Michigan’s statewide 2009 forecast for firearm deer season

If You Hunt Public Lands…Check This Out:

The Upper Peninsula contains 6,359,327 acres of public hunting lands with a significant portion placed in CFA (Commercial Forest Act) lands. Statistics indicate that 96% of CFA land is located north of the Bridge. Furthermore, hunting pressure in most U.P. counties is minimal and you will find whitetails hunted less than other downstate areas. Bear in mind, that only 3% of Michigan’s population lives in the Upper Peninsula.

Northern Lower Peninsula holds approximately 4,000,000 acres of public land including state and federal holdings. They draw the largest amount of archery deer hunters than other regions of the state. Extreme pressure is placed on the deer herd from October through December including late archery and muzzleloader seasons.

Southern Michigan is composed of 93% private land; leaving just 7% set aside for public hunting. Basically, that is a skewered percentage; especially, since it represents an extremely high deer density area. Those figures on the norm, equate to 35 whitetails to the square mile, and is some regions, that figure jumps to as many as 75 whitetails per square mile.

Here, to the south, much of the public land proves alien to deer for these whitetails prefer croplands over forest habitat; that is why numerous Booner bucks are annually harvested from southern Michigan. It makes sense.

Last season the estimated firearms season deer kill was 272,000.

Some 32,000 whitetails were harvested from the Upper Peninsula; down 22% from the previous seasons when 41,000 deer were harvested.

About 91,000 deer were taken in the Northern Lower Peninsula which made that final tally up 22%.

Southern Lower Michigan proved to be the busiest region during 2008 bearing an estimated kill of 119,000.

The overall 2008 tally for firearms deer season was roughly down by 8,720 whitetails from the previous season.

Looking Back at a bit of deer hunting history from Chippewa/Mackinac Counties:

St. Ignace News-June 13, 1918: The deer hunters in the state totaled 27,370 during the 1917 season; an increase of 20% over 1916 or 5,394 hunters.

St. Ignace News, November 21, 1918: Loads of hunters are camped in the woods near Brevort. Up to the present, they report as bagging three wolves, one bear, and very few deer.

St. Ignace News, November 13, 1958: With more than 400,000 hunters preparing to open Michigan’s firearm deer season on November 15th, expectations are that at least 85,000 Nimrods will invade the Upper Peninsula via the Mackinac Bridge.

St. Ignace News, November 14, 1958: Bert Beveridge’s camp on the Old Murray Road off Feltus Cut, one of the oldest continuous camps in the country, will not open this year…The first time since 1919. The wet weather damaged the old road and a beaver dam has flooded the area. The Black River Camp took out eight bucks during the 1957 season.

Cusino Research Station Report: Beginning in 1951, a deer-check station will be manned annually at the Straits of Mackinac Ferry Dock during Michigan’s firearms hunting seasons. Cusino personnel will man the check station.

What hunters have to say:

Recently, I asked several avid hunters to sum up the question, “Why do some hunters harvest deer, while others do not?” A sampling of reasons follows:

“It is simply a matter of being in the right place at exactly the right time.”

“I strongly believe in beginner’s luck!”

“If you are not a lazy hunter and hold both stamina and time for purposeful scouting prior to season…I feel as though you can pick and choose your buck of choice.”

Upper Peninsula

Crystal Falls Field Office: Doug Wagner, Wildlife Biologist…

“A new, yet old, controversy is rising this year; that being, talk of changing the November 15th opener for firearms deer season. It is a tradition. Some hunters want the season starter moved to a Saturday or even a varied tier of openers statewide.

“As of now, our zone draws a large number of hunters from Wisconsin where their deer season is shorter and opening day varies. I would estimate that half our hunters hail from Wisconsin. It costs them more, but they pay it. Some years they can actually hunt Michigan two to three days prior to the Wisconsin opener.

“We’ve experienced a long, cold, late summer coming off of a second harsh winter. We found few deer on the ground during our spring dead deer counts, and that was a plus. Winter broke just in time last spring for the deer to rebound.

