Deer numbers up after mild recent winters
Lansing — Bowhunters across the state can expect to find favorable conditions for a successful archery season this fall. According to DNR research biologist Brian Frawley, hunters killed an estimated 422,000 deer during all hunting seasons last year, which increased slightly from the 2010 harvest of approximately 418,000. These numbers are based on the annual deer harvest survey sent out by the DNR to 51,288 randomly selected individuals who purchased a deer-hunting license.
Statewide, bowhunters shot 131,615 deer in 2011. That was a 12.3-percent increase from the 2010 archery season, when archers killed 117,180 deer. The archery season opens Oct. 1.
Baiting continues to be allowed across the state, except in Deer Management Unit 487, the bovine tuberculosis zone in the northeastern Lower Peninsula. Baiting is allowed between Oct. 1 and Jan. 1.
According to Ashley Hippler, DNR deer program biologist, the fall bowhunting season should be pretty good in the Upper Peninsula.
“The winter of 2011-12 was one of the mildest on record and offered deer very favorable conditions for survival and spring fawn production. This has been the third consecutive mild winter, allowing the deer herd to continue its rebound from a couple of past harsher winters,” Hippler told Michigan Outdoor News.
This rebound allowed U.P. bowhunters to shoot 20.3 percent more antlered bucks (4,795) and 16.9 percent more antlerless deer (5,372) compared with the 2010 archery deer season.
U.P. bowhunters once again will see antler point restrictions. A regular combination deer license will allow a hunter to shoot a buck with three legal points or more on one side with his or her regular license and a second buck with four legal points or more on one side with his or her restricted tag.
Hunters who want the option of shooting any legal buck may purchase an individual archery or firearms license and may only kill one buck.
Biologists hope this restriction will increase the quality of bucks that archers see throughout the U.P.
“In general, more bucks have been seen,” Hippler said. “Availability of yearling and 2½-year-old bucks this fall will likely improve compared to the past two seasons given the recent mild winters. However, each area is influenced by local factors and conditions that affect deer density and sightings in that area.”
Dry summer conditions have affected the mast crops throughout the U.P., which could determine productive treestand locations as fall approaches.
“Mast crops appear to be limited this year due to the droughty conditions,” Hippler said.
Numerous projects benefitting deer have been completed in many areas throughout the U.P., based on a summary of the input from U.P. wildlife biologists.
“A number of openings that were filling in have been maintained,” Hippler said. “Red oak has been planted in a number of locations across the eastern U.P. to provide a future source of hard mast. As you may know, beech bark disease is affecting most of the American beech here, so we are expecting to lose beech nuts as a hard mast source in the future. Some plantings have been done in response to this issue.
“In addition, state forest land is continuously being managed, with a number of prescriptions conducted in a manner meant to benefit deer,” she said. “Examples include providing young aspen regeneration by clear-cutting mature stands, maintaining mast producers like oak in many stands, and maintaining conifer swamps for cover in deer wintering areas.”
Northern Lower Peninsula
The stage is set for another successful season for bowhunters in the northern Lower Peninsula.
Again, three mild winters in a row has allowed the deer population in that area to rebound some.
“We have experienced three mild winters in a row in the NLP, with this past winter being mild in terms of both snowfall and duration,” Hippler said. “This has helped deer numbers rebound since the harsh winters of 2007 and 2008. In general, does came out of this winter healthy and fit, which makes for favorable fawning conditions.
“Those lower snowfall levels increased the chances of deer escaping predators throughout the northern region and the U.P.”
This spring also was mild in terms of rainfall and temperature, which is also a factor in both doe fitness and fawn survival. The mild winters, combined with the recent mild spring have produced optimal conditions for an increase in the deer population.
Last archery season in the NLP bowhunters increased the number of antlerless deer killed (20,197) by 33.3 percent and the number of antlered bucks killed (20,809) by 34.4 percent compared with the 2010 archery deer season.
According to Hippler, “As a region, deer numbers are increasing, and have been over the last three years, including the number of bucks.”
The last few mild winters, coupled with excellent mast crop production last year, should help increase bowhunter success.
“Over the past two years we’ve had excellent mast crop production with last year being a very good apple crop and the year prior a very good acorn crop,” Hippler said. “This year, the apple crop is quite low, which is to be expected following a bumper crop year and the late frosts that occurred this spring. The acorns are variable across the region, with some areas experiencing good production and others are low to medium.”
Many projects have been aimed at improving the deer herd in the NLP.
“Across the entire region there have been and continue to be habitat improvements taking place in the form of timber harvesting, wildlife openings, maintenance, planting of both openings and forested areas, and prescribed fires,” Hippler said.
This archery season, the counties of Cheboygan, Otsego, and Roscommon, all previously closed to antlerless hunting, will be open and offer antlerless licenses for both private and public land.
Southern Lower Peninsula
Once again, a healthy deer herd in the southern Lower Peninsula should provide bowhunters with many opportunities to harvest a mature whitetail. According to Kristin Bissell, a DNR wildlife biologist, “We actually had really good mast production last year, a typical deer-hunting season, followed by a very mild winter here in southern Michigan. These factors, I believe, led to a fairly healthy, well-fed, low-stress deer herd to begin 2012.”
Bowhunters shot 34,989 does (a 13.7-percent increase over 2010) and 44,544 bucks (4 percent decline from 2010) in 2011. However, the mast crops this year are extremely scarce – similar to other regions across the state – and that could play into hunter success this year.
“Warm weather followed by frost took its toll on soft mast production of apples, wild grapes, black cherries, etc.,” Bissell said. “I have not noticed heavy hard mast production as seen last year. Walnuts and acorns do not appear to be plentiful.”
Within Bissell’s region, which consists of Hillsdale, Jackson, Lenawee, and Washtenaw counties, along with two game areas in Livingston County, plenty of work is being done to improve deer habitat.
Conditions in the “thumb” area of Michigan also could produce well for bowhunters.
According to Don Bonnette, DNR wildlife biologist whose region covers Huron, Tuscola, and Sanilac counties, “The winter was very kind to deer in the thumb counties. There was very little snow, above-normal temperatures, and very little impact from predators (as is typically the case).”
Many public-land opportunities for bowhunters exist in Bonnette’s area.
“There are more than 54,000 acres of state land open to hunting in the thumb counties, with highly variable habitat ranging from farmland to upland hardwoods, river bottoms, bogs, hardwood swamps, shrub swamp, marsh, and grasslands,” he said.
Deer habitat improvement efforts are being made in the thumb region. Sharecroppers in Huron and Tuscola counties generally leave 25 percent of what they plant.
Locations vary year to year, so scouting will be necessary to locate these food plots.