Michigan's Bowhunting Outlook

Many bowhunters enjoyed a successful season in 2002. Here's how things are shaping up for this fall.

By Richard P. Smith

It's tough to beat the bowhunting success Randy Blauw enjoyed in southwest Michigan's Van Buren County on Oct. 11, 2002. He saw nine deer that morning and they were all bucks. He described seven of those bucks as "shooters" with decent racks. Only two of the antlered whitetails were yearlings.

Blauw managed to arrow two of the nine bucks he saw that day and they both had antlers large enough to easily qualify for state records. The largest was an 11-pointer that netted 143 6/8 inches, which he shot first. His second buck, taken 40 minutes later, had a 9-point rack that netted 126 2/8 inches.

Blauw said he first visited the spot where he got both bucks on Oct. 3. He sat on a bucket on the ground among a group of five trees that formed a semi-circle. A bachelor group of five bucks appeared in single file at 7:30 a.m., with the largest one bringing up the rear.

He was not able to get a shot from his ground-based position, so he returned to the location the following Wednesday and put up a tree stand. He was in that stand before first light on Saturday the 11th. Like clockwork, the bachelor group of five bucks appeared at 7:30 again and Blauw arrowed the last one at a distance of 25 yards.

After making the shot at 7:40, Blauw decided to wait 45 minutes before following up on the 11-pointer. Through experience, he's learned it's important not to start following bow-shot deer too soon. Forty minutes had gone by when three more big bucks came running into the woods where he was.

Photo by BillKinney.com

The lead buck had vines hanging from its antlers. Blauw whistled as loud as he could to stop the whitetails. Two of the deer stopped, and Blauw arrowed the larger of those. Blauw bow-bagged another book buck from the county in 1997. The antlers from that deer netted 156.

Blauw's success helped boost the bow kill in the southwest district of the state last fall, but he wasn't alone. The archery deer harvest was up from the year before in all four of the southernmost districts for 2002 over the previous year, according to preliminary Department of Natural Resources estimates. And southern Michigan bowhunters can - with the possible exception of Randy Blauw - expect even better success this year than in 2002.

The outlook for archers who try their luck in the northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula this fall isn't as bright. The bow harvest remained the same in the northwestern L.P. last fall as it was during 2001, and it was down 17.3 percent in the northeast. Hunters in those districts can expect similar results this fall. The only thing that might change that prediction is if the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) allows baiting again in Deer Management Unit (DMU) 452, where TB-infected whitetails are most common. If they do that, the odds of success among bowhunters in the northeast will go up dramatically.

That's what happened during the 2001 season, when the NRC permitted bowhunters to use one gallon of bait per day. Archers who used bait in that DMU that fall enjoyed a 41 percent rate of success. Those who didn't were successful at a rate of 13 percent. Due to the legalization of bait hunting for bowhunters in DMU 452 during 2001, the deer harvest in northeast counties went up 5.9 percent from the year before. That was one of only two districts statewide where the bow kill went up in 2001.

The fact that the prevalence rate of TB among deer in DMU 452 in 2001 was identical to what it was in 1996 before baiting was regulated and remained statistically the same for 2002 is a strong indication that regulated baiting is not responsible for spreading the disease. The prevalence of TB among deer that were tested from DMU 452 was 2.3 percent during '96 and it was the same during 2001. The rate was 2.8 percent for 2002. I predict that rate will get higher in the future, if the use of bait isn't allowed to resume in that DMU.

Not only is the harvest of deer reduced because of lower rates of success when baiting isn't legal, but hunting pressure also declines as more hunters decide to hunt deer elsewhere. Reduced harvest translates into increased deer numbers. A decision had not been made about baiting in DMU 452 when this was written, so be sure to check final regulations before deciding whether to use this method of deer hunting in the northeast.

The bow kill was down for the second year in a row across the U.P. during 2002 and the same thing could happen this year, especially in northern counties. The best U.P. bowhunters can hope for is a season similar to 2002's, and that's what should be in store for archers trying their luck in southern U.P. counties. Last winter was mild in the southern half of the region, but the Winter Severity Index (WSI) exceeded 100 again in the Lake Superior watershed. Even though winter started late in the north for the second year in a row, a lot of snow and cold weather eventually arrived and hung on longer than normal.

