Michigan'™s 2007 Bowhunting Outlook

Our state's archery deer harvest increased by 12.6 percent last year, and this season is expected to be even better. Here are the stats and facts. (September 2007)

Ken Thompson arrowed this 21-point non-typical buck in Ingham County last fall. The antlers netted 167 6/8 inches and grossed close to 180.
Photo courtesy of Ken Thompson.

Michigan's archery deer harvest for 2006 went up by 12.6 percent from 2005, according to preliminary figures from Department of Natural Resources statistician Brian Frawley. Based on favorable conditions for deer survival last winter and excellent fawn production this past spring, bowhunters should have an even better chance of filling their tags this year, and thus the bow kill should go up another notch in 2007.

"Everything that we have seen across the state indicates deer came through winter in good shape," DNR big-game specialist Rod Clute said. "And they were in good shape going into winter. There should be a lot of deer out there."

Bowhunters arrowed an estimated 125,614 deer statewide in 2006, according to preliminary figures, compared with 111,508 the year before. That total was composed of 74,724 antlered bucks and 50,890 antlerless deer. The buck kill went up more than 15 percent from the 64,784 bagged in 2005, and the tally for antlerless animals increased by 9 percent from 46,725 deer.

The archery kill went up in every region of Michigan last fall, with the greatest increase experienced in the northern Lower Peninsula, or Region 2. There were an estimated 25.7 percent more bucks and does taken in Region 2 last fall (37,896) than the previous year (30,159). The buck kill among bowhunters in the region went up 28.1 percent -- 21,365 compared with 16,672 -- and the tally of antlerless whitetails increased by 22.5 percent -- 16,531 versus 13,489. Part of the reason for that increase was more hunting pressure.

The northeastern L.P., which includes the TB zone, had 4.6 more bowhunters during 2006 (46,746) than the year before (44,701). Such a small increase in hunter numbers of about 2,000 doesn't account for the reported change in the kill of close to 8,000 deer. Bowhunters who tried their luck here obviously had a higher success rate.

Figures for the Northwestern District bear this out. Even though hunter numbers declined 4.1 percent during bow season in that district, the number of deer arrowed still went up by 17.1 percent. A total of 19,094 deer were taken in the northwestern L.P. by bowhunters last fall versus 16,309 in 2005 by 2,356 fewer archers. The buck harvest went up by 19.1 percent (11,309 and 9,493) and the number of does and fawns tagged increased by 14.2 percent (7,785 and 6,816).

Counties comprising the Northwestern District are Leelanau, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Mason, Lake, Osceola, Oceana, Newaygo and Mecosta.

Not only was the bow kill up in this district, but some trophy bucks were also taken. Brad McClure, for example, arrowed the highest scoring typical bow buck on record for Mason County during mid-October. The 10-pointer netted 161 5/8 inches.

McClure said he almost got a shot at the buck on opening day of bow season. It was approaching his tree stand with two other bucks. When he was about 10 yards away, the whitetail looked up and saw McClure, blew and took off. Two weeks later, McClure was in the same stand when the trophy deer trailed an 8-pointer into bow range. This time, the buck was distracted by an opossum long enough for McClure to make the shot.

The biggest jump in the kill for Region 2 was in the northeastern L.P., where it went up by a whopping 44.9 percent last bow season -- 11,645 compared with 8,039 in 2005. The number of antlered bucks bagged by bowhunters increased by 53.8 percent in that district (6,139 versus 3,991) and the antlerless kill was up by 35.9 percent (5,505 and 4,051).

The Northeast District consists of Emmet, Cheboygan, Presque Isle, Charlevoix, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Crawford, Oscoda, Alcona, Roscommon, Ogemaw and Iosco counties.

It makes sense that deer hunting is rebounding in Region 2 after a number of years of reduced effort brought about by low deer numbers. As hunting pressure dropped off, whitetails increased. Even though the herd has been down in recent years, the remaining deer are healthy and the does tend to be more productive. It doesn't take long for healthy does to repopulate an area.

