Michigan's 2008 Bowhunting Outlook

Michigan's 2008 Bowhunting Outlook

Approximately one out of every three archers should tag a whitetail this season. Will you be one of the lucky ones?

Bowhunters who scout the areas they will be hunting have an excellent chance of success this fall.
Photo by Windigo Images.

Bowhunting success in our state will be similar this fall to what it was a year ago. Approximately one out of every three archers should tag a whitetail. For the 2007 season, 34.6 percent of bowhunters bagged at least one deer, according to preliminary harvest figures provided by DNR statistician Brian Frawley.

On a regional basis, bowhunting success was highest in the southern third of the state (Region 3) at 35 percent but only slightly lower in the Upper Peninsula (Region 1) at 33.1 percent. In the northern Lower Peninsula (Region 2), archers had an estimated 27.8 percent rate of success.

There was a slight increase in the overall archery harvest during 2007 from 2006 even though the number of bowhunters declined by a wider margin, which means those who hunted had a higher rate of success.

Bowhunters bagged an estimated 126,060 whitetails in Michigan last fall, according to Frawley's preliminary figures, about 1,000 more than the 125,035 reported taken in 2006. An estimated 300,249 bowhunters tried their luck in the state last fall, a decline of about 9,000 from the 309,140 who spent time afield the previous year.

If the number of archers continues to decline, there will be more deer to go around for those who hunt. If that happens, hunting success could go up even more for 2008.

One factor that could negatively affect bowhunting success in Region 3 and the TB Zone in the northeastern counties of Region 2 is a proposed five-day firearms antlerless-only hunt during late September or early October. Deer with confirmed cases of bovine tuberculosis were harvested by hunters in Iosco and Shiawassee counties -- outside the TB zone -- last fall. Deer numbers are also higher than desired levels by the DNR in much of Region 3. The early antlerless-only firearms hunt is being proposed to address these issues.

Early bow season is a month and a half long (Oct. 1 through Nov. 14). If a five-day gun hunt is held before or during bow season, it certainly won't affect deer activity during the rut in late October and early November. Bowhunters who hunt smart by thoroughly scouting the area or areas they will be hunting, and hunting as often as they can, still have an excellent chance of success this fall.

On a regional basis, the 2007 archery harvest experienced the greatest increase in the Upper Peninsula when compared with numbers from 2006. The kill increased 12.3 percent in Region 1. An estimated 10,504 bucks and does were taken by hunters who tried their luck in the U.P. last fall versus the 9,354 that were tagged in that region the year before.

The number of antlered bucks bagged in the U.P. was almost the same between both years, but up slightly (4,764 versus 4,613). The tally for does and fawns was responsible for most of the change since 2006 (5,739 compared with 4,740). Deer numbers were certainly higher in the U.P. last fall after experiencing the second mild winter in a row. The winter of 2006-2007 was a record mild one, which really boosted the number of whitetails available to hunters.

The winter of 2007-2008 was tougher on U.P. whitetails in terms of longevity and snow depth. Consequently, there were some fawn losses, but I don't think losses were high enough to make a significant difference in the number of deer available to hunters this fall. Two factors helped more deer than normal survive winter.

One was a January thaw that temporarily reduced snow depths and energy loss among whitetails. The thaw made it easier for deer to find food at a time when traveling to feeding areas is sometimes hampered by deep snow. A late November blizzard also blew down numerous trees across the U.P., creating a quality food source that helped carry many deer through the winter. The tops of those windblown trees made a big difference in some yarding areas where winter rations are often slim.

I didn't find a single fawn that died last winter in a wintering area I monitored in north Marquette County, and the herd included some small fawns. Something else I saw in that winter yard leads me to predict that U.P. bowhunters stand to reap more of the benefits generated by the two previous mild winters in a row this fall than they did last year in terms of antlered bucks. I saw more antlered bucks after the 2007 hunting seasons ended than I have for years.

