MANCELONA — The rifle season for deer hunting in Michigan got underway on Nov. 15, and the Department of Natural Resources said the number of hunters is down this year about 4.5% compared with 2020.

But at the Buck Pole in Mancelona, a village in Antrim County, the turnout was better than last year.

Once a year, at the start of firearm deer season, hunters bring their freshly killed bucks to hang in downtown Mancelona. They hang about 15 feet off the ground on a structure that looks like scaffolding.

This is the Buck Pole. It stands for two days in the middle of town, and it costs $5 to hang a deer.

Joanie Moore has been helping with the Buck Pole since she was in high school. She explains the process hunters go through to register their buck: “Bring them on the scale and then we count the points and register the width of the rack.”

She’s the director of the Mancelona Chamber of Commerce, which holds the event.

“We’re doing really well. This is number 18 tonight,” said Moore.

A cable winch hoists up a six-point buck shot by 15-year-old Landon Payne.

“It was a really wide six though,” said Payne. “It had a huge neck on it.”

Payne said hunting runs in his family.

“I like being out in the woods,” he said. “Gets me away from people, and some time to myself.”

The Mancelona Buck Pole is technically a contest.

Hunters win cash prizes for shooting the heaviest buck, the buck with the widest rack and the buck with the most points. But most people come for the memories, not the money.

“It’s hard to get, you only get two days a year to get one,” said hunter Kevin Kanaziz.

Kanaziz said this was his 32nd opening day.

“I work two jobs, seven days a week, just to get these two weeks off,” said Kanaziz. “I look forward to it that much.”

Even though Kanaziz didn’t shoot a deer in this opener, he still enjoys the tradition.

“It’s good memories. I love this place.”

By now, a few more hunters pull up, unload deer from their trucks and head to the scale.

The chamber of commerce’s Moore said, “With this deer, No. 25, we have now tied what we did last year in two days. So, this is more on schedule and on track to what we’re used to in a normal good hunting season.”

Moore also says this year’s bucks are bigger and have wider racks. By the end of Tuesday night, 45 deer were hanging from the pole. The heaviest one shot this year is an 11-pointer from Kalkaska County. It weighed in at 163 pounds.