Preliminary harvest figures from the DNR show that the statewide archery deer kill for 2002 was 122,447, an increase of 2.1 percent from the 2001 tally of 119,918. The bow kill was up 10.8 percent for Region 3 and down by 8.2 percent and 8.1 percent in regions 2 and 1, respectively.

The harvest of antlerless deer by archers was up by 7 percent statewide: 56,628 for 2002 vs. 52,942 in 2001. The take of does and fawns went up by a whopping 19.7 percent in Region 3. Bowhunters in Region 2 bagged 3.5 percent fewer antlerless deer during 2002 than the year before and that segment of the harvest dropped by 5 percent in the U.P.

The tally of antlered bucks among bowhunters statewide was down 1.7 percent last fall from 2001 - 65,819, compared to 66,975. However, those who hunted in Region 3 arrowed 5.3 percent more bucks than the year before - 42,865 vs. 40,696. The number of bucks that were tagged in Region 2 declined by 12.7 percent last fall, compared to 12.4 percent fewer for Region 1.

So Region 3 was the best place to be bowhunting during 2002 and it will be the same this year. The biggest improvement in the harvest last fall was in the southeastern district. The total harvest of bucks and does by bowhunters went up by 16.5 percent there. There was a 20.8 percent increase in the antlerless kill and a 13.3 percent improvement among antlered bucks.

Counties that make up the southeast district are Lapeer, Genesee, St. Clair, Oakland, Macomb, Wayne and Monroe. Highest deer numbers are generally on private land. Northeast Oakland County has some of the highest deer numbers in the district. One of the largest parcels of public property in the district is the Lapeer State Game Area in Lapeer County. The Ortonvi

lle Recreation Area provides public access in Genesee County.

The Port Huron State Game Area in St. Clair County is over 7,000 acres in size. Some private land in Monroe and Wayne counties is open to hunting under the Hunting Access on Private Lands Program (HAP), and specific locations can be determined by looking at the HAP publication. Portions of some counties in this district are only open to bowhunting. Refer to the hunting law digest for a listing of those areas.

The south-central district also experienced a significant increase in the archery harvest last fall. The total harvest was up 11.1 percent from 2001. The tally for antlerless deer went up by 20.5 percent, and the buck kill increased by 6.1 percent.

Counties in that district are Montcalm, Gratiot, Ionia, Clinton, Eaton, Shiawassee, Ingham, Livingston, Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale and Lenawee. Counties with the highest deer numbers are Jackson, Montcalm, Ionia and Washtenaw. Counties with the most public land for deer hunting are Gratiot and Montcalm. Gratiot County has a large state game area and Montcalm has a lot of state land.

Bowhunters in the Saginaw Bay District did 4 percent better last fall than the year before. The number of antlerless deer taken by archers in that district only increased by 1 percent, but there was a 6.3 increase in the buck harvest, comparing favorably with the results in south-central counties. Counties in this district are Clare, Gladwin, Arenac, Isabella, Midland, Bay, Saginaw, Tuscola, Sanilac and Huron. Highest deer numbers will be found in Saginaw, Isabella and Midland counties.

Gladwin and Midland are among counties in the district with the best public access and so are Clare and Arenac. Special antler restrictions are in place for part of the east side of Clare County. Bucks must have at least 3 points that are a minimum of 1 inch in length to be legal in Management Unit 118.

The bowhunting harvest increase in the southwest district was similar to Saginaw Bay's harvest, at 3.8 percent. However, the buck harvest actually went down by 5.4 percent in this district while the antlerless tally was elevated by 19.7 percent. The counties in this district are Muskegon, Kent, Ottawa, Allegan, Barry, Van Buren, Kalamazoo, Calhoun, Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch. High deer numbers are present in Barry, Calhoun, Kent and Kalamazoo counties, along with portions of Cass and Branch. Public property to bowhunt on is available in Allegan, Muskegon and Barry counties.

The archery deer kill for the northwest region during 2002 was amazingly close to figures for 2001. The tally for all bow kills last fall from that district was 21,236, compared to 21,244 the year before. The antlerless harvest in that district was actually up by 12.2 percent, but bowhunters tagged 10.7 percent fewer bucks.

