The next step: Hunters soon to get APR survey

Lansing — After a two-year effort to have mandatory antler point restrictions implemented across the Lower Peninsula, the future of that push lies in the hands of about 4,000 randomly selected hunters.

“(The surveys) should go out in the mail later this month,” Brent Rudolph, the head of the DNR’s Deer and Elk Program, told Michigan Outdoor News. “We’ll run the language of the survey past the (Natural Resources) Commission at its meeting (on Sept. 12), then we’ll make any changes they might deem necessary, then the surveys will be printed and mailed out.”

The Lower Peninsula Deer Management Initiative is a group of 12 to 15 hunters who would like to see more 21⁄2-year-old bucks in Michigan’s deer population.

Presently, Michigan deer hunters in most of the Lower Peninsula may purchase up to two buck kill tags under a combo license – a regular tag and a restricted tag. The regular tag, which may also be purchased as a single, stand-alone archery or firearms license, allows a hunter to shoot any legal buck. Currently, a legal buck in Michigan (in areas without APR) is a deer having at least one antler that extends 3 inches or more above the skull.

The restricted tag allows hunters to shoot a buck with at least four points on one side.

LPDMI is proposing a change in what constitutes a legal buck. In Zone 2 (the northern Lower Peninsula), LPDMI proposes that hunters with a regular buck tag be limited to shooting bucks with at least three points on one side. In Zone 3, under the LPDMI proposal, hunters with a regular buck tag would be limited to shooting any buck with at least four points on one side. Requirements for the restricted buck tag would remain the same – good for bucks with at least four points on one side.

Youth hunters during the youth hunt and apprentice hunters would be exempt from APR.

“Our main goals are hunter recruitment and retention and advancing year-and-a-half-old bucks to the next age class,” said Tony Smith, president of the LPDMI. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that in our hearts we truly believe that what we’re trying to do is in the best interest of the deer herd and in the best interest of hunters. It’s not just about big antlers.”

The APR process in the Lower Peninsula began last year when LPDMI submitted its proposal to the DNR. Biologists assessed the impact of the proposal, and finding no adverse biological implications, recommended to the NRC to move the process forward. The LPDMI then held 12 informational meetings to explain its proposal.

“The most disappointing aspect of the whole process was the turnout at the meetings,” Smith said. “I thought there would be more interest. I don’t know if it was the timing of the meetings being held in the summer or what, but the turnout was disappointing.”

Smith said attendance at the informational meetings ranged from a low of about 20 to a high of just 90 at a meeting held in Clare.

The next step is for the DNR to survey 2,000 hunters from each proposal area – 2,000 from Zone 2 and 2,000 from Zone 3 – with LPDMI picking up the tab.

“We’ll survey about 2,000 hunters from each (zone),” Rudolph said. “The recipients will be selected randomly from last year’s mail survey respondents who indicated they hunt in the area where the proposals have been submitted. We’ll also survey a few hunters who responded to our online deer hunter survey last fall.”

The DNR will then collect the surveys and assess the results. There must be 66-percent support for the proposal in order for it to be considered by the NRC. If the support is there, the results will be presented to the commission next spring and a vote on the issue will be taken in June.

It approved, APR would take effect in 2014 and would remain in effect for five years. Then another survey would be taken to see if there is continued support to maintain the restrictions.

Not all hunters are in favor of mandatory antler point restrictions. Groups like the United Sportsmen’s Alliance have long opposed APR, and the group Stop Mandatory Antler Restrictions Today sprung up specifically to oppose these proposals.

“We’re not opposed to antler point restrictions,” said Curtis Stone, president of SMART. “I’ve  practiced them myself since 1989. But that’s my choice and I don’t impose my belief on others. If you want antler point restrictions, they should be voluntary, not mandatory.

“The guys this is really going to hurt are the guys that only come up to hunt for three or four days,” he said. “Once the restrictions are in place and they don’t see as many deer, and the ones they do see they can’t shoot, I think you will see hunter retention drop.”

Stone said he’s also concerned about the process and how the DNR selects survey recipients.

“If you look at the DNR hunter surveys, support for mandatory restrictions over the last five years has been around 50 percent,” Stone said. “They sent out a survey (to impose mandatory antler restrictions) for the 12 counties in northwest Lower Michigan and they got 68-percent support. That makes me question the process.”

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