“As a result of a cold spring, late summer, most soft mast production is appearing relatively late and will ripen much later than usual. Acorn and hazel nut crops are coming along. Alfalfa, a deer staple in cropland country is down 30% and I was told that when we experience a cold summer as we have had this year, protein count drops considerable. Winter food value is lost.

“How will the 2009 firearms season go? If you hunted this district the past several years, you should have a very similar hunt. As you know, Menominee, Dickinson, and Iron counties hold the most whitetails. But some super trophy racks have been harvested from Gogebic, Ontonagon, and Baraga as in areas away from Lake Superior. Lots of cover makes hunters work to bag a trophy buck, but the bucks are there if you are willing to put in both the time and effort.”

Escanaba Field Office: Craig Albright, Wildlife Manager…

“How did last year’s new U.P. buck law work out? During camp surveys, comments indicated that most hunters like the ruling; 26 replies were positive; 18 were not. But many of the polled hunters had purchased licenses early and actually abided by the old rules. This season should bring more accurate results. Eight camps registered confusion over the new buck rules. Throughout central regions of the U.P. a strong movement exists for the theory, “Let Them Go – Let them Grow.” Billboards have been erected with that slogan advising quality deer management practices. These hunters hope to see quality racks within three years.

“Once again, our district worried about spring fawning due to the fact that we had extreme winter weather the second year in a row. We expect a 10% decline in the herd.

“As a result of a colder than normal summer, mast supplies will prove spotty. Oak and hazel nut production appears to be coming along but the crop will not prove abundant. Where will you find oaks in farm country counties? Leave the croplands and explore along forested areas of the Menominee River. Also check areas out of Gwinn, and Marquette County holds a number of oak groves.

“As I have mentioned in reports from previous years, Menominee County, especially the southern farmlands areas, grow big bucks! But little public land is provided. And gaining permission to hunt is simply difficult to obtain. Private farm country has monster bucks due to excellent nutrition. Young bucks sport great racks early in life. Wider, thicker antlers actually have shown up on three to five-year-old deer.

“But farm country does not have a monopoly on “big bucks!” Statistics indicate that racks bearing eight or more points have turned up in 40% of Alger County deer harvests; and 38% in Marquette County’s, and 30% in the Delta County figures. Those are far better odds than trying to take a trophy buck in Menominee

County. If you can’t garner hunting permission, it matters not how many trophy racks are out there!”

Newberry Operations Service Center: Terry Minzey, Wildlife Supervisor…

“Presently, the EUP herd is down! Last year I predicted a 10% drop in harvest figures. But there was also a drop in hunters, either due to high gas prices or confusion over the new U.P. buck law.

“I predict another 10% drop in the 2009 deer harvest. Also by the close of this season, we should have a better basis for comparison if this new buck law is working.

“Like other areas across the entire Upper Peninsula, we too have experienced two serious winters back-to-back. Spring deer also found a slow green up due to late season frosts and unseasonably cold weather. Even summer appeared to be the summer that wasn’t. So in turn we lost deer. Well into spring, many were fuzzy-faced, with ribs showing; surely stillborn fawns were the norm. Personally, I’ve only seen two fawns this year and now (interview in August) is when fawns should be traveling with doe moms. Few, if any, twin fawns reported.

“EUP Beech trees have been hard hit with disease. Some 90% to 95% of mature trees are infected, which means hard mast problems for our deer.

“My prediction for the 2009 firearms season? You can expect both quantity and quality but the harvest will be down. Where are the EUP hotspots? Best possibilities may occur in Chippewa County; however, they have the least public lands available to hunters. Next, look to Mackinac, Schoolcraft, and Alger counties. The EUP holds over a million acres of public lands: State – 1 million acres; Federal – 900,000 acres; Seney National Wildlife Preserve – 100,000 acres; and Pictured Rocks Natural Seashore Area – 30,000 acres.

“Where do I hunt? I have a deer camp in Marquette County but when I can not hunt there I choose Schoolcraft or Alger areas and hunt on public lands.

