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Michigan Deer Forecast for 2016

Michigan Deer Forecast for 2016

For Michigan deer hunters interested in putting venison in the freezer this fall, the southern half of the Lower Peninsula remains the best place to hunt. Whitetails are abundant, along with the opportunities to shoot at least one with bow and/or firearms.

Liberal antlerless deer quotas make it easy to get doe permits for that part of the state so if you don't see a buck, you can shoot a doe. Higher deer numbers mean there are plenty of bucks to go around, too. That increases the odds of scoring for hunters who prefer their venison accompanied with headgear.

Michigan Great Deer

Besides the presence of plenty of bucks in the southern counties of Region 3 upping the odds for success, that region is the only one in the state where some form of mandatory antler point restrictions are not in effect. That's a benefit when it comes to bagging a buck. You don't have to count antler points before deciding to shoot. If you can see antler, you know it's legal and can then concentrate on killing the whitetail.


The fact that antlerless deer make up almost 50 percent of the harvest in Region 3 also results in a better buck-to-doe ratio in the remaining herd, and further increases the potential for hunters to cross paths with antlered bucks. During 2014 deer seasons, for example, Region 3 hunters harvested an estimated 83,482 antlerless deer (47 percent of the kill) compared to 95,180 bucks, according to DNR estimates, a difference of only 11,698.


There was a slight decrease in the 2015 antlerless harvest (82,719) for Region 3, according to preliminary DNR estimates, and an increase in the buck kill (103,977), dropping the antlerless segment of the harvest down to 44 percent. That's still a healthy harvest of antlerless deer. With another excellent year for fawn production during 2016, hunters are expected to collect more does in the region this year to return the antlerless harvest closer to 50 percent, the best way to manage that population.

Due to excellent nutrition and the lack of snow in southern Michigan, whitetails in that part of the state are extremely productive. A significant percentage of doe fawns breed. Although they may only give birth to single fawns as yearlings, most adult does have twins and some have triplets.

Almost half of the hunters who tried their luck in Region 3 during 2015 seasons collected at least one deer. The actual percentage was 44.3 percent, and success among deer hunters in that part of the state should be at least as good this year. The percentage of hunters bagging at least two deer during all seasons is much higher than anywhere else in the state, too. An estimated 13.7 percent of southern Michigan deer hunters tagged at least two deer during 2015 seasons, according to preliminary DNR estimates. That compares to 8.3 percent of hunters in Region 2, or the northern Lower Peninsula, who got a pair of whitetails, and only 2 percent for the U.P. or Region 1.

REGION 3


Although deer numbers in parts of Region 3 might not yet be as high as they were before a serious outbreak of EHD a number of years ago, recovery is well under way. In some locations, it may be better to prevent deer from getting as abundant as they were prior to the disease outbreak. Then losses won't be as high if/when EHD strikes again.

The presence of chronic wasting disease among wild deer in southern Michigan remains a major concern for the DNR. Seven deer have tested positive for the disease in a five-county area. Those counties are Clinton, Ionia, Shiawassee, Eaton and Ingham. No baiting or feeding of deer is permitted in those counties. Unlimited deer management assistance permits are available to landowners in the 17-township core area to encourage the harvest of deer, all of which must be tested for CWD. The head of harvested deer must be turned over to the DNR within 72 hours for CWD testing.

To encourage the harvest of as many deer as possible in the CWD Management Zone, there is no antler restriction on either buck tag that comes with combination deer licenses. In other words, hunters with combo tags in those counties can shoot two bucks with a minimum of one antler that is 3 inches long. The DNR hopes the disease can be contained in the counties where it has been identified, and eventually eliminated. For the latest information on CWD, refer to the DNR Web site michigan.gov/dnr.


The best counties to bag a deer in Region 3 during 2016 are in the Southcentral and Saginaw Bay Districts. An estimated 46.1 percent of the hunters who tried their luck in the Southcentral District scored on at least one whitetail during 2015 seasons. The success rate was 45.6 percent in counties that make up the Saginaw Bay District. The Southcentral District is composed of the five-county CWD Zone plus Montcalm, Gratiot, Livingston, Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale and Lenawee counties. The Saginaw Bay District includes Huron, Tuscola, Sanilac, Saginaw, Bay, Midland, Isabella, Clare, Gladwin and Arenac counties.

Autumn Stawecki from Yale was one of the lucky hunters who scored in the Southcentral District last fall. She collected a trophy 8-pointer with a shotgun that measured 134 0/8. She was hunting in Washtenaw County on the afternoon of Nov. 16 and being persistent even though deer sightings had been slow up until then. She had a doe feeding in front of her when a second doe that was probably in heat brought the 8-pointer toward one of her shooting lanes. She made good on her opportunity.