That district encompasses Leelanau, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Mason, Lake, Osceola, Oceana, Newaygo and Mecosta counties. Counties with the highest deer numbers in the district are Manistee, Mecosta, Kalkaska and south Leelanau. The best hunting on public land will be found in wooded habitat bordering agricultural land. Counties in that district with the most public land for bowhunting are Lake, Wexford and Manistee.

Unlike the other districts, the 17.3 percent decline in the total bow deer harvest in the northeast region between 2002 and 2001 also matches the drop in antlerless and antlered deer taken. The decline in bow harvest in this district can be attributed primarily to the lack of availability of the same hunting methods that are available in the other districts rather than a significant drop in deer numbers. The fact that hunting pressure has been high in much of this district during recent years due to the issuance of unlimited antlerless tags may contribute to increased difficulty of connecting with bow and arrow, too.

There were bound to be fewer archers hunting in this district last fall than the year before due to the fact that it is illegal to use bait. This district is definitely the place to go for bowhunters who do not like to hunt over bait and/or compete with hunters who choose to use bait. The presence of TB-infected deer in this district may be another discouraging factor resulting in reduced hunting pressure.

The counties in this district are Emmet, Charlevoix, Antrim, Cheboygan, Otsego, Presque Isle, Alpena, Montmorency, Crawford, Oscoda, Alcona, Roscommon, Ogemaw and Iosco. Highest deer numbers are present in Iosco, Ogemaw, Charlevoix and west Antrim counties. Public hunting land is abundant in Alcona, Crawford, Montmorency and Roscommon counties. Special antler restrictions are in effect in a portion of Iosco County and on Lake Michigan's South Fox Island. Charlevoix is the primary jumping-off point to access the island.

For bowhunters who will be trying their luck in the U.P., the western district has the highest deer population along with the best chances of success. The harvest of all deer in those counties with bow and arrow was only down 4.6 percent during 2002 from 2001. There were actually 4.8 percent more antlerless deer tagged by archers in the western U.P. last fall than the year before, but the buck kill was down by 16.9 percent.

Counties in that district are Ontonagon, Gogebic, Iron, Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw, Marquette, Dickinson, Alger, Delta and Menominee. Highest deer numbers are in Menominee, Delta, Dickinson and Iron counties. Public hunting grounds are abundant in all of those counties except Menominee. In DMUs 122, 152,155 and 252, bucks must have at least 3 points 1 inch in length on one antler to be legal in these areas.

The total archery kill declined by 22.1 percent during 2002 in the eastern U.P. The number of antlerless deer that were tagged was off by 37.2 percent, but the buck harvest was up by 13.8 percent. However, the bow-buck kill in that district is less than 1,000. The tally was 929 last fall, compared to 816 in 2001.

To put that in perspective, consider that bowhunters bagged 3,979 bucks in western counties last fall vs. 4,790 the year before. There's no comparison between bow harvests in the two U.P. districts. There are only four counties in the eastern district - Chippewa, Luce, Mackinac and Schoolcraft. Highest deer numbers are in Schoolcraft, Chippewa and east Mackinac counties.

The best days for bowhunters to connect on bucks, especially those of trophy proportions, are the first 10 days of November. The absolute hottest days for scoring on trophy whitetails are Nov. 4-8. However, book bucks can be taken virtually any day during early bow season from Oct. 1 through Nov. 14.

Cold fronts and storm fronts can increase daytime activity among bucks and/or result in them moving earlier than they normally would at any time of the season. Hunting can be better than normal both before a front arrives and after it's gone. Early breeding activity can also increase the vulnerability of bucks to bowhunters.

Most does are bred during November, but some are bred as early as mid to late October. Brian Moffatt, for instance, arrowed a trophy 8-pointer in Gratiot County on Oct. 21 last year after he watched

it breed a doe. He was hunting from the ground in the middle of the day at the time. The antlers from that buck netted 145 7/8 inches, easily surpassing the minimum of 125 for entry in Pope and Young records, as well as state records (100) maintained by Commemorative Bucks of Michigan.

(Editor's note: Regardless of where you bowhunt this fall, increase your odds of finding the whitetails you connect on by reading an excellent book on the subject - Tracking Wounded Deer. This highly rated reference for hunters can be obtained from bookstores and from some sporting goods and gift shops. Autographed copies can be ordered from Smith Publications, 814 Clark St., Marquette, MI 49855 for $19.50 postpaid.)

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