The decline in the number of deer hunters in Michigan continued during 2018 along with the deer harvest, according to preliminary figures released by the DNR. Although the total deer harvest was down during 2018 compared to the year before, more whitetails were actually taken by hunters in the southern Lower Peninsula or Region 3 and the Upper Peninsula or Region 1. Those increases were offset, however, by a larger decrease in the kill in the northern Lower Peninsula or Region 2.
On a statewide basis, deer hunter numbers were down by 3% for all seasons combined and the kill dropped by 4%, according to the 2018 Deer Harvest Report compiled by DNR statistician Brian Frawley. An estimated 554,331 hunters hunted deer in the state last fall, according to the report, compared to 574,127 for 2017. Hunters claimed an estimated 360,666 deer of both sexes last fall versus 376,365 the year before.
The kill was actually up for all seasons in Region 3 by almost 10,000 deer and increased for all seasons except archery in Region 1, but was down by more than 24,000 in Region 2, dragging last fall’s total down below the tally for 2017. Hunters in Region 3 tagged an estimated 197,080 whitetails of both sexes for 2018 versus 188,505 in 2017. Totals for the U.P. were 35,438 last fall and 35,289 the year before. The Region 2 harvest dropped to 128,148 from 152,570.
The number of deer hunters also declined the most in Region 2 between 2017 and 2018, being a major factor contributing to the reduced harvest. An estimated 240,871 hunters hunted whitetails in the northern Lower Peninsula last fall, according to the DNR, compared to 259,459 the year before, a drop of 18,588 for all seasons. Almost 14,000 fewer bowhunters hunted the region (121,729 versus 135,485) and the number of firearms hunters was down by almost 12,000 (205,964 and 217,422).
The archery season deer harvest went down by approximately 20,000 in Region 2 between 2018 and 2017 (37,385 for 2018 and 57,180 in 2017). The gun kill decreased by more than 6,000 (74,013 versus 80,724).
Increased participation in the early and late antlerless and liberty hunts in Region 2 helped offset the declines during archery and firearms seasons. The number of late antlerless hunt participants were up by more than 6,000 last December (15,163 versus 8,833) than the year before. Liberty hunt participation was up by more than 2,000 (11,386 and 9,167). The deer kill increased by about 1,000 for each of those hunts as a result of more hunters.
Even though more deer were harvested in Region 3 during 2018 than 2017, hunters still declined in the southern one third of the state, but not by as much as Region 2. There were about 5,000 fewer bowhunters (167,355 and 172,368) in Region 3 last year and gun hunters were down by about 6,000 (221,855 versus 227,877). There were small increases in hunter numbers during muzzleloader, early and late antlerless, liberty and independence hunts, however.
The deer kill was down by almost 5,000 in Region 3 during archery season (67,984 and 72,574), according to preliminary DNR estimates, but up by more than 8,000 for gun season (92,099 and 83,628). More deer were also taken in Region 3 during the remaining hunts.
The estimated deer harvest increases for the U.P. during 2018 are significant because they occurred in spite of the most stringent harvest restrictions in the state and a reduction in the number of deer hunters. Antlerless deer have been off limits to U.P. bowhunters since 2015, unless they possess an antlerless permit, while bowhunters in the rest of the state can shoot deer of either sex on their regular licenses. Crossbows are also illegal during the December archery hunt in the U.P. as opposed to being legal over the rest of the state. Both buck tags on U.P. combination deer licenses, which are purchased by the majority of U.P. hunters, are also restricted. In the rest of the state, one buck tag is unrestricted on combination licenses.
According to preliminary figures from the DNR, an estimated 79,571 hunters hunted deer during all seasons in the U.P. in 2018 compared to 79,936 for 2017. The fact that there was only about 150 more deer of either sex bagged during all seasons last fall in the U.P. than the year before is deceiving. The kill actually increased for all seasons except archery. Reduced harvest of whitetails during bow season helped offset increases for other seasons.
An estimated 6,248 deer were tagged by archers in the U.P. during 2018 versus 7,305 in 2017. The number of antlerless deer taken by bowhunters in the U.P. last fall actually increased (1,269 versus 1,052), but that increase was offset by a reduced buck kill (4,979 versus 6,255). The bow kill was down in every region of the state during 2018. DNR statistician Brian Frawley blamed a wet October for the decreased bow kill.
“…The decline in harvest during the archery season likely reflected the above normal precipitation received in the U.P. and NELP during October 2018,” Frawley wrote in the 2018 deer harvest report. “Precipitation in these areas was at least 200% above normal (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 2018).”
The number of bowhunters who hunted deer in the U.P. was also down significantly during 2018. An estimated 22,080 bowhunters tried their luck in the U.P. last fall compared to 24,673 during 2017. There was a slight increase in hunter numbers in the U.P. during firearms season (71,659 versus 71,585 during 2017).
Even though hunter numbers were similar both years during the U.P. gun hunt, the buck harvest increased by 3%. Gun-toting deer hunters in the U.P. bagged an estimated 23,522 bucks during 2018 compared to 22,833 in 2017. There was a slight decline in the firearms antlerless harvest, however (2,570 versus 2,874).
The U.P. buck kill during muzzleloader season also increased during 2018 when compared to the year before even though there were fewer hunters, going up by 69%. An estimated 1,409 antlered bucks were tagged in the U.P. last fall compared to 833 for 2017. There were only 13,652 hunters who took part in the U.P.’s black powder deer hunt last fall, according to the DNR, compared to 14,879 who participated in that season during 2017.
When all seasons are considered, the U.P. buck kill during 2017 and 2018 were almost identical, according to DNR figures. Estimates for both years were 30,519 (2017) and 30,517. An increase in the number of antlerless permits available for the U.P. during 2018 resulted in the harvest of more does and fawns. The U.P. antlerless tally for 2018 was 4,900 compared to 4,762.
The U.P. deer harvest will make a major jump this fall if proposed changes in harvest regulations to address CWD are finalized. The DNR recommended that antlerless deer be legal for bowhunters again starting this fall, at least in deer management units where antlerless permits are issued. Natural Resources Commissioner Chris Tracey also made amendments to this year’s regulations that were approved by the Commission to eliminate mandatory antler point restrictions from DMU 122 in the U.P. CWD Management Zone and to make one tag on combination deer licenses unrestricted.
“Statewide, nearly 49% of hunters harvested a deer in 2018,” the report states. “About 22% of hunters took an antlerless deer and 35% took an antlered buck. Approximately 15% of deer hunters harvest two or more deer of any type. About 5% of hunters statewide harvested two antlered bucks.”
The level of satisfaction among deer hunters statewide for a variety of criteria was down slightly and the level of dissatisfaction was up slightly. Fifty-two percent of hunters were satisfied with their overall deer hunting experience during 2018, according to the DNR, compared to 53% in 2017. Twenty-six percent were dissatisfied last year versus 25% for 2017.
Fifty-one percent of hunters were dissatisfied with the number of antlered bucks they saw in 2018 compared to 49% the year before. The percent of hunters who were satisfied with the number of antlered bucks they saw was 30% last year compared to 31% in 2017. Forty-four percent of hunters were satisfied with the number of deer they saw in 2018 as opposed to 45% for 2017.