REGION 2

Hunters who are hoping to fill a tag in the northern Lower Peninsula or Region 2 have roughly the same odds of success regardless of where they go. Based on DNR estimates, hunters in the Northwestern District had a 36.3 percent rate of success compared to 36 percent in the Northeastern District. This is the fourth year for mandatory antler point restrictions in most counties of the Northwest District, which makes it tougher to fill a buck tag. Bucks must have a minimum of 3 points on one antler to be legal.

A hunter told me his success on private land in Mason County has been negatively impacted by APR regulations. Success of his entire hunting party has gone down due to mandatory APR. Four to five hunters hunt the property every year. Prior to mandatory APR, they bagged at least one buck per year there. Since mandatory APR regulations have been in effect, they haven't killed a single buck on the parcel.

They were looking forward to last fall, thinking that would be the year the regulations finally would pay off because they had trail cam photos of plenty of bucks during 2014. Unfortunately, they still failed to kill any bucks in 2015. The only buck that died on their land last fall was a deer with sublegal antlers that a neighbor shot and it came across their boundary before dying. The person who shot the deer left it where it fell rather than risk being ticketed for an illegal buck. The landowners didn't touch the buck for the same reason. It went to waste.

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Three counties in the Northwest District that are not under mandatory APR regulations offer the best chances for getting some venison because they also are the southernmost counties in the district where deer numbers are highest. Those counties are Oceana, Newaygo and Mecosta.

Since antlerless deer quotas are supposed to be elevated in the counties of the Northwest District with mandatory APR to help offset the reduced buck harvest, shooting a doe may be the best way to get venison in those counties. They are Emmet, Charlevoix, Antrim, Leelanau, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Mason, Lake and Osceola. If you are lucky, you might be able to connect on one of the older bucks that are supposed to be in those counties.

Counties in the Northeast District that don't have mandatory APR, and therefore offer the best chances for shooting a deer, are Roscommon, Ogemaw, Crawford, Otsego and Cheboygan. Antler restrictions for the remaining counties in the Northeast District (Presque Isle, Montmorency, Alpena, Alcona, Oscoda and Iosco) only apply if you buy a combination deer license with two buck tags. Hunters with those licenses are limited to shooting bucks with 3 or 4 points on one antler. If you buy a single deer license, you can shoot a buck with at least one 3-inch antler, but you are limited to shooting one buck per year.

Mandatory APR regulations for combination license holders in the Northeast District were adopted a number of years ago as a means of reducing the prevalence rate of TB among deer. However, it forces some hunters to pass up bucks that may either be infected with the disease or might become infected the following year. Older bucks have a higher infection rate than any other class of deer. The fact that the overall prevalence rate of TB among deer in DMU 452 rose to 2.7 percent during 2015 from 1 percent in 2014 led some hunters to believe it is proof those regulations are not working. The prevalence rate hasn't been that high since 2002 when it was 2.8 percent.

REGION 1

Only 22.3 percent of deer hunters in the U.P. bagged at least one deer during 2015 seasons, according to preliminary DNR estimates, which is one of the lowest success rates ever recorded for Region 1. This compares with 27.5 percent of U.P. hunters who shot a deer during 2014, 34.2 percent in 2013, and 41.8 percent who filled a tag in 2012. Severe winters and a high predator load have played important roles in producing such a dramatic decline in deer numbers and hunting success over a span of three years, but some of the most stringent deer hunting regulations in the state also are responsible.

Last year, for instance, was the first time since lengthy annual archery deer seasons were established in Michigan that bowhunters in the U.P. were prohibited from shooting antlerless deer unless they had an antlerless permit, and few of those were issued for the region. Antlerless permits were issued for only three DMUs in the southern U.P. during 2015 and they were for private land only. It was an extreme measure that was totally unnecessary. Besides reducing recreational opportunity among bowhunters and reducing the U.P. deer harvest, the regulation threw deer management out the window.

Most U.P. bowhunting occurs in southern counties where deer numbers are highest. Antlerless harvest by bowhunters used to help manage those deer, reducing car/deer collisions and farm crop damage. That didn't happen last year and won't be happening again this year, resulting in more road-killed whitetails, damaged vehicles and crops.

Mandatory APR for U.P. hunters who buy combination licenses, by limiting them to shooting bucks with 3 or 4 points on one antler (in effect since 2008), further reduces hunting success. My brother and I passed up multiple bucks during 2015 that we would have shot, if it weren't for those regulations, and we weren't alone. Besides reducing hunting success, those regulations attempt to stockpile bucks during the winter, which has failed because many deer have died during winter, eliminating their potential to live longer or to provide meals for hunters. Those excess deer damaged winter habitat by eating as much as they could before dying.

