Michigan Deer Hunting Forecast for 2014
October 01, 2014
Two of the largest bucks bagged in the state last fall qualify for that distinction in the two most important categories — antler size and weight. Adam Stretch from Dundee collected a whitetail in Monroe County during gun season that had the highest scoring typical rack known taken in the state last fall and it had the heaviest weight reported, even though that weight was estimated. The antlers from Adam's 12-pointer, taken with a shotgun on opening morning of gun season, had a gross score of 181 3/8 and netted 176 1/8. The buck had an estimated dressed weight of 300 pounds.
Scott Vogt from Spring Arbor scored on a 14-pointer with bow and arrow in Jackson County that had the second highest scoring set of typical antlers known taken in the state last fall and it had an actual dressed weight of 252 pounds. So Vogt's buck would have had a live weight around 300 pounds. That whitetail's antlers grossed 185 7/8 and netted 175 2/8.
Jackson County has a track record of being on the top of the list of big-buck producers in our state, both in terms of quantity and quality, and Vogt's success reinforces that. There's sure to be other whoppers taken there this fall, too. You can count on it, and the same is true for Monroe County, where Adam got his buck. Monroe has produced other top-end bucks in the past, but that county seems to be cranking them out more consistently in recent years.
Something else that's noteworthy about Stretch's buck is that it was 8 or 9 years old. Who says mandatory antler point restrictions are necessary to produce older age bucks? Adam's deer and many others taken across the state every year prove otherwise. And another point of interest about the Stretch Buck is that it was the first deer he has ever taken in Michigan during more than 20 years of hunting.
Four or five years earlier, Adam almost got the same buck with bow and arrow. He got a bow shot at the buck during the evening of Nov. 14 as it was following a doe, but his arrow hit the whitetail's right shoulder blade, causing a nonfatal wound. Adam said he thought the buck had an 8-point rack when he got that bow shot at it.
He knew the buck was still around after failing to get it with bow and arrow. That's because there were always a couple of 6- to 8-inch trees in the area rubbed by a deer with a big rack. And while cutting firewood in the vicinity last summer, he frequently saw the whitetail's "ginormous" tracks. The tracks were so big that one of Adam's friends thought they were made by a cow!
A last minute-change in deciding where to post on opening day of gun season may have played a major role in Stretch's success on the Boone and Crockett buck.
"I had a ground blind and two tree stands set up on the property I hunted," Adam said, "but on opening morning I decided to sit in a different spot. I brought a folding lawn chair with me and sat in a thick patch of weeds where I could watch the edge of the woods. My father (David) went to the ground blind.
"We got there a half hour before daylight to get set up. After things quieted down, I started playing with a grunt call to see if that would bring a buck in and I kept blowing it. I had been using the call about an hour when I decided to look over my right shoulder and the buck was only 10 yards away looking at me. He must have come from somewhere behind me.
"My gun was lying across my lap, pointing in the opposite direction from where the deer was. The buck started moving away as I just kept blowing in the grunt call. When the buck was 50 to 60 yards away, he started walking across the field and that's when I was able to get a shot at him."
Adam was hunting with a scoped Mossberg 12-gauge pump shotgun with a rifled barrel. The Bushnell variable scope was set on 1X or 2X at the time. The gun was loaded with Hornady SST Slugs.
Stretch was confident of scoring a hit on the buck, but a thorough search with his father's help failed to turn up any blood or hair, so he assumed he had missed. That all changed the following morning when he got a phone call from his girlfriend's aunt, who lives on the property next to the parcel where he had been hunting. She spotted the buck's antlers sticking out of creek in a ditch that was 16 feet deep.
Even with help, it took Adam three hours to wrestle the big deer out of the deep ditch it died in. The creek water kept the carcass cold, so the meat was still good. Adam said the buck traveled about 200 yards from where he shot it. The wound from his slug had been plugged with fat and that's why he and his father couldn't find any blood.
The butcher who processed the big buck told Adam there was scar tissue on its right shoulder from the broadhead he had hit it with years earlier.
"I spent a lot of time deer hunting with my grandfather when I was a kid," Stretch said, "and he was always waiting for the big one. I've kind of adopted the same philosophy. Now I've got the big one."
Scott Vogt's teenage daughter almost claimed the Jackson County Booner he got last fall a year earlier on opening day of gun season. Scott was sitting with his daughter in a ground blind on the morning of Nov. 15, 2012 when the trophy buck appeared at 9 a.m. at a distance of 85 yards. The teenager was understandably excited and rushed the shot, missing the deer.
Scott saw the same buck on Dec. 28 of that year as he was standing on his climbing sticks unfastening his tree stand. The deer walked by 35 yards away and he was unable to do anything about it. At the time, Scott guessed the buck's antlers would score about 130, but he found out he underestimated the rack's size after friends Wade Childs and Gary Gillett found its shed antlers on neighboring properties. The antlers actually scored about 160 and looked smaller due to the buck's big body.
On Nov. 10, 2013, Scott saw the big buck chasing a hot doe 50 to 60 yards away, but it never came close enough for a bowshot. That changed three days later when the Booner walked by Vogt's tree stand at 25 yards. After Scott scored on the deer his daughter asked, "Aren't you glad I missed that deer Dad?"
Washtenaw County is probably the second best county in the state for producing monster bucks. It borders Jackson County to the east. A pair of whopper whitetails were bagged in Washtenaw last fall that had some of the biggest antlers for the year. Mark Scarberry from Ann Arbor collected the third highest-scoring typical within its borders and Tony Losey from Bellville dropped the largest non-typical entered in state records maintained by Commemorative Bucks of Michigan for 2013.
