Michigan: Best Places to Hunt Deer in the State

Michigan: Best Places to Hunt Deer in the State
While deer numbers are higher in the agricultural lands of southern Michigan, the forests of the northern part of the state have produced some monsters. Credit: Critterbiz/Shutterstock

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.


While deer numbers are higher in the agricultural lands of southern Michigan, the forests of the northern part of the state have produced some monsters. Credit: Critterbiz/Shutterstock


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.

MI-map-deer

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.

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.

Central Michigan

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.

Southern Michigan

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.

Mixed forest and agricultural areas of the Northern Lower Peninsula offer some excellent hunting with a fair amount of public land.

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.

Taken in 2004, Aaron Davis' buck scores 225 7/8 inches and is the current archery state record for non-typical whitetails. Credit: Photo Courtesy Boone and Crockett Club

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.

Recommended for You

Perfect for competition or a day at the range. Other Hunting

New Gear: MidwayUSA Competition Range Bag

G&F Staff

Perfect for competition or a day at the range.

We're told to pay attention to the lunar phases. What do bass pros think? Bass

MLF Pros: What's With the Moon?

G&F Online Staff

We're told to pay attention to the lunar phases. What do bass pros think?

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Berkley

Berkley's New Terminal Tackle

OSG's Lynn Burkhead and Chad LaChance, host of World Fishing Network's Fishful Thinker television show, talk about Berkley's new innovative terminal tackle being introduced at ICAST 2019.

Mustad Skatter Shad Bladed Jig

Mustad Skatter Shad Bladed Jig

As Mustad continues to expand into an all-around tackle company, Reid McKinstry shows off some innovative features that make the Mustad Skatter Shad bladed jig a winner in big bass waters.

BPT Points Champ Edwin Evers Talks New Berkley Baits

BPT Points Champ Edwin Evers Talks New Berkley Baits

After making the switch to Berkley products heading into the inaugural BPT season, Edwin Evers tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead why Berkley baits played such a key role in his recent angling success.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

When it comes to fishing baits, you won't find a more unusual variety than the strange brews of smelly ingredients often used to catch catfish. Catfish

How To Make Your Own Catfish Dough Bait

Keith Sutton - August 04, 2015

When it comes to fishing baits, you won't find a more unusual variety than the strange brews...

While wildly popular amongst anglers around the world, the IGFA World Record book shows the biggest pike come from Europe. Records

Top 10 Biggest Pike World Records of All Time

Jack Vitek - August 19, 2015

While wildly popular amongst anglers around the world, the IGFA World Record book shows the...

Who needs live bait when the big 'gills are so eager to strike these lures? Other Freshwater

5 Great Lures For Bluegills

Stephen D. Carpenteri - March 10, 2011

Who needs live bait when the big 'gills are so eager to strike these lures?

See More Stories

More Whitetail

Become a better poor-weather deer hunter. Whitetail

Make Bad Weather a Deer-Hunting Bonus

Terry Madewell - November 27, 2019

Become a better poor-weather deer hunter.

Use your other eyes on the ground to make good decisions when you slip into the whitetail woods. Whitetail

3 Tips to Maximize Trail-Camera Intel

Tony Peterson - October 31, 2019

Use your other eyes on the ground to make good decisions when you slip into the whitetail...

Arguably the most diverse deer hunting on the planet awaits whitetail hunters who come to Texas. Whitetail

Texas Trophy White-Tailed Deer

Gordon Whittington - November 04, 2019

Arguably the most diverse deer hunting on the planet awaits whitetail hunters who come to...

See More Whitetail

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.