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2017 Michigan Deer Forecast

2017 Michigan Deer Forecast
Photo By Ron Sinfelt

2017 Michigan Deer Forecast Feature
Photo By Ron Sinfelt

Diseased deer are an increasing concern among those in the Michigan DNR as more sick animals have been detected. DNR deer management specialist Chad Stewart is hoping our hunters will be willing to help combat CWD and TB in Deer Management Units where those diseases have been found. They can help by harvesting deer, especially adult does, and having them tested.

Michigan's original CWD Zone (DMU 333) was expanded this year and a new CWD DMU (359) was established in response to a pair of CWD-positive whitetails that came from a fenced deer farm in Mecosta County. Portland and Danby Townships in Ionia County and Roxand Township in Eaton County were added to DMU 333. Nine CWD positive deer have been identified in 333 so far and they have all been related. DMU 359 includes six townships in Mecosta County (Mecosta, Austin, Morton, Hinton, Aetna and Deerfield) and three in Montcalm County (Cato, Winfield and Reynolds). No more captive whitetails, other than the original two, have tested positive for CWD, and no free-ranging deer in the area have had the disease so far.

Mandatory deer checks will be required for all deer taken by hunters in DMUs 333 and 359. Stewart said CWD test results for deer from 333 in the past "have almost always been available in less than a week," but one hunter reported taking 10 days to get test results. Similar timing of testing is expected for deer from 359, but another day or two may be added for the time it takes to get heads from those whitetails to the disease lab.

To reduce the chances of more CWD being brought into the state, the importation of any cervid (deer, elk or moose) carcass or parts thereof, into Michigan from any state or province is prohibited, even if CWD has not been detected in those states or provinces. What hunters can bring back to Michigan from out of state hunts are deboned meat, antlers with cleaned skullcaps, and mounts of animals by taxidermists.

Most deer infected with TB have been in the northeast Lower Peninsula in DMU 487. The highest TB prevalence is in DMU 452, which is within 487. Mandatory antler point restrictions on combination deer licenses were established during 2010 in an attempt increase the antlerless deer harvest in 487. One buck tag was restricted to deer with at least 3 points on one antler and the second was limited to bucks with a minimum of 4 points on an antler. Single buck tags could be used on deer with at least 3-inch antlers. To encourage hunters to shoot does, all deer tags in 487 were valid for antlerless deer.

Dr. James Kroll and Pat Hogan discuss the impact of wind on deer behavior.

(Via North American Whitetail)

Those regulations have not worked, according to Stewart. He said the prevalence rate for TB among deer in DMU 452 reached 2.7 percent during 2015, which is the highest since 2006, and was still at 2 percent in 2016. Additionally, the deer population is higher in 487 than it was in 2010.

What the DNR is proposing for the next three years is to make single deer licenses in 487 also restricted to bucks with at least 3 points on one antler as a means of increasing the antlerless deer harvest. Farmers, on the other hand, want all antler point restrictions removed to encourage the harvest of more deer of both sexes. Other suggestions are to issue free antlerless licenses for DMU 487 to increase the doe harvest.

Check current regulations to find out what changes, if any, were made. Meanwhile, plenty of antlerless permits are available to purchase for CWD and TB DMUs to encourage hunters to shoot does. The daily limit on the number of antlerless permits that individual hunters can purchase also was eliminated. In DMU 333, no antler restrictions are in place. Any buck with antlers at least 3 inches long is legal in that unit, including on both buck tags on combo licenses.


Another change for this year allows the DNR Director to authorize a disease management hunt, lasting no longer than nine days, between January 2 and March 31 where additional harvest is deemed necessary to meet disease management objectives.

The last two winters have been mild, according to Stewart, allowing deer populations to increase statewide. As a result of increased deer numbers, more areas will be open to antlerless hunting and permit quotas will increase. The DNR is recommending a 33 percent increase in antlerless permits for Region 1 or the U.P., but that is a modest increase because permit quotas in that region have been low for the last three years. Only three U.P. DMUs had antlerless permit quotas during those years, and they were all for private land.

The DNR is recommending antlerless permits be issued for five U.P. DMUs this year, one of which will have tags for private land only. The other four will have licenses for both public and private land. Recommendations call for 9,100 private-land doe tags this year compared to 7,000 last year. Only 1,350 antlerless permits will be issued for public lands compared to zero a year ago. For the last two years, it has been illegal for bowhunters in the U.P. to shoot antlerless deer, unless they have an antlerless permit. That regulation may remain in effect this year.

A 9 percent increase in antlerless licenses is proposed this year for Region 2, or the northern Lower Peninsula, in 12 DMUs. The private land quota is 126,700 compared to 116,900 last year. Public land quotas are up to 37,500 from 32,300 a year ago.

Although the DNR is recommending a 3 percent increase in antlerless permits for Region 3, or the southern Lower Peninsula, quotas will remain the same as last year for almost all DMUs. All the increased doe permits for Region 3 will be for the new CWD DMU (359). This year's Region 3 antlerless quota for private land is 151,000 vs. 146,500 during 2016. The quota for public land will actually decrease slightly to 8,510 from 8,600 last fall.

Based on 2016 deer hunting success, counties in Region 3 offer hunters the best opportunity to harvest a whitetail of either sex this year. In that region, 45.6 percent of the deer hunters tagged at least one deer, compared to 40.4 percent who scored in Region 2, and 27.9 percent for Region 1. The Saginaw Bay and Southcentral Districts of Region 3 posted the best success in the southern region at 49.3 percent and 45.2 percent respectively. The odds of bagging a buck are highest in those same two districts, with 33.7 percent success in Saginaw Bay and 29.7 percent in Southcentral counties.

Counties that make up the Saginaw Bay District are Huron, Sanilac, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Midland, Isabella, Clare, Gladwin and Arenac. The Southcentral District includes Hillsdale, Lenawee, Jackson, Washtenaw, Livingston, Ingham, Eaton, Shiawassee, Clinton, Ionia, Gratiot and Montcalm counties.

In Region 2, deer hunting success for deer of either sex was identical for both the east and west districts at 38.9 percent. And they were close to the same for bucks at 26.4 percent in the east and 26 percent in the west.

The best deer hunting in the U.P. is in the southern counties of Menominee, Dickinson, Delta and Iron. 

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Mandatory antler point restrictions (MAPR) were adopted on combination deer licenses for deer hunting in the U.P. during 2008, whereby one tag is valid for bucks with at least 3 points on one antler and the second tag is for bucks with a minimum of 4 points on one antler. The purpose of the MAPR was to increase the number of older-aged bucks in the herd. More than 50 percent of U.P. hunters buy combo deer licenses.

   The U.P. buck harvest for all seasons has gone from 57,988 during 2007 to 17,057 in 2015. Hunter numbers in the U.P. have also plummeted, going from 107,412 during 2008 to 83,174 in 2015 and 77,905 for 2016. During the 9-year period from 2008 through 2015, U.P. hunters harvested an estimated 237,945 bucks compared to 376,459 from 1999 through 2007 when one tag on combo licenses could be used on bucks with at least 3-inch antlers. The difference in buck harvests between those two 9-year periods is 138,514.

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