“Looking to the future…DNR funds three Upper Peninsula groups for deer/habitat improvements. The United Sportsmen’s Club of Merriman will create wildlife openings on private land, the East Dickinson County Sportsmen’s Club of Felch will plant trees and the U.P. Whitetails chapter in Marquette County will create about 40 acres of wildlife openings on public land.”

Northern Lower Peninsula

Northwest Management Unit: Larry Visser, Wildlife Supervisor…

“Winter was fairly easy with few if any complications due to an early February thaw.

“Firearms season should find hunters seeing their fair share of deer throughout the northwestern portion of northern lower Michigan but also be assured that you will also see loads of hunters as well. Highest hunting pressure occurs in Wexford, Lake, and Missaukie counties where high whitetail numbers exist.

“Also bear in mind that some of Michigan’s best hunting occurs on public lands adjacent to agricultural pursuits. Check those areas early prior to season opener. While conditions may prove to be more hunter-oriented than in the Upper Peninsula, hunters can still locate places of solitude where there is not a tree blind within spitting distance!

“Check out areas holding natural mast such as old abandoned homesteads that possibly could harbor an ancient apple orchards or a small stand of acorn-bearing oaks. Other soft mast to keep an eye out for would be berries, wild grapes and pear, plum or sherry trees. Hard mast possibilities would take in red oak acorns, pin oak fruit, white oak acorns when available. If hunters can locate an adequate hard or soft mast area, he or she should see deer.

“One other point to mention. A new hunter to this region will find some habitat variation from small swales to marshlands. They may find more deer to the south than towards the north of our district. Counties below M-55 Highway experience milder winters and provide better habitat to support larger numbers of whitetails. A good all around bet…check out least traveled back country roads well before the season begins. You can actually bag that trophy buck just about anywhere throughout the district.

“Where do I hunt? Well, I am a member of a private hunt club, and that is where I annually hunt with my buddies and other members.”

Northeastern Lower Peninsula

Gaylord Operations Service Center: Various DNR sources…

“Our whitetail population is somewhat up. We expect to have a great 2009 firearms deer hunting season.

“You ask how our management unit differs from say the Upper Peninsula or Southern Michigan and I would basically say what sets us apart…From Tawas to West Branch to the Big Mac Bridge, we afford hunters a real mix of hunting ops. We range from high plains to low productive soil areas to sand country and heavily forested areas. Hunters will see more deer in the Tawas area than to our counties to the north. We provide hunter choices with a fine mix of habitat for deer hunting. Lowest deer densities are found in Antrim and Cheboygan counties, but nice trophy racks have also been harvested from these more secluded hard-to-hunt properties. In such instances you must hunt hard to be successful.

“One feature going for us is that we have over 2 million acres of public land. State lands are hunter friendly throughout both Ogemaw and Roscommon Counties. Much of the public lands show light hunter pressure, which many firearms hunters appreciate.

“Deer hunting should not began at the moment of the legal hunting season…scouting should be practiced during small game season. A squirrel hunt could reveal buck rubs or scrapes or other positive deer sign. Check out normal whitetail behavior prior to the archery or firearms deer seasons and that time may be well spent. You need to know where the deer are before November 15th opening day.”

Bay City

Bay City Operations Service Center: Rex Ainsley, Wildlife Supervisor…

“Yes, I must agree that last hunting season, more hunters probably hunted close to home instead of traveling north due to high gas prices and the new confusing U.P. Buck Law. Hunters harvested more deer last firearms season plus the fact that more licenses were also purchased. More deer were harvested from Clair and Gladwin Counties…they appeared to be 2008 hotspots.

“Where are the trophy bucks? Pretty well spaced out evenly across the board.

“More antlerless deer permits were afforded last year, but in our specific district things were a bit changed. Those counties straddling between Zone 22 and Zone 3 were issued additional harvest licenses. Those area hunters could put in for five permits where previously they were allowed two. That fact alone, increased our harvest numbers in 2008.

