As the sun set on the village of Dexter on Thursday night, seven deer hung from the Mill Creek Sport Center buck pole near downtown, marking the end of the first day of firearm deer season in Michigan.
Maureen Heikkinen, general manager of Mill Creek, said the Dexter buck pole tradition dates back to the 1980s and provides a place where hunters can gather, share stories, and display their prize bucks.
"It's about promoting the importance of hunting in Michigan," she said. "Hunting helps the state's economy and it provides food for families."
Heikkinen said at any given time, 40 to 70 deer can be seen hanging from the pole.
"Some years we've had so many deer, we've had to double up on spaces to accommodate each one," she said.
The store offers a prize incentive in the form of a raffle drawing to any hunter who registers his or her buck with the store during the first weekend of the 16-day hunting season. This year the contest runs from Nov. 15-17. Hunters are only required to keep the deer on the pole for 24 hours to get a ticket.
Prizes include guns, ammo, and outdoor sporting equipment.
"It's a whole family affair," Heikkinen said. "Moms and dads bring kids to commiserate with other hunters."
The first deer was up by 10 a.m., and while some might find the tradition a bit morbid, Heikkinen said hunting translates into dollars for local businesses.
"A quarter of a million hunters purchased licenses this year," she said. "That money, along with purchasing guns, ammo and equipment have a huge impact on Michigan's economy. The buck pole brings a lot of people to Dexter, which benefit our local restaurants and businesses."
Still, the tradition has its detractors.
"Every year we get telephone calls and people protesting, but it's a matter of personal belief," she said.
Stephanie Kemper of Whitmore Lake shot her first buck last year, and said she never expected to enjoy hunting.
"My husband convinced me to try it," she said. "Once I did, it was so exciting. You sit there for the longest time, and when you finally bag your first buck its awesome."
Westland residents Holley Compton, Tyler Texter, Cameron Kucharski and Jeff Kennedy traveled to Dexter for the first time after hearing about the abundant deer population.
"We saw a lot of females, so we'll be back tomorrow and wait out the males," Texter said. "There were too many hunters out today, so the deer stayed away."
Heikkinen said the buck pole has become so popular that this year the store added streaming video to its website so hunters can watch.