Monroe, Mich. — The state Natural Resources Commission voted last month to eliminate the antlerless option for Upper Peninsula archers who are hunting on a regular deer license or a combination license.
The deer herd in the U.P. has declined to levels comparable to the early 1980s, according to DNR biologists. The DNR and the NRC have responded by implementing conservative antlerless license quotas for 2014 through 2016, expanding the period open for supplemental feeding – despite concerns that such action increases the risk of establishing or increasing the incidence of disease – and increasing habitat-management efforts, especially winter habitat.
Eliminating the antlerless option for bowhunters is another step the commission believes will help the deer herd rebound.
“If the outcome of this (change) is that 2,000 to 3,000 antlerless deer are not harvested, and if those deer are able to produce fawns over several years, we think it really could raise deer numbers over time,” NRC chairman John Matonich told Michigan Outdoor News.
The NRC considered two options: maintain the current season and license structure, or eliminate the antlerless option during archery season for those hunting on a regular deer licenses or a combination license in the U.P.
The negative aspects of making no changes to the season, according to a DNR memo to the commission, is a “perceived lack of responsiveness amongst certain hunting constituents. The deer harvest in the U.P. is anticipated to be at one of its lowest points in 30 years, and harvest declines are often accompanied by increasing hunter dissatisfaction and the need to respond accordingly.”
Deer numbers in the U.P. have been in decline in recent years, due mostly to harsh winters and degraded deer habitat, and partially to increased predation from coyotes and wolves. Following back-to-back harsh winters in 2012-13 and 2013-14, deer numbers have noticeably declined.
In the memo, on eliminating the archery antlerless opportunity, the DNR wrote: “… The overall impact at the population level will likely be negligible, accounting for the protection of approximately 0.5 deer per square mile. … Approximately one-fifth of this antlerless archery harvest occurs in DMUs in the conditional deer range with moderate winters (DMUs 055, 122, and 155, where antlerless deer permits are available), so impacts are further reduced.
“Since winter is a primary driver of deer populations in the U.P., it’s possible that many of the deer that are not harvested by hunters will succumb to winter loss. Some hunters have already purchased licenses with the expectation that they could use them for antlerless deer in the U.P.,” the memo says.
Ed Golder, the DNR’s public information officer, said those hunters may return their licenses.
“The DNR will provide refunds until Sept. 19 for anyone who wants one, and a new license may be purchased,” he said.