afraid of.”

The Natural Resources Commission overseeing the DNR could consider the APRs at a meeting sometime in the spring if the DNR determines at least 66 percent of hunters support the restrictions.

This isn’t the first time Spaulding has fought against antler point restrictions in the Thumb area, noting that an effort to impose such restrictions failed in the past.

“We had a saying in the hunt club when we were fighting this in Lansing 10 years ago,” Spaulding said. “Most of the people that are shooting these big bucks are shooting them out in a food plot, and they’re not hunting them – they’re shoppin’.

“They’re shoppin’ after they look at ’em through their binoculars, and after they look at ’em in the (trail) cameras, and they say ‘Oh, there’s the one that has this set of horns,’ and whatnot.

“They’ve got him on camera, and they give him a name, and they do all of this (expletive).”

There’s nothing wrong, according to TerBush, with showing patience as a hunter.

“I’m not a trophy hunter by no means,” TerBush said. “I’ve been doing this – experimenting – for five years now. I shoot a 6-point buck, or bigger. I have noticed, just here where I hunt, that I’m getting to where I can shoot an 8-point every year. (Antler size) goes up – if you let ’em grow.”

Bigger antlers would attract hunters from beyond the Great Lakes State, he said.

“They can’t get any hunters out of state to come to Michigan,” TerBush said. “Why would they want to come here? There are no big bucks to shoot.”

Plenty of local hunters want antler point restrictions put in effect, said TerBush, who said younger hunters favor APRs, and older hunters tend to oppose the idea.

“I’m 66 and I should be against it, but I’m not,” TerBush said. “My son (Joel TerBush) is 41 and he’s all for it, and if you go down the road, (a neighbor) and his son are both for it. There are tons and tons of people that are for it.”

Spaulding said information he gathered about Wisconsin deer with chronic wasting disease (CWD) showed the majority of the deer testing positive for the illness were bucks from 2.5 to 3.5 years old – the kind of deer that APRs would prevent hunters from shooting in the Thumb.

“They’re the largest carrier of CWD there is, plus when they travel during the breeding season, it’s not uncommon for them to go four to five miles each way,” said Spaulding, who maintains those bucks are the main carrier of CWD, which is contagious in the deer population, and fatal to deer.

The disease has been confirmed in at least nine Michigan counties in the upper and lower peninsulas – including Gratiot County west of Saginaw County – but not in the Thumb area.

Nevertheless, Spaulding said, “We’ve got to continue to have that turnover, and keep harvesting those deer so that disease does not spread.”

Stewart said anyone wanting to comment about proposed antler point restrictions may email DNR-wildlife@michigan.gov and state officials will forward any comments to the Natural Resources Commission if the commission considers APRs.

TerBush suggested that if the DNR imposed antler point restrictions in the Thumb area, the agency could tweak such restrictions so youths and senior citizens could continue shooting bucks with less than four points on one antler.

Another adjustment, TerBush said, could be for the DNR to require hunters to kill a doe first – and have the agency verify it – before hunters could receive a tag to shoot a buck.

Spaulding figures young hunters should learn to shoot younger deer.

“They should be encouraged to take these younger bucks, because that’s where you start out,” Spaulding said. “You don’t start out driving a Cadillac. You start out driving a $150 car.”

Lonnie TerBush, however, said his 11-year-old grandson, Truk TerBush of Lapeer County, has learned to consciously avoid shooting smaller bucks to benefit the larger herd.

“He’s killed two 8-point bucks this year, but he’s 11 years old and he lets bucks go,” Lonnie said. “He believes in this 100 percent. One night he was out hunting, sitting with his dad (Joel TerBush), and he saw five different small bucks, and he said ‘Dad, I’m not shooting ’em.’”

Many hunters, though, have very limited time to get in the woods, according to Spaulding.

“My wife (Jan Spaulding) and daughter (Kristina Hartman) went hunting with me on opening day this year to sit, and it was my daughter’s only day off from work, and … she took a spike (younger buck) that day,” Spaulding said.

“That’s not a deer I would have taken, but she could not have been happier. She’s in her early 30s, she works two jobs full-time, and also goes to nursing school. She doesn’t have the time to go out there and do this.

“When those people are happy and satisfied with that spike or with that 4-point buck or 6-point buck, what’s wrong with that?”

Tom Gilchrist is a staff writer at The Advertiser and can be reached at gilchrist@tcadvertiser.com.

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