The Michigan DNR sent a letter to the state’s deer hunters weeks before the first day of gun season. “We need to have some honest talks about how to manage deer in this state,” wrote Chad Stewart, who works for the department and is in charge of managing deer, elk, and moose.
Stewart went on to explain why more does than bucks need to be killed, even though hunting in Michigan has been going down for decades: “We need to quickly and substantially increase our antlerless deer harvest across much of our Lower Peninsula.” It could make or break our image as environmentalists!”
After a few months, with only one type of shooting season left (extended urban archery), the state’s deer harvest has once again let people down, falling nearly 10% from the previous year.
As of Friday, the DNR said that a total of 274,057 deer had been killed during the 2023 license season. Only six counties saw an increase in numbers from the previous season, with Muskegon (+2%) being one of them.
Also in West Michigan, the crop amounts in Mecosta and Montcalm Counties both went down by 14%, and they went down by 12% in Kent and Newaygo Counties, to name a few. “We feel that we need to really try to reevaluate some of our current deer management strategies,” Stewart stated.
At the start of deer season, the department wanted shooters to kill more does than bucks. This goal also failed, as the harvest of deer without antlers dropped from 43% the previous year to 40%.
Stewart says the department wants to “have some conversations with sportsmen” about how to change these trends. He says that this year’s numbers may have been affected by the number of reports, as well as the fact that the corn harvest was late, which kept deer in fields instead of forests where hunters were. “Whether you’re a hunter or not, it’s really incredibly important from a resource standpoint and an ecological health standpoint,” Stewart stated.
This week, the department announced the Deer Management Initiative, a program that will get people involved to stop hunting and harvesting fewer deer. “Some of them will only work for a short time,” Stewart said. “Some of it might be long-term fixes that we start building towards over several years.”
The Lower Peninsula has a lot of problems with bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease. The Upper Peninsula has problems with predators and habitat, so the DNR says that people can be a part of the process through both online and in-person talks.
Although Dale Techel does not say that things are bad, he does believe that many things need to be changed. Techel is the owner of the famous Facebook page Michigan Deer Hunters. The Southeast Michigan hunter who has been hunting for a long time says the plan should “help the communication” between shooters and the state.
“I think a lot of people feel that the management of the herd isn’t always clear enough,” Techel said, saying that rules should be made county by county. “People want to see deer and they want to have a healthy herd,” Techel stated. “I don’t want to see those traditions go away, it’s part of what Michigan is.”
“Even if you’re not a hunter, you can certainly appreciate looking at a deer and a fawn in the summertime,” Stewart told us. “I think there’s a lot of value and a level of wildness that goes along with having that sort of experience with a white-tailed deer.”
Stewart talked to FOX 17 on Friday about possible population management policies. These policies included how much shooting licenses cost, how many bucks can be killed, and how long the gun season lasts.
In Michigan, a single-kill tag deer license costs $20 for residents and non-residents between the ages of 10 and 64. However, the DNR does sell $5 licenses in Deer Management Unit 487, which is a region in the Northern Lower Peninsula that includes several counties and is hit by bovine tuberculosis. Stewart hasn’t seen a rise in the harvest, even though the price has gone down.
“Is that true in other parts of the state?” “Maybe, maybe not,” Stewart said, adding that the effort “certainly needs to review” the current license structure.
When asked about adding more limits on antler points, Stewart said they were “absolutely on the table” and “worth discussion.” But he said that a “earn-a-buck” rule might not be popular with shooters because Wisconsin, which is in the Midwest and borders Michigan, banned the rule after it was put in place.