Michigan's 2009 Bowhunting Forecast

Michigan's 2009 Bowhunting Forecast

Take advantage of these Michigan bowhunting opportunities to arrow a trophy whitetail this fall! (September 2009)

Rockford hunter Clayton Gallup walked over to an apple tree near his bow stand and gave a large limb a good shake, causing several juicy red apples to tumble to the ground. Then he slipped into his stand under the cover of a warm midday sun, the sort that prompts bucks to seek cover and rest.

From Shiawassee NWR to state game areas like Allegan, Maple River and Dansville, Michigan offers plenty of public land open to bowhunters. Photo by Kenny Bahr.

He was hunting the Allegan State Game Area near an abandoned farm surrounded by several old apple trees covered with fruit. The habitat was highlighted by thick brush, cedar swamps and rolling hills bordered by standing corn fields and alfalfa.

Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye he noticed movement in the thick brush. A big 10-pointer emerged from the brush and walked directly toward his stand. Gallup's heart raced, and he could feel blood pounding through his fingertips as he eased the bow to full draw, placed the cross hairs on the buck's shoulder and released the arrow. The buck jolted from the impact, made a mule-like kick with its hind legs and sprinted for nearby cover.

Gallup eagerly watched as the big buck made a short circle in the underbrush, stood motionless a few seconds and then fell to the ground. A cell phone call to his uncle, David Dietrich from Williamston, confirmed the dandy buck was down and the duo soon celebrated the kill with shouting, high fives and a happy dance around the beautiful animal.

The above anecdote best describes the fun-filled deer-hunting adventures that await Michigan hunters again his fall. The outlook for the 2009-2010 bow season looks very promising, and you can expect excellent action if you scout and select a promising stand site at any of the following hotspots.

SHIAWASSEE NWR

"One of Michigan's best-kept secrets for trophy bucks is the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge," reports Jim Dastyck, Federal Refuge biologist. "The refuge is huge -- roughly 9,500 acres filled with natural areas that conserve a wonderful complex of river wetlands, large agricultural fields, thick flooded wood lots, and huge cattail marshes enclosed by a series of dikes.

The rivers that come together on the refuge drain 22 different counties -- the largest watershed in Michigan. Wetlands and backwaters of the Flint, Shiawassee, Tittabawassee and Cass rivers provide fantastic habitats for a vast number of adult bucks. This mosaic of natural areas is home for 1,200 to 1,400 whitetail deer during the fall hunting season. What is amazing is several studies have indicated that the buck-to-doe ratio is one buck to around 1.4 does!"

The entire refuge is open to hunting. Wildlife managers use a party point system, and hunters must apply for a permit. Directions to National Refuge Headquarters: From Saginaw take M-13 south 5 miles to Curtis Road, turn right (west) and proceed 1 mile to Curtis Road. Refuge Head­quarters: (989) 777-5930. Closest towns: Saginaw and St. Charles in Saginaw County. For registered drawing rules, refuge maps and hunt information, visit www.fws.gov/ Midwest/Shiawassee and click "hunting" or write Shiawassee NWR Deer Hunt, 6975 Mower Rd., Saginaw, MI 48601. Permits cost $15.

WESTERN UPPER PENINSULA

"The extreme western reaches of the U.P. offer a wide variety of choices," reports Robert Doepker, Wildlife Unit manager for the western half of the U.P. from the Marquette MDNR office. "You can find agricultural areas bordered by cedar swamps and tamarack forests that hold adult bucks. The far western and northern counties had a rough winter, cold temperatures, deep snow and an above-average winter severity index, which is used to gauge whitetail deer survival." Call (906) 228-6561 for more information.

"Bowhunting should be best in Gogebic, Ontonagon, Baraga or Houghton counties. Ontonagon holds the highest number of deer, with plenty of mature bucks mixed in, and Gogebic ranks second. Public land is found just about everywhere. Take advantage of the National Forest lands," said Doepker. "The south-central U.P. was hit hard by severe winter storms, and over 30,000 deer were lost. Our herd peaked in 1995. Since then, the harvest is down 40-50 percent."

EASTERN UPPER PENINSULA

"Archers over the past six years harvested more deer, and buck sightings have gone up around 20 percent, but this fall figures are expected to decline because of the harsh winter," reported Terry Minzey, eastern U.P. unit wildlife manager at the Newberry headquarters. Call (906) 293-5131 for more information.

