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Expanding opportunities for southern Michigan hunters

Hunters will see new signs like these posted on properties that participate in the Department of Natural Resources’ Hunting Access Program. HAP provides greater access to hunting opportunities on private land, especially in southern Michigan. Photo by Michigan DNR.

Hunters will see new signs like these posted on properties that participate in the Department of Natural Resources’ Hunting Access Program. HAP provides greater access to hunting opportunities on private land, especially in southern Michigan. Photo by Michigan DNR.

Michigan’s Hunting Access Program (HAP)—a long-time Department of Natural Resources offering that provides hunters with more places to hunt—had been slipping into oblivion in recent years, but seems to have found a new lease on life. In fact, the latest news is pretty encouraging.

HAP, which began in the late 1970s as a way to give hunters access to private property in southern Michigan, at one time boasted more than 790 farms totaling 188,000 acres. In 2011, HAP included just 45 farms offering some 7,400 acres.

A year later, however, after the DNR decided to reinvigorate the program, HAP includes more than 150 farms that encompass 17,032-plus acres—and all of it accessible to Michigan hunters.

“I could hardly keep up with it,” said Mike Parker, a DNR wildlife biologist who works in the private lands program and oversees HAP. “I was overwhelmed, but it was also a really good problem to have.”

Returning from a successful hunt on a participating mid-Michigan Hunting Access Program farm. Note the yellow “Safety Zone” sign in the background, clearly depicting the boundary of the HAP hunting area. Photo by Michigan DNR.

Returning from a successful hunt on a participating mid-Michigan Hunting Access Program farm. Note the yellow “Safety Zone” sign in the background, clearly depicting the boundary of the HAP hunting area. Photo by Michigan DNR.

HAP began in 1977 when Michigan United Conservation Clubs lobbied the Legislature to create a “public access to private land” program. The Legislature responded by passing a law that required every hunter who lived in southern Michigan to purchase a Public Access Stamp, with the money earmarked to lease private farmland for hunters.

Although the Legislature soon changed the program—dropping the stamp requirement and funding it, instead, with a portion of the money raised from the sale of hunting licenses to southern Michigan hunters—the concept took off, peaking in 1982. But it soon went into long-term decline as the idea of leasing land caught on with the hunting public and hunters were often willing to “outbid” the DNR for access rights.

The program rocked along, losing ground, as hunter numbers decreased. Former DNR Director Becky Humphries formed the Hunter Retention and Recruitment Work Group to address decreasing hunter numbers. When the group identified a lack of access to hunting land as a prime cause for decreasing license sales, revisiting the HAP program seemed like a no-brainer.

Although DNR budgets were tight, a provision in the 2007 federal Farm Bill created a program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help fund state efforts to provide more hunting access. The DNR applied for a Voluntary Public Access Grant and was awarded $900,000 for three years to expand HAP.

The DNR’s Parker—who at the time was working as a regional biologist with Pheasants Forever—was part of the recruitment and retention work group and helped the DNR write the grant. Soon after, he was hired to coordinate the HAP program. Parker immediately identified one of the key road blocks: payments to landowners were too low.

“We were not paying competitive lease rates,” Parker said. “The rates we were paying had not been increased since 1996, and they probably were not competitive in 1996. We are paying competitive lease rates now.”

 Greater flexibility for landowners

In addition, the DNR changed the types of hunting rights it was leasing. In the past, landowners were required to allow all types of hunting on the property. Now, property owners can determine the types of hunting rights they wish to lease.

“We increased the flexibility for landowners,” Parker explained. “We gave them options to choose from. They could lease us rights to all hunting, youth or apprentice only, small game only, deer only or turkey only. This increased flexibility was very well received by landowners and really helped us add farms that we would not have enrolled otherwise.”

The highest rates are paid to those landowners who lease all rights, and payment rates decrease as access becomes more restricted. All-hunting leases are the most popular option among landowners.

“The majority of our farms are all-hunting, though lately we’ve been picking up quite a few youth and apprentice farms,” Parker said.

Parked noted there are also some small-game-only farms, but the bulk are all-hunting. Some landowners who have chosen small game or turkey limit the lease rights because they want to reserve deer hunting for friends and family members who like to hunt their property.

