If you want to boost your chances of collecting venison this fall, go bowhunting during the last days of October and into November in one of the counties that make up southern Michigan's Region 3. That's what like Rick Casey from Paw Paw did last year.
On the evening of Oct. 30, Rick saw and shot a trophy buck in Van Buren County that he had been after with his Excalibur Crossbow. Rick had been monitoring the buck for months with trail cameras. He wore Predator Camouflage that most closely matched the white and tan bark of the large sycamore tree he hunted from.
The buck came out of a large cornfield near Casey's tree stand about 6:15 p.m., heading for dense cover in an adjacent woodlot when an arrow from Rick's crossbow ended its travels. Rick guessed the buck was 3 1/2 years old and its 9-point antlers would score in the high 130s.
Deer were abundant in the area Rick was hunting. There should be even more whitetails in that region this year due to a typical mild winter and plenty of uncut cornfields that provided bonus security cover for deer during the 2014 seasons.
Based on preliminary deer harvest figures for 2014 from the DNR, that region will be the best place for whitetail hunters to fill tags this fall. Almost half of the deer hunters (42.4 percent) in Region 3 bagged at least one whitetail.
Bowhunting for whitetails anywhere in the state during late October and into November is an advantage because the rut is starting to crank up then, but it is especially beneficial in Region 3 because the rut gets going earlier there than in the rest of the state. That's according to Michigan DNR wildlife research specialist Brent Rudolph.
In the forecast for 2014 seasons Rudolph wrote, "Overall, deer activity tends to be highest a few weeks prior to breeding. The peak of breeding activity for Michigan deer generally occurs just prior to the opening of the firearm deer season. These peak breeding dates are earliest in the southern Lower Peninsula."
Taking advantage of those periods of peak deer activity increases the opportunity to fill a tag.
The Southwest District of Region 3, which is where Rick Casey was hunting, posted the best improvement in deer harvest during the 2014 bow season, according to DNR figures. In fact, it was the only district in the region and state where the deer kill increased during archery season.
The harvest of both sexes increased by 13.3 percent from 2013 (19,177 compared to 16,930). The bow kill of antlered bucks went up by 8.9 percent (11,275 vs. 10,352), but the harvest of antlerless deer jumped by 20.2 percent (7,899 and 6,574).
The Southwest District is composed of the following counties: Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph, Branch, Calhoun, Kalamazoo, Van Buren, Allegan, Barry, Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon.
The 2014 harvest among archers was lower than during 2013 seasons in the region's other three districts. Only slight declines of 3.6 percent and 4.7 percent were recorded for the Southeast and Southcentral Districts.
The Southeast District is comprised of Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Oakland, Macomb, Wayne and Monroe counties. Some townships in the district are limited to bowhunting only. Refer to the DNR Web site (michigan.gov/dnr) or to a current hunting regulation booklet for a list of those townships.
Southcentral District counties are Hillsdale, Lenawee, Jackson, Washtenaw, Eaton, Ingham, Livingston, Shiawassee, Clinton, Ionia, Gratiot and Montcalm.
The detection of a 6-year-old doe with CWD in Ingham County this spring has negative implications for hunting in three counties of the Southcentral District. Baiting or feeding deer in Ingham, Clinton and Shiawassee counties is illegal.
The efforts of U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife services employees to cull deer in the affected area to determine if more deer have been infected with CWD will have already reduced deer numbers, too.
Pre-season deer management assistance permits were also available to hunters willing to help reduce deer in that area. Hunters who harvest deer from deer management unit 333 will be required to have those animals tested for disease.
Deer numbers should be up in all counties of Region 3, except those where culling efforts are under way due to CWD. That means better bowhunting over most of the region and better gun hunting, too. High deer numbers and success rates also make Region 3 the top choice in the state for firearms season.
The gun season harvest in Region 3 was down 13.4 percent during 2014 compared to 2013. Abundant standing cornfields played a major role in that reduced harvest, not fewer deer. Uncut corn provided far more cover than normal for deer to hide and avoid hunters.
The Southeast and Southwest Districts had the lowest reductions in gun season harvest at 3.4 percent and 8.7 percent respectively. Gun hunters tagged a total of 10,366 deer of either sex during 2014 in the Southeast compared to 10,732 in 2013. The buck kill actually went up by 3.7 percent in that district (6,458 vs. 6,228), but the antlerless harvest decreased by 13.3 percent (15,117 compared to 17,109).
In the Southwest the number of bucks bagged declined by only 1.9 percent (13,145 and 13,406), but the antlerless segment was off by 16.7 percent (9,453 compared to 11,346).
For all seasons combined and deer of either sex, the Southwest and Southeast districts posted the best harvest percentages.
