Even though the number of deer hunters declined significantly in Michigan during 2019, the hunters that remained harvested more deer than the year before, according to preliminary figures from the DNR. The state agency estimates that 14,000 fewer hunters hunted whitetails in the state during 2019 than 2018, but they killed 3,000 more bucks and does than a higher number of hunters did in 2018. Those estimates were derived from information provided by thousands of hunters statewide who returned survey forms in the mail (25,070) or filled them out on the DNR’s website (5,006).

Based on that summary, it looks like 2019 deer seasons were pretty good. There appears to be plenty of deer to go around for the lower number of hunters that remain, increasing success. You get a totally different picture, however, when looking at hunter numbers and harvest by region and districts.

Gerald Peruski with his trophy 13-point harvested in Michigan’s Thumb.

On a regional level, the only portion of the state where hunters actually bagged more deer during 2019 than the year before was Region 3 or the southern Lower Peninsula (L.P.), where deer numbers are highest. The estimated harvest of bucks and does for all seasons in that region was 204,994, an increase of 7,914 from the estimated kill of 197,080 for 2018. The harvest of both bucks and does went up by 4% in that region, according to the DNR.

The deer kill declined by 10.5% in Region 1 or the U.P. during 2019 when compared to 2018 and the harvest in Region 2 or the northern L.P. went down by 1%. The increased harvest in Region 3 was enough to offset those declines.

In the U.P., hunter numbers only declined by about 400 between 2018 and 2019, so fewer hunters doesn’t explain the drop in harvest. The harvest of antlerless deer in Region 1 actually went up 20% in 2019 (5,893) from 2018 (4,900) due to an increase in antlerless permits and does being legal once again to bowhunters in the five southern U.P. deer management units where antlerless permits were issued. But the buck kill declined by 15.5%, dropping 4,719 from the harvest of 30,517 estimated in 2018 to the 25,798 estimate for 2019.

When looking at harvest figures for the U.P. archery and firearms seasons, it’s clear that most of the decline in the buck kill occurred during gun season. The buck kill dropped 18.2% (about 4,000) between 2018 and 2019 for that season. Heavy snowfall in parts of the U.P. just before the 2019 gun season that prompted deer to leave some areas to start traveling toward winter yards and prevented hunters from accessing some locations, contributed to that reduced success on bucks.

“Snow depths reached depths of over 30 inches in parts of DMU 048,” DNR wildlife biologist Dave Jentoft from Sault Ste. Marie reported. “The snow spurred deer migration out of some higher snowfall areas (not just in DMU 048) and prevented some hunters from being able to get to camp or hunt. This was reflected in common comments about deer migrating out of an area, snow limiting access, and some not hunting because of the deep snow.”

Jentoft compiles the DNR’s annual U.P. Deer Camp Survey and the comments he refers to were on those deer camp survey forms.

Figures on the district level show that deep snow during last year’s U.P. firearms season had the most impact in the eastern portion of the region. The U.P. is divided into two districts (east and west). The buck kill declined by 26% in the eastern U.P. gun hunt compared to a drop of 16.3% in the west U.P.

The buck kill in the UP during archery season only declined by 2.6% in 2019. The buck harvest by bowhunters actually went up by 11.3% in the east UP last fall, but dropped 5% in the west UP.

The UP antlerless harvest during archery season increased by 35.2% (1,712) in 2019 versus the 1,269 bagged by bowhunters the year before. The antlerless kill went up by 22.7% (3,124) in gun season compared to the 2,570 that were taken in 2018.

In the northern L.P. or Region 2, the archery season harvest of all deer increased by 2.4%, but the kill during firearms season was down about 1%. Archers tagged 8.2% more bucks (21,518) for 2019 than the year before (19,888), but antlerless harvest declined by 4.2% (16,759) from the year before (17,498). The buck kill declined 2.6% (42,778) during the gun hunt in Region 2 compared to the 2018 total of (43,935).

Like the U.P., the northern L.P. is divided into two districts; east and west. The DNR estimates the archery kill for all deer increased by 3.2% in the northeast (12,769 and 12,368) and 5.3% in the northwest (20,265 versus 19,237). The buck kill by archers increased by 8.4% in the east (7,217 compared to 6,661) and 15% in the west (11,470 versus 9,977), but the antlerless harvest declined by 2.7% in the east (5,554 compared to 5,708) and 5% in the west (8,798 and 9,261).

Gun season harvest of all deer was down by 4.8% in the northeast and increased by 4.5% in the northwest. The buck harvest dropped by 8.2% (18,537) in the northeast compared to 20,198 the year before and increased by 6% in the northwest (19,702 versus 17,990).

The number of deer hunters in Region 2 dropped by about 6,000 or 2.6% in 2019 for all seasons (234,728 versus 240,871). There were declines of more than 2,000 hunters during both the archery and firearms seasons. About 2,000 fewer hunters participated in the muzzleloader season as well.

Although the number of deer hunters was down during most seasons in the northern two-thirds of the state, the number of gun hunters actually increased in the southern L.P. or Region 3 in 2019 compared to the year before (223,174 versus 221,855). Bowhunter numbers also increased slightly in Region 3. That increased hunting effort was partly responsible for the higher deer kill in the region.

The total number of deer harvested by hunters in Region 3 increased by 2.9% during archery seasons (69,950 compared to 67,984) and was up by 7.2% for gun season (98,746 versus 92,099). The buck kill increased by 1,000 during bow seasons in Region 3 and the increase was similar for antlerless deer. During gun season, the buck harvest went up by almost 3,000 and the antlerless tally went up by about 4,000.

On a statewide basis, 49.5% of hunters harvested at least one deer during 2019 seasons, according to the DNR. Success was highest in Region 3 at 52.9%. Only 41.4% of the hunters in Region 2 tagged at least one deer and the percent success for the U.P. was 36.2%.

According to the survey results, only 5.9% of hunters bagged two bucks statewide. That percentage was highest in Region 3 at 6.8%. Only 3.7% of hunters in Region 2 tagged two bucks during 2019 seasons in Region 2 and 2.4% for the U.P.