“I thought it would be the opposite – that people would want to lease out the deer-hunting rights so they could still hunt small game, and we would help pick up the tab for the damage the deer cause,” Parker explained. “But it hasn’t happened that way.”

Now that the bulk of Michigan deer season has passed, HAP properties will appeal mostly to late-season small game hunters pursuing rabbits, squirrels and Canada geese – though archery deer hunters and late-season antlerless deer hunters have until Jan. 1 to participate. Pheasant season runs through Jan. 1 in much of southern Michigan, too.

Better opportunities for hunters

Access to HAP farms is available in two ways. At most, there is a self-service box at the farm for hunters to register. Other farmers require a mandatory check-in where hunters actually knock on the door and get direct permission from the landowner, Parker said.

“Something we’ve tried to do is make the program more hunter-friendly,” he continued. “Our new website lists all the farms in the program and they’re all listed in Mi-HUNT, which includes aerial photos of the properties,” he said. “So a hunter can sit at home in his living room and scout the property and devise a strategy of how he might want to hunt it. I think those aerial photos will really help hunters.”

Parker said he had focused on signing up farms for HAP that were already enrolled in other Farm Bill programs—such as the Conservation Reserve Program—to help ensure the land supports game animals.

“The benefit to that is we’re getting high-quality wildlife habitat,” he said. “I’m thrilled with the quality of these new farms and the hunting opportunities they will provide.

“Response from hunters thus far has been very positive and I’ve heard multiple great success stories, including a young girl who harvested a dandy 9-point buck with her bow,” Parker added. “For me, providing opportunities like this that allow hunters to enjoy the outdoors and help maintain our hunting heritage is what the program is all about.”

Parker said he plans to conduct extensive surveys of both landowners and hunters after the season to get a sense for what worked, what didn’t and what could be improved for the future. The Hunting Access Program has re-emerged as a worthwhile resource for hunters in southern Michigan, and the DNR is working to keep it that way.

To learn more about the Hunting Access Program, visit www.michigan.gov/hap. To explore hunting opportunities and land resources available through the DNR, visit www.michigan.gov/hunting or www.michigan.gov/mihunt.

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learn archery, handgun and shotgun skills

Women’s Shooting Discovery Day Sept. 29

The Department of Natural Resources will offer an opportunity for women to explore different types of shooting all in one day at the Women’s Shooting Discovery Day in Sparta on Saturday, Sept. 29.

Part of the DNR’s Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) program, the class will take place from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Sparta Hunting & Fishing Club. This shooting clinic, for beginners as well as those who would like to sharpen their shooting skills, will provide certified, one-on-one instruction for archery, handgun shooting and trap shooting (shotgun).

The day will begin with a range safety orientation, and the class will then break up into three rotation groups, where each participant will have the opportunity to learn and practice each of the shooting activities throughout the day. All shooting activities will take place outdoors.

Cost is $50 per person and includes lunch, served by the Sparta Hunting & Fishing Club membership, as well as all equipment, eye and ear protection and ammunition. The Sparta Hunting & Fishing Club is located at 13218 Long Lake Drive in Sparta. For more information about the club, visit www.spartahuntingandfishingclub.com. 
For registration forms and information on this and other BOW events, visit www.michigan.gov/bow, email dnr-outdoors-woman@michigan.gov or call 517-241-2225.

Becoming an Outdoors-Woman helps women learn about and enjoy hunting, fishing, backpacking, shooting sports, canoeing and many other outdoor recreation activities. BOW specializes in beginners, but also offers a variety of programs that support a mix of skill levels. BOW is a noncompetitive program, designed to let each individual learn and gain confidence at her own pace. The program emphasizes the enjoyment, fun and camaraderie of outdoor activities, while sharing in one another’s success. Learn more at www.michigan.gov/bow.

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learn archery, handgun and shotgun skills

Teen gets first deer

Austin M. Coalter, 11, shot his first deer, a 6-point buck on Nov. 16, 2011, while hunting with his uncle Keith Coalter, just north of Cedar Springs. He was shooting a Ruger 270 cal. rifle and the deer was about 120 yards out. His family is very proud of him. Congrats, Austin!

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Teen bow hunter gets his buck

Michael Smith Jr., 15, the son of Mike and Betty Smith, shot this nice 8-point buck with his bow on Nov. 5. He was hunting behind his house in Solon Township. He is a freshman at Cedar Springs High School. Congratulations Michael!

