Bright days for firearms deer hunters
Lansing — Deer hunting in Michigan hasn’t always been as robust as it is today. It really wasn’t too long ago when deer hunters asked each other the question, “Did ya see anything?” instead of, “Did ya get one?” as is often asked today.
Despite outbreaks off epizootic hemorrhagic disease and bovine TB, along with resource-management issues and a bevy of other concerns hunters have today, deer hunting in Michigan remains pretty good.
Last year, firearms deer hunters alone killed an estimated 214,000 whitetails across the state. The success rate was over 35 percent, with gun hunters tagging about 128,000 bucks and 86,000 antlerless deer during the 16-day season.
Gun hunters heading into Michigan’s whitetail woods this year can expect a season similar to what they experienced last year, with the exception of areas hit hard by EHD.
In six of the past seven years, hunters in southern Michigan have seen EHD – an often fatal bug-borne disease that disappears after the first hard frost – negatively impact local deer populations. This year has been the worst, with around 9,000 whitetails confirmed dead from the disease in scattered areas across southern Michigan. Hunters in townships hit hard by the disease will see fewer deer this year and are encouraged to hunt a different area while the local population rebuilds itself.
The good news is that frost kills the bugs that spread the disease and outbreaks end with cold weather.
“We have gotten some frost pockets in some of those areas, which is exactly what we wanted,” DNR Deer Program biologist Ashley Autenrieth told Michigan Outdoor News. “It’s definitely slowing down, but we’re still asking for reports from hunters who find dead deer.”
(For more information on EHD, visit www.michigan.gov/wildlifedisease.)
In the rest of southern Michigan, hunting should be pretty good. Last year during the firearms deer season, hunters in the southern third of the state killed 109,000 whitetails (58,000 bucks and 51,000 antlerless deer), more than in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula combined.
“The southern Michigan deer herd has been stable to decreasing for the past five to 10 years following multiple decades of steady growth,” the DNR wrote in a release. “The DNR has worked to provide hunters and landowners with the necessary tools to regulate deer population growth and adjust buck-to-doe ratios where this is a priority.”
In northern Michigan, hunting is expected to be a bit better than last year, weather-permitting.
Harsh winters can have a detrimental impact on whitetails in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula. Following back-to-back harsh winters in 2007 and 2008, hunters saw a noticeable decline in deer numbers in the northern two-thirds of the state. Since then, those areas have had three winters in a row with less snow and higher temperatures than usual, and deer populations there have rebounded.
“We had quite a few happy hunters last year and I expect to have even more this year,” Autenrieth said. “We’re anticipating another good season.
“We had a lot of apples last year and a lot of acorns the year before,” she said. “This year there is no major mast crop. Some areas have no acorns and other areas have some. Scouting will be very important. Finding those really good areas is going to be key.”
Autenrieth suggests hunters locate available food sources in their area and key in on deer travel patterns to and from those areas.
Firearms season runs Nov. 15-30. A late antlerless-only firearms season on private land is slated for Dec. 17 through Jan. 1 in the same areas open to the early antlerless season.
Muzzleloader seasons are Dec. 7-16 in the Upper Peninsula, Dec. 14-23 in the northern Lower Peninsula and Dec. 7-23 in the southern Lower Peninsula.
The season limit is no more than two bucks. Hunters may purchase up to 10 antlerless deer licenses for Deer Management Units 486 and 487. Otherwise the limit is five, though public-land licenses are available until DMU quotas are met.
“I’ve heard some good things from hunters and people putting out trail cameras,” Autenrieth said. “I would expect that hunters in northern Michigan will have a very good year.
“We’re hoping for a little shift in the weather pattern so we get some cooler temperatures and a little snow for the opener,” she said.