Healthy bucks also tend to produce bigger racks. More record-book bucks have been coming from Region 2 during recent years, and their presence attracts hunters. An antlered whitetail that 14-year-old Andrew Krebill arrowed on state land in Manistee County on Nov. 11, 2006, is a perfect example. Krebill was hunting from one of his uncle's tree stands when he killed the deer. Andrew heard the buck coming behind him and was able to get his bow ready for action. The deer stopped in one spot for five or six minutes before finally moving into position for a shot. The 12-pointer had a drop tine on the left antler and was aged at 4 1/2 or 5 1/2 years old by a taxidermist. The antlers netted 128 5/8 inches. Andrew's father, Paul, said his family has been hunting that area for 50 years and that is the biggest buck they have killed.

Counties in Region 3 typically produce the biggest antlered bucks for bowhunters every year in Michigan, and 2007 should not be any different. I talked with a pair of hunters from Region 3 who each arrowed trophy whitetails last fall, and they both said they either saw or heard about bucks that survived and were at least as big as the ones they killed.

Kelly Hatch was one of those bowhunters. She arrowed a non-typical 16-pointer near her home in Washtenaw County on Oct. 7, 2006. The impressive rack on her deer netted 164 1/8 inches. It was traveling with another buck that had a rack similar in size to the one she dropped. In fact, when the second deer took off running after the shot, she said she thought it was the one her arrow had connected with. The antlers were so close in size it was easy to get them confused. When Hatch watched the whitetail go out of sight 200 yards away, she was concerned about how much of a drag would be involved in recovering it. It wasn't until after she got her husband and they found her buck 30 yards from the stand in a different direction than she watched the other buck go that she realized there had been two bucks together close to the same size. Kelly said she didn't hear about another trophy buck taken during the remainder of hunting season from the area, so she thinks he's still out there, and should have an even bigger rack this year.

Ken Thompson had a similar experience in Ingham County. A friend of his had been seeing a big buck on his property

, so he invited Thompson to hunt there. When Thompson eventually arrowed a 21-point non-typical at 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 9, he thought that was the buck his friend had been seeing. When he showed the deer to his friend, however, he found out otherwise. The property owner had never seen the buck Thompson killed. He told Thompson the one he had been seeing had a bigger rack with much longer tines. The bowhunter is convinced the buck his friend had been seeing is definitely of Boone and Crockett proportions. He knows that one survived because his buddy saw the deer again in January after hunting seasons ended.

Of course, there was nothing wrong with the antlers of the buck that Thompson did tag. They grossed close to 180 inches and netted 167 6/8 inches, with a broken G-2. The rack had plenty of mass, with antler bases measuring 6 6/8 inches in circumference. He said the antlers weighed 7 pounds. The buck was 4 1/2 years old and had a dressed weight of 190 pounds.

The overall bow harvest in Region 3 only went up 7.3 percent during 2006 compared with 2005, which is the lowest rate for any region in Michigan. When you consider that part of our state has the highest bowhunting pressure and has been consistently producing the highest bow kill of any region for a number of years now, however, that increase takes on a different meaning. It's actually a good sign that archers continue to take more whitetails from that region.

The buck kill actually went up 10.1 percent among bowhunters in Region 3 last fall and the antlerless harvest was up by a modest 3.1 percent. A total of 78,361 bucks and does were bagged by bowhunters in the region during 2006 compared with 73,012 the year before. Numbers for the buck kill for the two years are 48,781 and 44,312. The tally for does and fawns is 29,581 versus 28,695.

Areas in Region 3 that experienced the greatest increase in harvest were the Southeast District and Saginaw Bay District. The bow kill went up by 20.7 percent in the southeast counties and 16.6 percent in those near Saginaw Bay. An estimated 11,660 bucks and does were taken by archers in the Southeast District last fall compared with 9,661 in 2005, and hunter numbers declined slightly, so the success rate was obviously higher.

The buck harvest was up by 31.4 percent (7,287 versus 5,545) in the southeast, with only 6.2 percent more antlerless deer taken -- 4,372 compared with 4,116).

Counties in the Southeast District are Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Oakland, Macomb, Wayne and Monroe.

Bowhunter numbers in the Saginaw Bay District remained close to the same between 2005 and 2006, so the increased harvest there can also be primarily attributed to better success. The tally there for bucks and does among archers for the last two years was 21,767 and 18,674. The buck kill increased by 17 percent (13,012 and 11,118) compared with a 15.9 percent boost in the antlerless kill (8,755 and 7,556).