"Our southern counties were hit hard from Naubinway west to Escanaba," said Minzey. "The northern counties had an average winter, and hunting should be productive. Many U.P. hunters from my unit head to southern Michigan or Ohio, Illinois or Iowa, where deer populations are booming and mature bucks can be easily found."

NORTHEASTERN LOWER PENINSULA"Northern lower Michigan has more than 20,000 square miles of public-hunting land open for archery season," said MDNR unit manager Brian Mastenbrook, who works out of the Gaylord office. "With the taking of more antlerless deer the past few years, odds increase toward a better buck/doe ratio, and in some of our region we figure that ratio to be one buck for (every) four does. The archery season should be exciting because we are seeing more 2 1/2-year-old bucks, meaning the younger bucks are getting a chance to grow older."

Contact Mastenbrook at (989) 732-3541 for more information.

NORTHWESTERN LOWER PENINSULA

"Looking for a place to hunt? Our unit contains thousands of square miles of state and federal lands open to bowhunting," MDNR wildlife unit manager Larry Visser said. "Look at Wexford, Lake, Mason, Osceola and Missaukee counties for good public-hunting land. We have had increased car/deer accidents in Osceola, Leelanau and Benzie counties."

For more information, contact the Cadillac office at (231) 775-9727.

Leon Hank, president of the Michigan Quality Deer Management Association explains: "The Leelanau area has had several outstanding bow seasons in a row because of a five-year antler restriction program. Archers in the know have kept the fantastic buck hunting under wraps. Some say it is as good as Illinois or other big-buck states."

MANISTEE RIVER SGA

Close to the city of Manistee, this state game area is best known for excellent waterfowl hunting, but those who understand big bucks have had a field day chasing mossy-horned mature whitetails that hide in the sloughs, bayous and cattails along the Big Manistee River.

Dave Bruce of Bath has a cabin close by, and he loves to chase bucks in the region. "One of my best spots is off River Road, close to a series of several small islands bordered by thick cattail marshlands -- too thick for a person to wade, but mega-bucks use the habitat for cover," Bruce said. "Duck hunters tend to motor along the main river and push the deer to the cattail outskirts, where I'm waiting for a clear shot. The state-owned land is bordered by the expansive Manistee National Forest that is open to hunting. I literally have hundreds of miles of open land to chase bucks. By pre-season scouting the hardwood forests, I can generally find an oak ridge covered with acorns. Not just any acorns, but big white oak varieties that draw big bucks like a magnet. If my marsh is flooded, I'll stick to the acorn ridges."

GRATIOT/SAGINAW SGA

"With over 20 square miles of state-owned land found in the Gratiot/Saginaw State Game Area, you can expect to find some excellent hunting," explained Jim Wilson, a well-known local archer. "The habitat is a mixture of prime whitetail deer country highlighted by wetlands, small lakes (and) cattail swamps mixed with acorn-rich hardwoods and bordered by agricultural crops.

"I like to concentrate on the edges of corn fields in the early bow season or close to apple trees or where deer tend to concentrate near food. As the season progresses, I'll slip into the big woods found off Woodbridge Road, where bucks like to visit oak trees that are loaded with acorns. Come prime rut in late October through November, the big bucks are chasing does, moving during broad daylight, and I hunt several stands set up along Buchanan Road. Big bucks tend to be very difficult to locate until rut time, and then they vacate area hideouts and search for receptive does. That's when I'll spend all day in the woods, and I cover plenty of ground, sneaking through the underbrush making tending grunts to draw the attention of lovesick bucks.

"On opening day of duck season, I'll set up away from local ponds, lakes, waterways and the hundreds of potholes in the SGA that hold wood ducks and tend to draw a multitude of wader-clad hunters in search of ducks for the grill. Most hit the marshlands long before daylight, and they will chase the bucks to surrounding wood lots that have no duck ponds. Duck opener is like opening day of gun season, and when the boys get shooting at woodies, the deer run to adjoining woods that offer cover. Last year on (the duck) opener, I saw seven bucks. Two were shooters."

MAPLE RIVER SGA

This huge area open to public hunting borders the meandering Maple River from Gratiot and Clinton counties to Ionia County. It consists of nearly 10,000 acres of prime deer land bordered by private farms. The properties are in a hodgepodge of shapes and sizes along the river for a distance over 20 miles long. If you plan to hunt deer here, you better get a state map that lays out the land open to public hunting.

For maps and more information, visit www.Michigan.gov/dnr.com and click on "where I can hunt."