Last winter was a record mild one in the U.P. Snow depths were behind normal and winter ended early, resulting in excellent deer survival and fawn production during 2016. Prospects for this fall are much better for most of the U.P. than they've been in several years, but success will remain low until realistic hunting regulations become law. The best counties to fill tags in the U.P. are Menominee, Dickinson, Iron and Delta. If you buy a single deer license, there are no antler restrictions, but you are limited to shooting one buck.

Even though deer numbers are low in northern U.P. counties, there are advantages of hunting in the Lake Superior Watershed. Public land is abundant, hunting pressure is light, and there are some monster bucks. Top counties to try are Ontonagon, Houghton, Baraga, Keweenaw and Marquette.

There was a slight decrease in the 2015 antlerless harvest (82,719) for Region 3, according to preliminary DNR estimates, and an increase in the buck kill (103,977), dropping the antlerless segment of the harvest down to 44 percent. That's still a healthy harvest of antlerless deer. With another excellent year for fawn production during 2016, hunters are expected to collect more does in the region this year to return the antlerless harvest closer to 50 percent, the best way to manage that population.

Due to excellent nutrition and the lack of snow in southern Michigan, whitetails in that part of the state are extremely productive. A significant percentage of doe fawns breed. Although they may only give birth to single fawns as yearlings, most adult does have twins and some have triplets.

Almost half of the hunters who tried their luck in Region 3 during 2015 seasons collected at least one deer. The actual percentage was 44.3 percent, and success among deer hunters in that part of the state should be at least as good this year. The percentage of hunters bagging at least two deer during all seasons is much higher than anywhere else in the state, too. An estimated 13.7 percent of southern Michigan deer hunters tagged at least two deer during 2015 seasons, according to preliminary DNR estimates. That compares to 8.3 percent of hunters in Region 2, or the northern Lower Peninsula, who got a pair of whitetails, and only 2 percent for the U.P. or Region 1.

REGION 3

Although deer numbers in parts of Region 3 might not yet be as high as they were before a serious outbreak of EHD a number of years ago, recovery is well under way. In some locations, it may be better to prevent deer from getting as abundant as they were prior to the disease outbreak. Then losses won't be as high if/when EHD strikes again.

The presence of chronic wasting disease among wild deer in southern Michigan remains a major concern for the DNR. Seven deer have tested positive for the disease in a five-county area. Those counties are Clinton, Ionia, Shiawassee, Eaton and Ingham. No baiting or feeding of deer is permitted in those counties. Unlimited deer management assistance permits are available to landowners in the 17-township core area to encourage the harvest of deer, all of which must be tested for CWD. The head of harvested deer must be turned over to the DNR within 72 hours for CWD testing.

To encourage the harvest of as many deer as possible in the CWD Management Zone, there is no antler restriction on either buck tag that comes with combination deer licenses. In other words, hunters with combo tags in those counties can shoot two bucks with a minimum of one antler that is 3 inches long. The DNR hopes the disease can be contained in the counties where it has been identified, and eventually eliminated. For the latest information on CWD, refer to the DNR Web site michigan.gov/dnr.

The best counties to bag a deer in Region 3 during 2016 are in the Southcentral and Saginaw Bay Districts. An estimated 46.1 percent of the hunters who tried their luck in the Southcentral District scored on at least one whitetail during 2015 seasons. The success rate was 45.6 percent in counties that make up the Saginaw Bay District. The Southcentral District is composed of the five-county CWD Zone plus Montcalm, Gratiot, Livingston, Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale and Lenawee counties. The Saginaw Bay District includes Huron, Tuscola, Sanilac, Saginaw, Bay, Midland, Isabella, Clare, Gladwin and Arenac counties.

Autumn Stawecki from Yale was one of the lucky hunters who scored in the Southcentral District last fall. She collected a trophy 8-pointer with a shotgun that measured 134 0/8. She was hunting in Washtenaw County on the afternoon of Nov. 16 and being persistent even though deer sightings had been slow up until then. She had a doe feeding in front of her when a second doe that was probably in heat brought the 8-pointer toward one of her shooting lanes. She made good on her opportunity.

REGION 2

Hunters who are hoping to fill a tag in the northern Lower Peninsula or Region 2 have roughly the same odds of success regardless of where they go. Based on DNR estimates, hunters in the Northwestern District had a 36.3 percent rate of success compared to 36 percent in the Northeastern District. This is the fourth year for mandatory antler point restrictions in most counties of the Northwest District, which makes it tougher to fill a buck tag. Bucks must have a minimum of 3 points on one antler to be legal.

A hunter told me his success on private land in Mason County has been negatively impacted by APR regulations. Success of his entire hunting party has gone down due to mandatory APR. Four to five hunters hunt the property every year. Prior to mandatory APR, they bagged at least one buck per year there. Since mandatory APR regulations have been in effect, they haven't killed a single buck on the parcel.