Counties in the Saginaw Bay District are Clare, Gladwin, Arenac, Isabella, Midland, Bay, Saginaw, Tuscola, Huron and Sanilac.

There is great news for fans of bowhunting for deer in the Upper Peninsula. The archery kill increased from the year before, even though there was a decline in hunter numbers, and the outlook for this fall is terrific due to a record mild winter over most of Region 1. Regionwide, the bow kill increased by 12.2 percent in 2006, but that number doesn't give a clear picture of bowhunting success for the U.P. The bow total actually declined by 15.3 percent in the Eastern District because hunter numbers there were down by 22.2 percent. Archers killed 21.6 percent more deer last fall in the Western District.

Bowhunters tagged 7,560 bucks and does in the western U.P. during the 2006 seasons, according to DNR figures, compared with 6,215 the year before, even though hunter numbers declined by 1.6 percent. The bowhunters who tried their luck were obviously much more successful than they had been in 2005. The buck harvest jumped 30.5 percent (3,748 versus 2,873), and the antlerless kill went up by 13.9 percent (3,811 and 3,345).

Western U.P. counties have always given up the bulk of the U.P. harvest, and it will remain that way in 2007 because last winter was so easy on northern whitetails. Southern U.P. counties didn't have much of a winter at all. Even in northern U.P. counties, permanent snow cover did not arrive until mid-January. Breakup also came early, with most snow gone by late March. A freak snowstorm during early April, however, buried the northern U.P. with 4 to 6 feet of snow. Because the snow was gone for about two weeks before it returned -- and the worst of it only lasted about a week -- the late snow should have had minimal impact on deer survival and fawn production, although some deer that otherwise would have survived were probably lost due to the storm.

The best counties in the western U.P. for bowhunting this fall will be Menominee, Delta, Dickinson and Iron. Other counties in the district are Gogebic, Ontonagon, Houghton, Keweenaw, Baraga, Marquette and Alger.

Bowhunting pressure is so light in the U.P. that good success with bow and arrow can be found in any county, and there's no shortage of trophy bucks either. Last winter was the second mild one in a row. Overall hunting pressure is so light in some areas that bucks die of old age -- if they aren't killed by cars or predators first. One of the biggest bucks I'm aware of being killed last fall in the U.P. was claimed by a vehicle on U.S. Highway 41 a few miles west of Marquette. The 13-pointer had a gross score of 162 1/8 inches and was at least 9 1/2 years old.

Bowhunters managed to drop some trophy bucks in the U.P. last fall, too. Sean Racine from Negaunee killed his biggest buck ever on Oct. 22 in Delta County. He was in a tree stand that morning overlooking a marsh near a beaver pond where he always sees rubs and scrapes. Racine used a grunt call to bring a 12-pointer within 20 yards. The rack was a main-framed 10-pointer with a pair of stickers. Racine said the antlers grossed 144 inches and netted 136, easily qualifying for a place in state records, as well as national archery records maintained by the Pope and Young Club.

After a number of years of declining bowhunter numbers in our state, there was a slight increase last year. According to DNR estimates, 312,633 hunters tried their luck with bow and arrow during 2006 compared with 307,928 in 2005. Lowering the minimum age for bowhunting from 12 to 10 for youths could have been a major factor responsible for the increase, and that's a good thing because we need more youngsters afield to keep the sport strong.

Although whitetails only have to have spikes at least 3 inches long to be considered a legal buck across most of Michigan, there are a few areas where special antler restrictions are in effect. Bucks must have at least 2 points on one side to be legal on Drummond Island and South Fox Island, for example. The same is true for Deer Management Unit 135 in eastern Iosco County.

There are two DMUs in our state -- one in the U.P. and the other in Region 2 -- where bucks must have at least 3 points on one antler to be legal. The unit in the northern L.P. is DMU 45, which is Leelanau Cou

nty. The U.P. unit is DMU 122, which is mostly in southern Dickinson County but also encompasses part of northwestern Menominee County.

There are seven counties in the northeastern L.P. where baiting deer for hunting is not legal. They are Presque Isle, Otsego, Oscoda, Montmorency, Crawford, Alpena and Alcona counties. Where baiting is legal, hunters are limited to two gallons of bait per day per location.

Enjoy your season, and hunt safely!

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