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Ten-year-old gets deer

Trey Lewis, 10, the son of Jake and Amy Lewis, of Solon Township, went hunting on opening day evening on his family’s property, near 22 Mile and Trenton, with his Uncle Bill Woudwyk, and got this 8-point buck his first time out.
Congratulations, Trey!

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Firearm deer season underway

The 2011 firearm deer season opened Tuesday, Nov. 15, and impressions regarding deer observations, hunting activity, and check station operations from the first few days of the season have been compiled by the Department of Natural Resources. Overall, hunting activity started slow but appeared to increase later in the week and over the weekend. Deer condition throughout the state has been reported as good to excellent. The following are the early impressions summarized on a regional basis:
 Upper Peninsula: Hunter numbers across the region appear the same or lower than during the early days of the 2010 firearm season. Most hunters are reporting seeing more deer than last year, and that deer are in good condition. The excellent conditions of deer at check stations supports hunter observations. Initially slow activity at check stations picked up near the end of last week to now include similar or increased numbers of deer checked compared to last year.
Northern Lower Peninsula: Hunting activity last week was reported as fairly light compared to previous years. The northeast portion of the region noted an increase in number of deer checked, but the western and southern portions have noted similar to fewer deer brought in compared to last year. Early reports on weekend check station activity suggest check station and harvest numbers may now have caught up to or exceeded numbers from last year. Deer condition has been described as very good with several exceptional bucks observed at a number of check stations around the region.
Southern Michigan: About 71 percent of corn was picked by opening day, which matches the five-year average but was less than last year, when 97 percent was picked. Hunting activity varied somewhat around the region, but appeared the same or lower than last year; shots heard were consistently lower than last year throughout the region over the first few days of the season. Fewer deer have been checked compared to last year, but deer are in good condition. Some check stations noted an increase in 3-½ and even 4-½ year-old bucks compared to recent years.
Each year, DNR Wildlife Division staff working at check stations around the state submit their impressions and a summary of comments provided by hunters from the first few days of the firearm season. These impressions provide an early view of how the firearm season is faring. Deer populations in both northern regions have come through two relatively mild winters in a row, on the heels of two relatively severe winters of 2007 and 2008. Deer numbers appear to be recovering, but more notable is the good to excellent condition being observed by hunters and confirmed by data collected at check stations. License sales through opening day were about 2.5 percent lower than in 2010, which supports the observations of generally lighter hunting pressure in most areas of the state.
Firearm deer season continues through Nov. 30, with archery season resuming Dec. 1.
For more information about deer hunting opportunities in Michigan, go online to www.michigan.gov/deer. Updated field observations and check station summaries will be posted on the collaborative DNR Wildlife Division and Michigan State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife website at www.deer.fw.msu.edu.

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Waterfowl season dates for 2011-12

Michigan duck hunters will again enjoy a 60-day season this year as the Natural Resources Commission approved upcoming waterfowl seasons at its August meeting last week.
Duck season will begin Sept. 24 in the North Zone (Upper Peninsula) and run through Nov. 18, then re-open Nov. 24-27. In the Middle Zone, duck season is set for Oct. 1–Nov. 27 and Dec. 3-4. In the South Zone, the season is Oct. 8–Dec. 4 and Dec. 10-11.
Bag limits are unchanged from last year. Hunters may take up to six ducks daily with no more than four mallards (no more than one of which may be a hen), three wood ducks, two redheads, two scaup, two pintails, one canvasback and one black duck.
The early Canada goose hunting season begins statewide Sept. 1 and runs through Sept. 10 in the North Zone and in Saginaw, Tuscola and Huron counties; and through Sept. 15 in the rest of the state. The daily bag limit is five.
The regular Canada goose seasons, with the exception of designated goose management units (GMU), are Sept. 17-Oct. 31 in the North Zone; Oct. 1-Nov. 8, Nov. 24-27 and Dec. 3-4 in the Middle Zone; and Oct. 8-Nov. 10 and Nov. 24–Dec. 4 in the south zone. The daily bag limit is two.
At Muskegon Waste Water GMU, the seasons are Oct. 11–Nov. 13 and Dec. 1-11. The daily bag limit is two.
Hunters may take 20 snow, blue or Ross’ geese daily and one white-fronted goose and one brant during the regular and late seasons in respective zones or GMUs.
About 75 percent of Michigan’s mallard harvest is from ducks produced in the Great Lakes region. Michigan’s mallard population was down 34 percent this year from 2010 and 40 percent below the long-term average. Therefore despite very good predictions for continental fall duck flights, Michigan duck hunters will likely encounter fewer ducks, especially mallards, this season.
In general, goose hunters are likely to see smaller numbers of Canada geese throughout Michigan’s goose hunting seasons; however some local areas have good giant Canada goose numbers and will provide excellent opportunity.
For more information on waterfowl hunting in Michigan, go to http://www.michigan.gov/hunting and click on Waterfowl.

