October 17, 2016
Michigan is a state of deer hunters.
With nearly one million deer licenses sold annually, deer hunting is more than a tradition in the state; it's a passion.
Michigan's whitetail population, like many across the country, has seen its share of changes.
Prior to settlement, Michigan had a sizable population of whitetails in the southern reaches of the Lower Peninsula. As the state began to take shape, however, habitat loss and unregulated shooting of deer decimated the population.
Meanwhile, loggers in the northern reaches of the state began to change the landscape into an ideal habitat mix for deer. By the 1880's, the northern Michigan population had climbed to nearly one million whitetails. Those same logging camps came to rely upon venison as a primary source of food and, once again, it became apparent that a regulated hunting season was required to prevent extirpation of the species.
Michigan's first established hunting season was held in 1859 and lasted seven months.
In 1967, Michigan's traditional firearms season dates (Nov. 15 to 30) were established.
Today, southern Michigan is again home to the largest population of whitetails while the northern reaches of the state hold fewer deer.
A Michigan deer hunt can vary greatly in experience, but all are great. Here's a regional look to get you started.
Upper Peninsula Wilderness
If you're looking for a wild, rugged setting in which to chase whitetails, the U.P. has it.
Covered in tens of thousands of acres of state and national forests, the Upper Peninsula features expansive stands of mixed conifer and hardwood forest.
Deer densities in many regions aren't high (fewer than 10 per square mile) but the amount of acreage available for hunters to explore is extensive.
Hunting pressure, particularly during bow season, is light and you can find truly unpressured deer if you're willing to look.
The southern portions of the U.P. have some agricultural ground and, thus, higher deer numbers. But the northern reaches, such as the Keeweenaw Peninsula, have been known to produce some giant northern-strain bucks.
Northern Lower Peninsula
Just south of the Mackinaw Bridge lie some of the most storied hunting grounds in the state. This portion of Michigan is home to hundreds of traditional deer camps and plenty of hunters make the annual pilgrimage here each fall.
Deer numbers in most regions are slightly better than in the U.P. but you'll also encounter a bit more hunting pressure during the firearm's season.
Some areas of the state are under mandatory antler-point restrictions (a second buck tag is good only for bucks with four antler points on a side statewide) so be sure to check the Michigan Department of Natural Resources hunting guide to be aware of any special regulations in the areas you intend to hunt.
The archery season offers some tremendous opportunities to cash in on bucks like this.
This is also a habitat of mixed conifer and hardwoods though you'll find a bit more oaks and cherries mixed in.
Winter weather is still plenty rough and winter deer losses aren't out of the question but they are less severe here than in the U.P.
Public land is abundant and access is excellent.
The mid-stretches of the Lower Peninsula are where "north" meets "south." Here you'll encounter more agricultural land, more open areas and more deer.
The combination of large timbered areas with interspersed crop fields makes for some excellent deer habitat.
There's still a fair amount of public land to be found though less than in the northern reaches of the state.
Many areas of the state have seen an increase in landowner co-operatives, where landowners voluntarily practice more restrictive management in an effort to improve the age structure and sex ratio of local deer populations.
Central Michigan features an array of terrain types. You'll encounter rolling to rugged hills on the west coast mixed in with sand dunes. More flat farmland is located in the center of this region.
This is farm country and, as you might expect, it's home to some of Michigan's biggest bucks.
The abundant agriculture provides top-notch nutrition throughout much of the year and the forests are dominated by mast-producing hardwoods.
This region of the state is also more developed than any other, hence you'll encounter many more broken tracts of habitat. This is both good and bad.
Such topography is good in the sense that whitetails are creatures of edge cover and thrive in a diverse habitat. It's bad in the sense that finding a place to hunt can be a real challenge as hunting pressure is intense.
There is some public land to be had and some of it is very good. But, for the most part, southern Michigan is privately owned and hunting here means gaining access from a landowner — a task that's often much easier said than done.
Bow season is highly popular and hunting pressure in October can rival that encountered during the 16-day gun season. But there's no shortage of deer, though intensive efforts to reduce the population coupled with bouts of EHD, a virus contracted from a biting fly that can kill deer in the fall, has knocked the population back a fair bit in recent years from its peak a decade or so ago.
Another development is the discovery of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in wild whitetails inhabiting Ingham and Clinton counties. Just a handful of deer have tested positive for the disease thus far and it is unknown as to how widespread the disease is.
To combat CWD, the Michigan DNR has implemented a CWD response plan — again, be sure to check the DNR's current hunting guide for the most recent regulations and requirements.
Many areas of southern Michigan offer an early antlerless-only season as well as an extended muzzleloader season followed by an additional antlerless-only season.
In other words, if you're looking to hunt southern Michigan with gun, bow or muzzleloader, you'll have no shortage of options to do so.
Michigan's Biggest Bucks
Michigan may not be as well known as some other states for trophy-class whitetails, but it has certainly produced its fair share of monster bucks.
In 2004, Michigan hunter Aaron Davis tagged a giant whitetail in Hillsdale County. Taping 225 7/8 inches, the buck is the current archery state record for non-typicals.
In 2007, Tim Tackett set the state's muzzleloader non-typical record with a 215 1/8-inch giant from Calhoun County.
The state's typical muzzleloader record was set in 2007 when Tom Britenfeld dropped a whitetail scoring 190 6/16" in Van Buren County.
Interestingly, of the 10 state records kept by Commemorative Bucks of Michigan (CBM), the organization that tracks and maintains state records for whitetails (as well as other species), seven of those were taken since 1995, with five taken since 2004.
The shift in record-book entries from north to south is also readily evident in the CBM record books. Prior to the 1990s, record-qualifying entries were more commonly found in the northern portions of the state. Today, southern Michigan dominates the record books in terms of entries.
Michigan once claimed a world record whitetail as well. In 2001, Vic Bulliner killed a monstrous 8-pointer in Hillsdale County. That buck, shot on the second day of the state's gun season, sports 32-inch beams and scores 180 3/8 inches. The antlers weigh more than 15 pounds. Bulliner's buck was the largest 8-point of all time when it was killed.