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Categorized | Outdoors

2017 Michigan deer hunting forecast 


by Chad Stewart, Deer, Elk and Moose Management Specialist, Lansing Customer Service Center

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has compiled information hunters may find helpful before they hit the field this fall.

Know Before You Go 

Part of hunting preparation includes reviewing and understanding pertinent deer regulations. Visit mi.gov/deer, which provides highlights of regulation changes, information about deer management and links to additional resources, such as deer check stations.

Refer to the 2017 Hunting and Trapping Digest and Antlerless Digest, also available at DNR Customer Service Centers and license vendors, for a map of all deer management units (DMUs) and other regulation details.

Breeding Activity 

The peak of breeding activity (the rut) for Michigan deer occurs prior to the opening of the firearm deer season on Nov. 15, with increased movement and activity beginning in late October. The peak breeding dates are fairly consistent statewide; however, does that are not bred during the primary rut, or fawns who are able to put on enough weight, are likely to be receptive to breeding about a month later. This breeding activity often occurs in mid-December and, though less intensive than the primary rut a month earlier, can lead to increased activity and daylight movement later in the season. Hunters can often take advantage of these increased deer movements. Archery hunting is very popular in late October and early November, followed by the busiest deer hunting day of the year– the opening of the firearm season.

What to Expect Across the State 

The 2016 season, while seeing a decrease in hunter numbers, ended with a slight increase in harvest from 2015. Overall hunting success increased across most of the state in 2016, with slightly more than five out of every 10 hunters taking home at least one deer last season.

The winter of 2016 was relatively mild across the entire state. Low snowfall levels and above-average temperatures made for good deer survival conditions and great potential for this year’s fawns. Spring had relatively mild weather as well, which is a major factor in both deer fitness and fawn survival. Due to these circumstances, this year both the overall number of fawns seen and the number of twins and triplets across the state has increased.

In addition to an increase in the number of fawns being reported, the overall number of deer being observed appears to be up as well.

The 2017 deer season is forecasted to have similar to slightly increased success rates compared to last year. See below for regional information.

Upper Peninsula 

The Upper Peninsula has experienced two relatively mild winters the last two years. Though overall deer numbers are still lower than many hunters like to see, some areas have begun to recover from previous harsh winters nicely. As a result, DNR staff members recommended opening a few additional units to antlerless hunting this year. Deer management units open to public- and private-land antlerless permits include DMUs 055, 121, 155, and 255. DMU 122 will be open only to private land-antlerless permits. The open units are in the south central portion of the U.P., which typically has higher deer populations than anywhere else in the U.P. All other areas in the U.P. will not have antlerless licenses available.

In general, hunters should expect to see a slight increase from the number of deer they saw last year, with increases especially in 1.5- and 2.5-year-old age classes. Keep in mind that each area is influenced by local factors and conditions, which then affects deer density and sightings in that area. The largest bucks (heaviest and largest antlers) typically come from agricultural areas, but nice bucks also are taken from forested areas where access is limited and where they have an opportunity to get older.

Continuing for 2017: archery hunters may harvest antlerless deer only if they have an antlerless license. In the U.P., they may not use their single deer or combination deer license to take an antlerless deer during archery season. This change does not affect the Liberty or Independence Hunt and does not impact the mentored youth license.

New for 2017: DMU 117 (Drummond Island) has a new three-point antler point restriction on the single deer license (the antler point restriction on the regular and restricted tags of the combination license remains in place) and a one-buck limit for the entire deer season. This means any hunter participating in the deer hunting season on Drummond Island may only harvest one buck for the entire deer season, and that buck must have a least three antler points on one side, each 1 inch or greater in length. Drummond Island hunters may purchase a combination license, but the second tag must be used in any DMU other than 117.

Northern Lower Peninsula 

The northern Lower Peninsula is expected to see an increase in deer harvest this year. With the mild winter last year and little impact from the previous winter, deer populations have been increasing steadily across much of the area.

Deer sightings have been good throughout the region, and many have reported seeing healthy fawns, including many sets of twins and even some triplets.

Many areas may see more 2.5-year-old and 3.5-year-old bucks this year with the now-permanent three-point antler point restriction (APR) in 13 counties in the northwest area.

This APR allows the majority of 1.5-year-old bucks to mature to the next age class, resulting in increased numbers of 2.5- and 3.5-year-old bucks in the years following. All northern Lower Peninsula deer management units are open for antlerless hunting; refer to the 2017 Antlerless Deer Digest if you are interested in obtaining an antlerless license.

New for 2017: DMU 487 no longer has an APR in place on the regular tag of the deer combination license. Hunters can harvest antlerless deer using either their single deer or deer combination license during the early/late antlerless firearm, archery, firearm or muzzleloading seasons, but the APR that had been in place since 2010 has been removed. Keep in mind that those who purchase a combination license still have a four-point APR on the restricted tag of the combination license, which is similar to the rest of the state. For a map of the different APRs in Michigan, see pages 32 and 33 of the 2017 Hunting and Trapping Digest.

Public-land antlerless licenses also have changed. Removed are the individual public-land units of DMUs 001 (Alcona), 004 (Alpena), 035 (Iosco), 060 (Montmorency), 068 (Oscoda), 071 (Presque Isle) and 135 (Tawas). All are now a part of DMU 487. Hunters who previously hunted public land under one of these licenses now can purchase a public-land antlerless license for DMU 487. This change opens more opportunities for hunters to move around public land in the six-county area. DMU 452, the core TB management area, remains separate from DMU 487 for public-land licenses.

Southern Lower Peninsula 

Abundant food and cover in the form of agricultural crops and scattered swamps and woodlots provide very good habitat across the southern Michigan landscape. This high-quality habitat, combined with relatively mild winter conditions, typically results in a more abundant and productive deer population compared to other regions of the state. The 2017 harvest should be like last year, with perhaps a slight increase given the current conditions. Harvest in the southern Lower Peninsula can depend heavily on the percentage of standing corn. If corn harvest is delayed going into the firearms season, a reduced deer harvest can be expected.

Over the last decade or more, deer population estimates and indices (including deer/vehicle collisions, crop damage complaints, and observations of deer by the hunting community and field staff) in the southern Lower Peninsula have stabilized or declined. In many instances, reductions were intended to reduce conflicts that can occur when deer populations are high, though the DNR still desires to keep adequate deer for enjoyable hunting and viewing experiences. A relatively high proportion of land in this region is broken into small parcel sizes and privately owned. Given this framework, the DNR is working to find more ways to balance high-quality deer hunting experiences and increased hunting opportunities with habitat management goals among networks of private landowners and hunters.

The southeastern Lower Peninsula offers numerous reserved and lottery deer hunting opportunities at managed waterfowl hunt areas, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife refuges and Sharonville State Game Area in Jackson and Washtenaw counties. Additional information related to these hunts can be found on the DNR Reserved Deer Hunts web page. A limited number of leftover licenses are available for these hunts; review the leftover licenses page and navigate to “Deer Reserved Hunts” on the dropdown menu for available quantities. Hunters seeking more information related to deer hunting opportunities at the DNR’s managed waterfowl hunt areas should contact either the Nayanquing Point, Fish Point or Harsens Island field offices and speak with staff.

Additionally, an Urban Deer Management Zone has been developed for Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties (see section below). The archery season in these counties will extend to Jan. 31, 2018 to better manage human-deer conflicts. More information on the Urban Deer Management Zone can be found on page 35 of the 2017 Hunting and Trapping Digest.

Read more in next week’s issue.

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