I counted a total of eight different antlered bucks that survived hunting season, and I know I didn't see all of the bucks that were present. Seven of the antlered whitetails I saw were yearlings. They all made it through the winter, so those bucks will be 2 1/2 years old this fall. The one older whitetail will also be a year older.Because of the record mild winter of 2006-2007, there was a bumper crop of button bucks last fall. Those that survived last winter, and I think enough of them did to make their presence obvious this fall, will have their first sets of antlers. Therefore, the stage is set for a terrific buck harvest in Region 1 during bow season.

The chances of filling bow tags will be best in the western U.P. counties of Marquette, Delta, Menominee, Dickinson, Iron, Gogebic, Ontonagon, Baraga, Houghton and Keweenaw. In fact, bowhunting success for that district is the second highest in the state at 35.7 percent, trailing one Region 3 district by .8 of a percent. The total bow harvest went up by 17.3 percent in the west U.P. during 2007 (8,629 versus 7,356). The buck kill went up by 5.1 percent (3,852 and 3,685), and the harvest of antlerless deer increased by 29.4 percent (4,776 and 3,690).

Highest deer numbers are in the southwestern counties of Menominee, Delta, Iron and Dickinson. That's also where bowhunting pressure is highest. In a southeastern Dickinson County deer management unit (122), bucks must have at least 3 points on one antler to be legal. Although this antler restriction has been in effect for more than five years, it doesn't seem to affect the number of book bucks coming from the county.

Deer numbers are much lower in northwest U.P. counties, but some monster bucks are present and bowhunting pressure is light. Kevin Butler from Elk Rapids, for instance, bagged a mature 8-pointer last fall while bowhunting in Baraga County with his recurve bow that qualifies for state records. The whitetail was his best buck ever. It was the only deer he saw from daylight until 2:30 p.m. when he made the 20-yard shot on the whitetail. However, that's the only deer he needed to see. The rack had a 17 1/2-inch spread and the deer had a dressed weight of 190 pounds.

Deer numbers are lower in the eastern U.P. than the west. The overall bow kill actually declined by 6.1 percent in that district from 2006, but bowhunting effort went down by 8.2 percent, so the success rate is still good. An estimated 24.9 percent of the bowhunters who tried their luck in the east U.P. during 2007 were successful. Therefore, an average of one out of four archers bagged a deer with bow and arrow in this district. There were an estimated 1,875 whitetails tagged by bowhunters in that district last fall compared with 1,997 the year before.

Drummond Island is a popular east U.P. bowhunting destination because of an abundance of public land. Bucks must have at least 2 points on one antler to be legal. This antler restriction hasn't seemed to significantly improve the quality of antlers grown by bucks on the island.

The total bow kill in Region 3 increased by 1.1 percent during 2007 (79,131 versus 78,259), according to preliminary DNR figures. The tally of bucks was down 2.7 percent (47,869 compared to 49,190), and the number of antlerless whitetails increased by 7.5 percent (31,263 and 29,071). The best districts in that region for bowhunting, in terms of success, are south-central, southwest and Saginaw Bay.

Archers who hunted the south-central counties of Lenawee, Hillsdale, Washtenaw, Jackson, Livingston, Ingham, Eaton, Shiawassee, Clinton, Ionia, Gratiot and Montcalm experienced the highest success rate in the state during the 2007 bow season at 36.5 percent. The success rate on bucks was also the highest in the state at 25.3 percent. The number of deer bagged by bowhunters in that district declined by 4 percent last fall (29,081 and 30,280). The buck kill was down by 8.5 percent (17,420 versus 19,030), but the antlerless harvest during bow season was up by 3.6 percent (11,661 and 11,251).

Scott Norkey from Tecumseh is one of the bowhunters who was successful in the south-central district last fall. He bagged a trophy 9-pointer with a 21-inch inside spread in November in Lenawee County. He did some calling with doe bleats, grunts and growls to lure the whitetail into bow range.

Norkey passed up a yearling buck with a rack before shooting the much larger deer that had a dressed weight of 193 pounds.

