DNR extends deer hunting season to test for deadly disease

Ionia County

BELDING, Mich. (WOOD) — In just a few days, hunters in Montcalm and Ionia counties will get another chance to bag a buck.

24 Hour News 8 broke the news Wednesday that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is opening two extended firearm deer seasons in January.

The two seasons run from Jan. 4 to Jan. 7 and Jan. 11 to Jan. 14 on public and private land in the following townships: Easton, Ionia, Keene, Lyons, North Plains, Orleans, Otisco and Ronald in Ionia County and Bloomer, Bushnell, Crystal, Day, Evergreen and Ferris in Montcalm County.

All rules and regulations for firearm and deer season apply and no baiting is allowed.

Thursday, 24 Hour News 8 learned just how critical the hunts are for tracking chronic wasting disease, which is a fatal disease in deer.

The hunts are part of a targeted effort by the DNR to understand just how widespread chronic wasting disease is and to combat the problem in Michigan.

Hunting season in Michigan is the real deal. Crouching in the wilderness for the kill is something many Michiganders take part in every year.

“Some of our stations have to deal with over 200 deer in a day,” said John Neiwoonder, a Michigan DNR wildlife biologist. “It’s not just checking them, we do check the deer, we age them, we measure antlers, things like that but we are also doing a lot of cutting.”

Hunters are required to bring in the head of a bagged deer during these two extended seasons, according to Niewoonder.

“This special season in January is designed to get more samples for us to test so that we can see exactly where the disease is and how prevalent it is,” he said. “This disease doesn’t go away. Once you get it in an area, it really doesn’t go away.”

The disease could cause a shortage down the road.

“In some places in Wyoming (state) they’ve noticed drastic declines in the deer population,” Neiwoonder said. “It takes a long time for that to happen.”

Right now, the DNR says Michigan has plenty of deer. But models may suggest an uncertain future for deer populations, which is why the DNR is being proactive in testing for chronic wasting.

And for gun shop owners, the additional hunts extend business. Gary Hosmer, the owner of the Sparta Sport Shop, says during the peak of the season, he sees thousands enter his store.

“It’s quite a business and you know you don’t want to see that go because you want to be able to sell guns and ammo, and people like to hunt,” he said.

But Hosmer says it could hurt business if chronic wasting disease becomes widespread.

Since 2015, the Michigan DNR says it’s tested more than 27,000 deer. Twenty-nine of them tested positive.

“It’s always fatal. If a deer gets this disease, they will die from it,” Neiwoonder said.

Bob Vandenberg, a hunter who frequents the Sparta Sport Shop, says he’s seen this happen before and is worried what the disease could mean for the future of deer hunting in Michigan.

“I don’t like to see animals die like that, so I am concerned,” he said. “A lot of the states that I hunt in — they have problems as well.”

The Flat River State Game Area Office at 6640 Long Lake Road near Belding will be open to check deer from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 4 through Jan. 17. Hunters can also drop off heads for testing through Jan. 17 at:

For more information about CWD, visit mi.gov/cwd.

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