“We have close to 200,000 acres of public hunting land in the Gladwin State Forest plus an additional 300,000 acres of state land. We fare far better than Southern Michigan for just 9% of public lands exist.

“My advice to all hunters is to read your 2009 Michigan DNR Hunting Guide to make sure you fully understand both new and current rules, specifics, etc.

Southeastern Michigan

Southfield Operations Service Center: Tim Payne, Wildlife Supervisor

“You are absolutely correct in saying that many hunters stayed in our area passing up chances to head north. The economy played a role. Perhaps it will be a repeat this year.

“Deer/vehicle accidents are an indication of too many deer in a given area and indeed it is important that the general public realizes this fact. These situations exist primarily because we have so little public lands; thus the annual deer harvest is lower. Deer are on the rise. Few private land owners will lease land for hunting and often times local concerns must also be addressed.

“The overall firearm season should be pretty darn good. Reports indicate that folks are seeing deer. Numbers are high in Lapeer and Oakland Counties. Yes, hunters will find little access, but knock on doors. Register respect to the landowner. They need to thin out the present deer herd and farmers realize that. Crop damage is running high.

“Yes, DNR check stations will be running at half-staff and this will surely hinder our reports and information gleaned from this source. The check stations supply excellent information required for proper deer management. We are all feeling the results of the recession.

“Any specific problems our hunters should be aware of? We’ve made one management unit out of Monroe, Macomb, Wayne and St. Clair Counties which affords better flexibility within the unit and should help to stabilize deer population through this effort.

Southwestern Lower Michigan

Plainwell Operations Service Center – Sara Schaefer, Wildlife Supervisor…

“One thing southern Michigan hunters may experience in our district, is that deer are smarter than most give them credit for. In highly urbanized areas of small subdivisions, say holding some 20 houses; deer enjoy roaming large lawns nipping off flowers and shrubs. The residents do not appreciate it. But when firearms deer season comes around; like clock-work, these same whitetails tend to disappear! Small woodlots and swales offer adequate cover…small secret deer refuges of sort. Be sure to check these wooded field islands out…they just could prove to be productive.

“We receive some flack from agricultural landholders over whitetail deer. So many simply do not allow hunting on their land. In many an instance, a “bad apple” hunter has left garbage or damage behind, failed to close a cattle gate, or some other unkindly deed. You and I both know it only takes one unappreciative hunter to spoil an opportunity many may have shared.

“This year’s closing of half the deer-check stations will not affect us to an extent as in other districts. Those that are closed, are areas where data is not presently needed. Those where further information and statistics are required will remain open, as will check stations in Kent County where a case of CWD still requires mandatory monitoring.

“Have a great hunt.”

South Central Lower Michigan

East Lansing – Varied DNR sources…

“We have a huge herd to manage. Actually, approximately 50% of all deer harvested come from the southern tier of Michigan’s counties. The herd needs to be drastically reduced.

“Many public areas are closed to hunting and that equates to the fact that deer are basically harvested from private land. And farmers need to open additional land to hunters over and above to friends and family, which has been a tradition. Yet these same farmers apply annually for crop damage permits for problem whitetails.

“We are also seeing land fragmentation. A problem in itself. Larger parcels of land are often broken up for development and that equates to fewer hunters afield.

“Is there any public land in this great district that produced Booner bucks? Actually more than one might expect. The district has 34 State Forest Recreational Areas that allow hunting. To just name a few; Gratiot, Saginaw, Maple River, Flat River, Waterloo, and Ortonville.

“Across the board, we would like to see more hunters harvest deer from private land holdings as that is where most of the deer problems lie. Deer have adapted to eating just about anything made available and do not appear to have a preferred source. Agricultural products rate high on their grocery list and whitetails take advantage of available croplands.”

In Conclusion

There you have it! Now it is your choice as where to hunt…Up North…Northern Lower Michigan…Southern Lower Michigan…deer camp…day hunts close to home; it matters not. Simply enjoy the out-of-doors experience and above all else, have a safe hunt.