The percentage of hunters who bagged at least one deer was second highest in Region 2, or the northern Lower Peninsula. According to DNR estimates, the average success rate in that region for all seasons was 35.8 percent. Deer harvest dropped during archery and firearms seasons in both districts of Region 2, but the kill was down only 6.8 percent among bowhunters and 14.6 percent for gun hunters.
Some standing corn in parts of Region 2 may have been partly responsible for the reduced deer harvest, but I suspect deer loss during the winter of 2013-2014 played a bigger role. That winter was bad enough to result in some deer deaths in Region 3, which seldom happens, so the impacts of winter weather had to be greater across the northern Lower Peninsula.
The success rates for any deer in both districts of Region 2 for all seasons were very close, with the Northwest District having a slight edge at 35.2 percent compared to 34.4 percent for the Northeast.
When looking at the deer harvest last fall compared to 2013, however, figures for the Northwest look best during bow season and gun hunters fared better in the Northeast. In the Northwest, for example, the archery kill last fall dropped only .4 percent (19,668 compared to 19,741).
Bowhunters in the Northwest actually bagged 15.8 percent more bucks last fall than they did the year before (10,405 vs. 8,985), but the antlerless harvest was down 13.9 percent (9,266 and 10,763). While the archery harvest was down 7 percent in the Northeast, most of the decline was antlerless deer. Bowhunters bagged almost as many bucks last fall as the year before (5,724 compared to 5,765), but 12.3 percent fewer does (5,868 vs. 6,693).
During firearms season, the deer kill went down 11.8 percent in the Northeast (32,149 and 36,465) and it dropped 16.4 percent for the Northwest (29,854 vs. 35,693). The buck harvest was down 14.8 percent in the Northeast (19,318 compared to 22,681) and 10.9 percent in the Northwest (17,629 and 19,787).
Meanwhile, the antlerless harvest only declined 6.9 percent in the Northeast (12,833 compared to 13,781), but fell 23.2 percent in the Northwest (12,229 vs. 15,914).
Due to the fact last winter did not take a toll on whitetails in Region 2, hunters in that region should expect to see more deer this fall.
If mandatory antler point restrictions that went into effect during 2013 in counties that are part of both the Northwest and Northeast districts work like they are supposed to, hunters there may see a noticeable increase in the buck harvest.
All bucks must have at least 3 points on one antler that are at least an inch long to be legal.
Counties with mandatory APR in the Northeast District are Emmet, Antrim and Charlevoix. Those in the Northwest are Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Manistee, Mason, Lake, Osceola, Missaukee and Wexford. Many of the bucks that hunters were passed up the last two years due to the restrictive regulations should now have legal antlers.
The only counties in the Northwest District without mandatory APR are Oceana, Newaygo and Mecosta. As southernmost counties of Region 2, they have some of the highest deer numbers in the region where hunting success is excellent.
It's worth noting that two of the highest-scoring bucks taken in Region 2 last fall came from Newaygo County, and both of the deer were typicals scoring 162 7/8 taken during gun season. Aaron Rothenthaler from Grand Rapids got a 10-pointer and Dave Kidder shot a 13-pointer.
Not surprisingly, Region 1, or Upper Peninsula, hunters had the lowest success during 2014 after two severe winters in a row took a toll on deer numbers and a major snowstorm that struck northern counties prior to Nov. 15 prevented some firearms hunters from getting to areas they wanted to hunt.
Considering the circumstances, U.P. hunters did well, experiencing a 27.5 percent success rate. On top of that, hunters who did hunt actually saw more deer last fall than they did the year before, according to results of an annual DNR Deer Camp Survey.
"In the western U.P., deer sightings increased from 2.3 deer per day in 2013 to 2.8 deer per day in 2014," a summary of the survey reports. "In the eastern U.P., deer sightings increased from 2.1 deer per day in 2013 to 2.5 in 2014."
The average number of deer observed per hunter for the entire 2014 gun hunt also went up in the western U.P., but was similar to 2013 in the eastern U.P. An average of 17 whitetails (2 bucks and 15 antlerless) were seen per hunter in the west U.P. during the 2014 gun season. The average number of deer seen per hunter in 2013 was 15 — 2 bucks and 13 antlerless.
More good news is that last winter gave U.P. deer a major break. That early snowstorm didn't have much impact on deer because most of that snow melted during a December thaw. An excellent acorn crop across the western U.P. also helped U.P. deer come through winter in good shape. Spring came early, too, with deer leaving winter yards by mid-March.
That early snowstorm protected numerous bucks from hunters last fall that will have bigger racks this year. Hunting success will be best in southern U.P. counties of Menominee, Dickinson, Delta and Iron, but some of the biggest bucks will come from northern counties.
The Natural Resources Commission made a decision to prohibit U.P. bowhunters from shooting antlerless deer during all seasons this year, even though the region will have more deer this fall than there were during 2014.