MDNR deer specialist Ashley Autenrieth, who works out of the DNR office in Gaylord, told attendees of a U.P. Sportsmen Alliance Zoom meeting on December 19 that the state agency plans on mandatory deer registration in the state starting in 2022. She made that revelation after explaining that the wildlife division does not know much about the 2020 deer harvest because of the dramatic reduction in the number and hours that deer check stations were open this year due to the pandemic. She said there’s no way to compare the information they did get with data collection from previous years.

The idea of mandatory registration is it will give the DNR more data than ever. They will have information about harvest more quickly than in the past and will be able to get data about early and late archery seasons, which they have never been able to do before. MDNR photo

“As many of you know, we recently started a new licensing system,” Autenrieth explained. “When we got that new system, we did require that it have the ability for online registration. We have been getting a lower response rate on our annual mail survey to estimate deer harvest. After the response rate drops below 50%, we lose confidence in its accuracy, and we are getting close to that response rate.

“Mandatory registration will give us more data than we’ve ever had. We will have information about harvest more quickly than in the past. We will be able to get data about early and late archery seasons, which we haven’t been able to do before.

“We are thinking about giving hunters 48 hours to register their deer, but that requirement could be a problem. We’ve talked to other states that have mandatory deer registration, and they have told us that the best compliance is when there is a 24-hour requirement for registering deer. We may have voluntary deer registration during 2021 to see how it goes.”

Many hunters think that mandatory deer registration results in an accurate count of the number of deer taken by hunters every year, but that’s not the case. Not all hunters register their deer. The rate of compliance varies by state. Estimates of noncompliance with deer registration range between 7 and 30%.

Autenrieth’s announcement generated several questions such as, “What about the person who doesn’t have a computer?”

“There may be a backup phone system,” she responded. “There may be kiosk help stations at DNR offices, too. We’re not sure what to do about Amish communities to make it possible for them to register deer.”

Once DNR offices open again, hunters should be able to register deer at those locations, as they have in the past. The DNR currently has a network of business cooperators who register black bears. That network of registration stations could be expanded to handle deer registrations, as is done in other states. Many businesses that register deer and bear experience increased sales connected to hunter traffic and would welcome the opportunity to participate in such a program.

Another hunter commented, “It would be nice to have longer than 48 hours to register deer. If a deer camp is in the boonies, it could be difficult for hunters to register a deer in 48 hours. Some guys go to camp and stay there for a week. Some camps don’t have phone or internet service.”

Recognizing that some hunters will have limited to no access to computers or phones, having options that make it convenient for hunters to register deer will be necessary to ensure good compliance. Failing to do so will increase noncompliance and reduce the accuracy of registration.

“This is something hunters have been asking for, for years,” Autenrieth commented. “We think this is the right direction to move in.”

For years, the DNR has defended their postseason hunter survey harvest estimates to be as good as, if not better, than mandatory registration. Wildlife biologists in other states with mandatory registration have agreed.

In response to a question about the accuracy of mandatory registration in Ohio versus survey estimates in Michigan, Ohio wildlife research biologist Mike Tonkovich wrote, “Mandatory registration has its advantages. However, providing biologists with a more accurate harvest estimate over many of the alternatives is not one. While my counterparts from MI and WI and I agree to disagree on a few small details, we generally agree that Michigan’s current system for estimating harvest is very sound and, in some respects, better than mandatory registration.”

One of the reasons the Michigan DNR has resisted mandatory deer registration is due to the high number of whitetails harvested every year in the state. Electronic registration may streamline the process. However, there was a failure of the DNR’s new electronic licensing system on November 14 this year. If the same thing happened with electronic deer registration, it could result in the loss of lots of valuable data.