Bowhunters who spent time in the other two top producing districts in Region 3 did almost as well. The success rate for deer of either sex was 33.6 percent in the southwestern counties of Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph, Calhoun, Kalamazoo, Van Buren, Barry, Allegan, Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon. Success on bucks was the second highest in the state in this district at 24.6 percent. The bow kill went up by 4.1 percent in this district (22,446 and 21,553). The tally for bucks was 4.4 percent higher (14,200 and 13,604) and the total of does and fawns increased by 3.7 percent (8,247 and 7,949).

Book buck production has been exceptional in most counties of the southwestern district during recent years. The chances of seeing a trophy buck are excellent in all but the three northernmost counties of Muskegon, Ottawa and Kent.

Bowhunters who spent time afield in counties comprising the Saginaw Bay District experienced a 33.4 percent rate of success. The rate of success on bucks in this district is 21.5 percent. The counties that make up the district are Saginaw, Isabella, Clare, Gladwin, Midland, Bay, Arenac, Tuscola, Sanilac and Huron. The northern counties of that district (Arenac, Gladwin and Clare) are actually part of Region 2, but most of the counties in that district are in Region 3.

The 2007 bow harvest went up by .9 of a percent in the Saginaw Bay District (21,403 and 21,204). Four percent fewer bucks were taken (12,135 versus 12,652) compared with an 8.4 percent hike in the antlerless harvest (9,268 and 8,553). Deer numbers are high throughout this district. Best chances for a book buck are in Saginaw, Isabella, Tuscola and Sanilac counties.

Bowhunters in the southeast district experienced almost a 30 percent rate of success (29.8). The percent of bowhunters who manage to collect bucks in this district is 20.2. Counties in this urban district that encompass the state's largest city are Monroe, Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Genesee, Lapeer and St. Clair. The bow kill increased 7.3 percent here last fall (12,861 versus 11,976). The number of bucks bagged went up slightly (7.615 compared with 7,568), but the take of antlerless deer jumped by 18.8 percent (5,237 and 4,409).

Archers who venture to Region 2's northwest district can also expect to have close to a 30 percent rate of success (28.5). The counties in this district are Oceana, Newaygo, Mecosta, Osceola, Lake, Mason, Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse and Leelanau. The bow kill declined by 4.1 percent in this district for 2007 (18,572 and 19,361). The harvest of antlerless deer was close to the same the last two years (7,615 and 7.590), while the number of bucks taken last fall went down by 6.5 percent (10,982 versus 11,746).

Counties in the southern portion of the northwest district, such as Mecosta, Newaygo, Oceana and Osceola, have the highest deer numbers. The number of trophy class bucks coming from Leelanau County in the north part of this district has increased dramatically in recent years because the bucks must have 3 points or more that are at least an inch in length on one antler to be legal.

Bowhunting success among archers who spend their time in Region 2's northeast district is the lowest in the state at 23.1 percent for 2007. Part of the reason for that is baiting is illegal in seven of the district's counties. The ability to use bait increases bowhunting success. Baiting is prohibited in designated counties because some of the deer in those counties are infected with TB.

Those counties are Presque Isle, Otsego, Oscoda, Montmorency, Crawford, Alpena and Alcona. Baiting is legal in all other counties in the state. Where baiting is legal, hunters are limited to two gallons of bait per day per location and it must be spread over as wide an area as possible rather than being dumped in a pile, so feeding activity is not concentrated in one spot.

Counties in the northeast district where baiting is legal are Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, Cheboygan, Iosco, Ogemaw and Roscommon. Deer numbers are also higher in counties where baiting is legal. Antlerless permits have been available in unlimited quantities for the TB Zone for years in an effort to keep whitetail numbers as low as possible to limit the spread of the disease.

Special antler restrictions are in effect for a portion of Iosco County. Bucks must have at least 2 points on an antler to be legal. Like other areas of the state where this type of restriction exists, there doesn't seem to be any major benefits from it in terms of improving overall antler quality of bucks.

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