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Turkey hunting workshops for women in January

The Department of Natural Resources and Environment is offering turkey hunting workshops in January in cooperation with Gander Mountain. These workshops are part of the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) program.
BOW is a noncompetitive program in which each individual is encouraged to learn at her own pace. The emphasis is on the enjoyment, fun and camaraderie of outdoor activities, and sharing in the success of one another.
In each two-hour workshop, instructors will provide participants will all of the information needed to begin turkey hunting. The workshops include season rules and regulations, habitat, scouting, patterning, hunting technique and will cover different types of equipment needed for a successful hunt.
Participants must pre-register for this workshop as space is limited. Young hunters ages 10 and older are welcome when accompanied by an adult. The cost per person is $10 and includes all workshop materials, including a turkey call.
Workshop dates are:
*Saturday, Jan. 15, from 1-3 p.m. at Gander Mountain, 2890 Acquest Avenue, SE,
Grand Rapids, MI 49512. Registration deadline Jan. 12.
*Wednesday, Jan. 19, from 6-8:30 p.m. at Gander Mountain, 430 N. Marketplace, Lansing, MI  48917. Registration deadline Jan. 17.
For registration forms and information on this and other BOW programs, visit www.michigan.gov/bow, call 517-241-2225 or email dnr-outdoors-woman@michigan.gov.

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Early Canada goose season opens sept. 1

The Department of Natural Resources and Environment reminds hunters that the early Canada goose hunting season opens statewide Wednesday, Sept. 1.

Early goose season, designed to target resident giant Canada geese, runs through Sept. 10 in the Upper Peninsula and in Huron, Tuscola and Saginaw counties, and through Sept. 15 elsewhere in Michigan.

Prospects for the upcoming goose season are excellent; the resident Canada goose population is estimated at 300,000 birds, the second highest population ever recorded. Hunters may take five Canada geese daily during the early season.

Wildlife officials remind hunters that a number of Canada geese in Calhoun and Kalamazoo counties within the Kalamazoo River watershed were covered with crude oil following the Enbridge pipeline rupture in late July. Hunters who observe oil-covered geese or other oiled wildlife should report them to 800-306-6837, the Enbridge wildlife response hotline.

Geese that were rescued, cleaned and released sport double leg bands, one of which reads: “Oil Spill Bird Contact Michigan DNRE 1-517-336-5030.”  Hunters who harvest the birds can call the phone number to get more information. The Michigan Department of Community Health suggests that adverse health effects from consuming these birds are unlikely.

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Muzzleloader season opens

The Department of Natural Resources reminds hunters that muzzleloading deer season opens Friday, Dec. 4, in Zone 1 (the Upper Peninsula) and Zone 3 (southern Michigan).

The season runs for 10 days in Zone 1 and 17 days in Zone 3. Firearms licenses, combination licenses and antlerless-only licenses are valid throughout muzzleloading season. Hunters may use archery gear or crossbows during muzzleloading season.

Muzzleloader season opens Dec. 11 in Zone 2 (northern Lower Peninsula) and runs for 10 days.

“With the unseasonably warm weather during much of the firearms season and with more standing corn than is typical for this time of year, there may be a lot of deer out there that haven’t shown themselves to hunters yet,” said DNR deer research specialist Brent


“We’d like to remind hunters that this is an excellent opportunity to fill any unused antlerless deer tags and we’d particularly encourage hunters in southern Michigan to do so.”

Hunters are also reminded that archery deer season is open Dec.1- Jan. 1. Deer hunters may not use crossbows, except in Zone 3, unless there is a firearm deer season open.

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