Scarberry got a 14-pointer from a ground blind on the morning of Nov. 15 that grossed 183 5/8 and netted 174 5/8. Mark was hunting with a friend who was in another blind several hundred yards away.
"There's always big bucks in this area where I hunt," Scarberry said, "There's lots of wetlands and farmland."
Instead of leaving their blinds for breakfast, the pair remained in place on the chance other hunters who took a late morning break might move deer to them. A 2-acre cornfield was also being combined at the time and Mark thinks the buck he got might have come from that field. The buck showed up at 11:15 a.m. and Mark heard him coming before he saw him. When the buck stopped at 20 yards, he counted 4 points on one antler and figured that was big enough, and so he shot, dropping the whitetail with a Hornady SST slug out of his new Savage 220 bolt-action 20 gauge.
Mark said he didn't realize how big the buck's antlers were until he lifted its head. The deer was aged at 3 1/2 by the DNR, but could have been 4 1/2. Its dressed weight was estimated at about 225 pounds.
Tony Losey got permission to hunt deer from a property owner in exchange for some venison, if he got a deer, and the promise he would shoot every coyote he saw. The landowner told Tony where to put his blind and that he would only see deer during the morning. Losey got an 18-pointer from his blind on the morning of Nov. 22 on which the antlers grossed 204 7/8 and netted 191. All of the non-typical growth is on the buck's left side. It had a typical 5-point beam on the right side.
The base of the right antler is 11 6/8 inches in circumference, according to Losey. Bucks that only have one non-typical antler often have an injury on the opposite side of their body, but Tony said there was no visible injury on the buck's right side. Tony explained that the buck was only 3 1/2 years old, according to the DNR, and it had a dressed weight of 178 pounds.
The 18-pointer was Losey's second buck for the season. He got a 12-pointer that was also 3 1/2 years old on Nov. 15, but that whitetail's rack was much smaller.
Still one more B&C typical was collected in Cass County last fall by Jeff Toy from Decatur on the evening of Nov. 25. Although the 12-pointer had a higher gross score (193 2/8) than the other typicals already mentioned, the rack ended up with a lower net score of 172 3/8 due to deductions. The story behind this buck and the hunt on which he was taken appeared in the July/August issue of Michigan Sportsman. Cass County has produced other world-class bucks and it can be expected to generate more this fall.
The same is true for Hillsdale County where Alan Sweet scored on a trophy non-typical on opening day of the 2013 firearms season. The massive rack grossed 188 0/8 and netted 182 2/8. It was late in the day when Alan connected. His father collected a nice 8-pointer nearby during the morning.
Based on CBM entries in state records from the 2012 season that score at least 140 and the biggest bucks from 2013, the best counties in Southern Michigan or Region 3 where hunters have an excellent chance of bagging a similar buck this fall are Jackson (11), Washtenaw (8), Eaton (6), Ingham (6), Shiawassee (6), Branch (6), Allegan (5), Cass (5), Livingston (4), Kalamazoo (4), Berrien (4) and Isabella (4).
Even though fewer trophy-class bucks are routinely taken in the Northern Lower Peninsula, or Region 2, counties than from Region 3, those numbers appear to be increasing in recent years as more hunters voluntarily pass up young bucks. There's certainly more older-age bucks in Region 2 that are capable of producing big racks than most hunters realize.
Jon Moore from Elk Rapids, for instance, dropped a 9-pointer in Grand Traverse County on opening day of the 2011 gun season that proved to be 11 1/2 years old. Last fall, while hunting state-owned land in the same county, he arrowed an 11-pointer that was 6 1/2 years old on Oct. 27 after using a grunt call to lure the buck into position for a bow shot after passing up a smaller 8-point.
Due to soils that are not as fertile as those in Region 3 and tougher winters, not as many bucks in Region 2 are capable of growing 140-class antlers, but some of them obviously do, based on CBM records. Antrim and Oceana counties each had three entries. Roscommon, Manistee, Clare, Grand Traverse and Mecosta counties had two entries each. It's interesting to note that Leelanau County, where Mandatory 3-points-on-one-side antler restrictions have been in effect since 2003, only had one entry scoring more than 140 during 2012 and 2013.
Those same antler restrictions went into effect in 12 counties surrounding Leelanau last fall. If those restrictions work the way they are supposed to, hunters should see more 2 1/2-year-old bucks this year. Those counties are Emmet, Antrim, Charlevoix, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Manistee, Mason, Lake, Osceola, Missaukee and Wexford. Proposals that would have expanded mandatory APR to the rest of the Lower Peninsula this year failed to generate enough support.
The winter of 2012-2013 really took a toll on bucks in the U.P. or Region 1. Spring breakup did not occur until late April or early May of 2013 in the region's northern counties, keeping whitetails confined to deeryards at least a month longer than normal, where they were vulnerable to predators and malnutrition. Deer that received supplemental feeding fared much better than those that didn't. Even so, it appears the number of bucks were reduced by more than 50 percent.
Last winter was another tough one and more deer were lost to its icy grip, but, due to the fact deer numbers were much lower, supplemental feeding was permitted U.P.-wide and winter didn't last as long as the year before, losses were not as high as the year before. So every U.P. county should still produce trophy bucks.
Top choices for U.P. trophy bucks are Chippewa, Houghton, Iron, Gogebic, Keweenaw and Marquette counties. Many cornfields were not cut in Menominee County last fall due to wet conditions, which helped protect some adult bucks. Those bucks will be even bigger this year. As proof the big ones can still be had in the U.P., Larry Smith from Lac La Belle downed a 140-class 12-pointer that was 8 1/2 years old in Keweenaw County.