I've hunted the Maple SGA for more than two decades and know the system intimately. Let me tell you, there are plenty of deer in the region and some big old stompin' bucks to boot. While other state-owned lands might have few deer, Maple River is simply overrun. For instance, last year on opening day, I saw 43 deer, with several bucks mixed in. The second day I saw 36, and seven carried racks. Bowhunting is certain to be excellent this year because the population in the area is booming. Local farmers hunt deer, but they tend to harvest few and the remainder are left to breed. Most does give birth to twin fawns, and come archery season, the woods are crawling with deer. Runways are large and filled with fresh tracks, and finding buck sign is a breeze. No matter how many hunters cram onto state land, the deer simply dash to nearby private ground where they are protected.

Now, if your goal is to arrow a wallhanger, concentrate on the sections found west of Maple Rapids. From Wacousta Road to Hubbardston Road on the Clinton county line, you will find some of the best hunting in Michigan. This is not a cakewalk; you'll need state and county maps to identify public land parcels, and you will need to do plenty of scouting to find runways, bedding areas and deer hotspots before you set up.

One trick is to find state land that borders agricultural fields of corn, soybeans or alfalfa or apple groves. Next, scout the area and locate buck rub lines and bedding areas and set up close to the food sources. My favorite buck haven is bordered by standing corn, and the state land has thick brush, tall marsh grass and several creeks that form islands in a lowland, swampy, muck-filled dense forest. Far from the road, the habitat is ideal and has little hunting pressure, and the thick brush is home to adult bucks.

ALLEGAN SGA

The archery outlook is excellent for the entire Allegan region. This area has a history of producing record-book bucks, but there is a good reason that adult whitetail deer are located here. Found close to Allegan, this state land is best known for the fantastic goose hunting it offers. In addition, the waterfowl managers have set aside several refuges to protect ducks and geese that have turned into deer magnets. Big-buck sanctuaries are difficult to find in Michigan, especially on state land, but Allegan has several and the huge bucks that roam the countryside are awesome creatures with impressive headgear.

Sanctuaries are found at the Fennville Farm Unit, Bravo Unit and High Banks Unit or Swan Creek Wildlife Refuge. In addition, the surrounding habitat is ideal for big bucks. Allegan state land is full of rolling hills, ridges covered with oak trees, steep hills, small swamps, creeks and hideouts in thickets. Second, much of the land that borders the Kalamazoo River is difficult to hunt unless you use a canoe or pram. And lastly, the surrounding private property holds plenty of big deer that find sanctuary in standing corn, pine groves and thick brush.

This is rough country, unlike most of the flat farm country found in southern Michigan. The deer have thrived by jumping from ridge to ridge, and the soil is rich with iron, calcium and other minerals to help average deer grow impressive racks. Try the buck hotspot between 124th Ave. and New Richmond along the Ottawa Marsh Unit. For information, contact the Plainwell MDNR Operations Service Center at (269) 685-6851.

DANSVILLE SGA

"Archery season should be outstanding on the Dansville SGA because there was more standing corn this winter than past years and a lot of deer lived on the planted food source," said Grand Ledge hunter Edward Carlin. "I hunted the area the entire early bow season, and come late bow (season), the deer were charging the standing corn found near Williamston and Lienhart roads.

While driving Ewers Road after dark, two big bucks crossed in my headlights. They were headed for standing corn planted on state land. I set up in the area and saw a lot of deer (and) several bucks, but the big boys never showed. I hope to see them this fall. I think the crop plantings on the state-owned land have helped deer to survive winter. Come spring, does are healthier and should have twin fawns.

"I own 40 acres o

f land close to Dansville, and the local deer population seems to be on the rise. Last bow season, I arrowed a fat 130-class buck on the fourth day, after seeing almost a dozen bucks. Then, after gun season, I made the move to the Three Gables swamp found near Hewes Lake in the center of a huge state-owned section. I parked at the MDNR lot on Dexter Trail and hiked a mile into the swamp, where I took stand.

Come dark, a large buck walked past, but I missed the shot because I got over-excited when I saw the rack and jerked the trigger. That buck was a huge deer and should score Boone and Crockett this coming bow season. The Dansville SGA is so large that many deer can disappear into distant swamps that seldom get hunting pressure. The habitat is ideal; acorn ridges, alder thickets, creeks and swamps are home to big bucks with large antlers," Carlin said.

Michigan has a vast whitetail deer population, and some excellent hunting is available to those willing to scout state properties, find buck sign, set up in hot locations and score on deer. In most cases, the key to success depends on how well you understand whitetail deer and their habits, how well you execute smart woodsmanship and how close you can get to your target for a shot -- on any property, in any environment, under a variety of conditions.

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