They were looking forward to last fall, thinking that would be the year the regulations finally would pay off because they had trail cam photos of plenty of bucks during 2014. Unfortunately, they still failed to kill any bucks in 2015. The only buck that died on their land last fall was a deer with sublegal antlers that a neighbor shot and it came across their boundary before dying. The person who shot the deer left it where it fell rather than risk being ticketed for an illegal buck. The landowners didn't touch the buck for the same reason. It went to waste.

Three counties in the Northwest District that are not under mandatory APR regulations offer the best chances for getting some venison because they also are the southernmost counties in the district where deer numbers are highest. Those counties are Oceana, Newaygo and Mecosta.

Since antlerless deer quotas are supposed to be elevated in the counties of the Northwest District with mandatory APR to help offset the reduced buck harvest, shooting a doe may be the best way to get venison in those counties. They are Emmet, Charlevoix, Antrim, Leelanau, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Mason, Lake and Osceola. If you are lucky, you might be able to connect on one of the older bucks that are supposed to be in those counties.

Counties in the Northeast District that don't have mandatory APR, and therefore offer the best chances for shooting a deer, are Roscommon, Ogemaw, Crawford, Otsego and Cheboygan. Antler restrictions for the remaining counties in the Northeast District (Presque Isle, Montmorency, Alpena, Alcona, Oscoda and Iosco) only apply if you buy a combination deer license with two buck tags. Hunters with those licenses are limited to shooting bucks with 3 or 4 points on one antler. If you buy a single deer license, you can shoot a buck with at least one 3-inch antler, but you are limited to shooting one buck per year.

Mandatory APR regulations for combination license holders in the Northeast District were adopted a number of years ago as a means of reducing the prevalence rate of TB among deer. However, it forces some hunters to pass up bucks that may either be infected with the disease or might become infected the following year. Older bucks have a higher infection rate than any other class of deer. The fact that the overall prevalence rate of TB among deer in DMU 452 rose to 2.7 percent during 2015 from 1 percent in 2014 led some hunters to believe it is proof those regulations are not working. The prevalence rate hasn't been that high since 2002 when it was 2.8 percent.

REGION 1

Only 22.3 percent of deer hunters in the U.P. bagged at least one deer during 2015 seasons, according to preliminary DNR estimates, which is one of the lowest success rates ever recorded for Region 1. This compares with 27.5 percent of U.P. hunters who shot a deer during 2014, 34.2 percent in 2013, and 41.8 percent who filled a tag in 2012. Severe winters and a high predator load have played important roles in producing such a dramatic decline in deer numbers and hunting success over a span of three years, but some of the most stringent deer hunting regulations in the state also are responsible.

Last year, for instance, was the first time since lengthy annual archery deer seasons were established in Michigan that bowhunters in the U.P. were prohibited from shooting antlerless deer unless they had an antlerless permit, and few of those were issued for the region. Antlerless permits were issued for only three DMUs in the southern U.P. during 2015 and they were for private land only. It was an extreme measure that was totally unnecessary. Besides reducing recreational opportunity among bowhunters and reducing the U.P. deer harvest, the regulation threw deer management out the window.

Most U.P. bowhunting occurs in southern counties where deer numbers are highest. Antlerless harvest by bowhunters used to help manage those deer, reducing car/deer collisions and farm crop damage. That didn't happen last year and won't be happening again this year, resulting in more road-killed whitetails, damaged vehicles and crops.

Mandatory APR for U.P. hunters who buy combination licenses, by limiting them to shooting bucks with 3 or 4 points on one antler (in effect since 2008), further reduces hunting success. My brother and I passed up multiple bucks during 2015 that we would have shot, if it weren't for those regulations, and we weren't alone. Besides reducing hunting success, those regulations attempt to stockpile bucks during the winter, which has failed because many deer have died during winter, eliminating their potential to live longer or to provide meals for hunters. Those excess deer damaged winter habitat by eating as much as they could before dying.

Last winter was a record mild one in the U.P. Snow depths were behind normal and winter ended early, resulting in excellent deer survival and fawn production during 2016. Prospects for this fall are much better for most of the U.P. than they've been in several years, but success will remain low until realistic hunting regulations become law. The best counties to fill tags in the U.P. are Menominee, Dickinson, Iron and Delta. If you buy a single deer license, there are no antler restrictions, but you are limited to shooting one buck.

Even though deer numbers are low in northern U.P. counties, there are advantages of hunting in the Lake Superior Watershed. Public land is abundant, hunting pressure is light, and there are some monster bucks. Top counties to try are Ontonagon, Houghton, Baraga, Keweenaw and Marquette.

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