2018 Michigan Deer Forecast
October 30, 2018
Deer hunters in our state can look forward to more opportunities to fill tags this fall due to an increase in the number of whitetails in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) along with the increasing presence of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in some southern counties and an elevated prevalence of tuberculosis (TB) in the northeastern Lower Peninsula. The new regulations for this fall should offer some additional opportunities to harvest more deer for a number of Michigan hunters. This is particularly true in areas where CWD is most prominent, where more liberal harvests have been approved for this season.
A 16-county CWD Management Zone includes the following counties: Clinton, Eaton, Gratiot, Ingham, Ionia, Isabella, Kent, Mecosta, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Ottawa, Jackson,Calhoun, Hillsdale and Shiawassee. A five-county core area where the prevalence of CWD is considered highest includes Ionia, Kent, Mecosta, Montcalm and Newaygo. Baiting and feeding of deer in all 16 counties is illegal.
Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists would like to see more antlerless deer taken by hunters in disease management areas (both the CWD Core Zone and the TB Zone). To accomplish that, all regular licenses will be valid for deer of either sex in those deer management units. Tags only valid for antlerless deer will also be available at a reduced cost (possibly $12 instead of $20) that are only valid on private land through November 4 for the CWD Zone. A limit of 10 private-land antlerless licenses can be purchased per hunter in the CWD Management Zone. Antlerless tags at full price can also be purchased for any county in the CWD Zone that are valid for all seasons.
Another proposal this past summer was to allow modern firearms in those 16 counties during the traditional muzzleloader season during December, in effect creating a second firearms season. This has also been approved for this season.
All antler point restrictions have been removed from the CWD Management Zone, including both tags of combination deer licenses. One tag of combination deer licenses remains restricted to bucks with at least 4 points on one antler in the TB Management Zone, though hunters there had requested that regulations be changed to the same as the CWD Zone.
One new regulation that will impact deer hunters statewide limits the use of products made with deer urine to those with the Archery Trade Association (ATA) Seal of Participation and those that are synthetic. Baiting and feeding of whitetails over the entire Lower Peninsula will also be banned effective January 31, 2019.
MORE U.P. DEER
The best news for deer hunters this year is there has been a major improvement in the U.P. deer herd. The deer harvest for all seasons in the U.P. for 2017 was up by 55.8 percent from 2016, according to a draft report from the DNR on the 2017 deer harvest. The U.P. deer kill jumped from 22,647 in 2016 to an estimated 35,289 last fall. Because antlerless permits were limited to a handful of management units in the U.P. during 2017, and there were only an estimated 4,762 antlerless whitetails taken with those permits, the bulk of the kill was composed of antlered bucks.
Several mild winters in a row are responsible for the rebound of U.P. deer. Even more whitetails will be present for hunters to choose from during 2018. In spite of a late snowstorm that hit the U.P. during mid-April of 2018, deer survival was still good to excellent over much of the region. Enough snow had melted prior to that late snowfall to enable most deer to leave winter yards. A warm spell immediately after the storm melted the new snow quickly, too.
A spike in deer vehicle collisions between 2016 and 2017 confirms the jump in deer numbers. There were 3,973 deer vehicle collisions during 2017 in U.P. counties, according to Michigan State Police crash statistics, compared to 2,969 in 2016, an increase of just over 1,000. Unfortunately, two people died and 93 were injured in automobile crashes involving deer in the U.P. for 2017. This compares with 86 injuries and no fatalities in 2016.
Some changes could be made in U.P. deer harvest regulations next year to better enable hunters to take advantage of the population increase and to reduce the chances of CWD spreading to the U.P. from Wisconsin. Deer with CWD have been identified within 30 miles of the U.P. border. Since 2015, antlerless deer have been protected from U.P. bowhunters. If that restriction were reversed, making does legal to bowhunters on regular deer licenses again, that could be one way to help.
Since 2008, both tags on combination deer licenses in the U.P. have been restricted to bucks with 3 and 4 points on one antler. The reason for that change was to increase the number of adult bucks in the population. The opposite has happened, resulting in a much smaller deer herd with fewer adult bucks.
One of the most likely ways for CWD to reach the U.P. is from a yearling buck in Wisconsin that is infected with CWD dispersing to the U.P. Because most U.P. deer hunters buy combo licenses, most yearling bucks have been off limits to them. Infected yearlings that survive another year are capable of spreading the disease during that time.
Some adult does travel back and forth between the U.P. and Wisconsin, too, so a doe from the U.P. could become infected with CWD in Wisconsin and bring it back to the U.P. Increasing antlerless permits in border counties besides allowing bowhunters to shoot does will help address this issue. Legalizing the use of crossbows during the late archery season in the U.P. would also allow the harvest of more does. The U.P. is currently the only region in the state where crossbows are not legal for December archery hunting.
U.P. counties with the highest deer populations are Menominee, Delta, Dickinson and Iron. Bowhunters who want to hunt for trophy bucks where there’s little hunting pressure and plenty of public land should consider any of the counties bordering Lake Superior such as Luce, Alger, Marquette, Baraga, Houghton and Ontonagon.
Almost 50 percent of the deer hunters in Region 3 (southern Michigan) bagged at least one deer of either sex during 2017 seasons, according to DNR statistics, and similar success can be expected in that region this year. The district with the highest success of 52 percent in that region was Saginaw Bay, and it should be the same this year.
The counties in that district are Huron, Sanilac, Tuscola, Bay, Saginaw, Midland and Isabella. The success rate was 47 percent in the Southcentral District and 45 percent in the Southwest District, which are still excellent.
Success rates were almost identical in the two districts that make up the northern Lower Peninsula’s Region 2 at 44 percent, but here are differences to keep in mind when you are deciding where to hunt. The Northeastern District includes the TB deer management unit of 452.
Both buck tags on combination deer licenses were restricted to bucks with 3 and 4 points on an antler starting in 2010, which resulted in an increase of TB-infected deer. One tag on combo licenses was unrestricted starting in 2017. For 2018, it will be the same, with one tag unrestricted and the other limited to 4 points.
Mandatory antler point restrictions are in effect in the Northwestern District, limiting hunters to shooting bucks with at least 3 points on one antler, but the number of antlerless permits have been increased for this district to offset the reduced buck harvest.