Pablo Garcia’s Opening Day was officially a success.
“It was a beautiful morning,” he says. “Nice and cool and quiet.”
It got better for him when he bagged an eight-point buck.
“Saw one doe and this one was chasing another one about 15 minutes later. About 9:15, it was all over for me.”
Thursday was the beginning of firearm deer hunting season in Michigan, which runs from November 15-30.
They were some fears that the Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) outbreak on West Michigan’s deer population could hurt the hunting season.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case.
“A lot of deer around, a lot of shooting around where I was at,” Garcia says.
“I saw more deer here Opening Morning here than I have in the last two years. Because I’ve been hunting this same area for four years.”
By 1:45 this afternoon, Flat River State Game Area in Belding had already matched last year’s Opening Day checks total of 31 deer.
DNR Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason knew it would be tough to predict what EHD could do to the season.
“EHD is very spotty,” Mason says. “A guy on one farm might not see anything and the guy right next door might have the best season he’s ever had.”
“If guys move around, they’re gonna see deer. They’re gonna take deer. Frankly, that’s sorta what we’re seeing.”
But it’s never been about whether or not it’s been a successful hunt.
Scott Cedarquist is just happy his favorite holiday is back.
“This is my Christmas,” he says. “Santa has Christmas, we got November. He’s got 25th of December. We get November 15th.”
Cedarquist travels all over the country as a minister during the year, but he always comes back for Opening Day in Michigan.
“I always come back for deer season,” he says. “Hunt with my friends every year. Same guys.”
“My buddy that I’m hunting with here. We’ve been best friends since kindergarten. We’ve hunted and we’ve fished together every spring trout season.”
“This is the stuff…I don’t want it to stop. It’s been forever. It’s great.”
Mason says that’s the beautiful thing about Opening Day, and hunting in general.
“They do it with the same guys every year,” he says. “They go to the same camp every year. Part of this is just getting out and doing something meaningful and spiritual, frankly, that you do every year.
“If you kill a deer, well, good. If you don’t, well, I guess I can live with it.”
But it’s even deeper than that.
“People talk about hunting like it’s recreation. Oh, no, it’s not,” he says. “This is something spiritual. This is something meaningful and life-changing. People do this every year because…it makes them who they are.”
“This is something that connects generations. It connects people to the land. It connects people to who they are fundamentally as human beings.”
But there’s still an order to things. Cedarquist and his friends went out Thursday with a couple of the group’s 80-year-old father. The dads still make the kids do the hard work after the hunt.
“When the old man shoots a deer,” he says, “one of us has got to drag it in.”