Opening Up the Deer Hunting Season

  • Michigan conservation officials hope to expand the number of female deer killed in this year's hunt, but many hunters would much rather shoot bucks. Antlers are the big prize. (Photo by Scott Bauer - USDA)

Last year in Michigan, there were more than 60,000 car accidents caused by deer. Farmers say they can lose a lot of money when deer eat their crops. And there are deer munching on backyard gardens and even running down sidewalks.

Wildlife managers say there are just too many deer in the state. And they want hunters to help.

This fall the Natural Resources Commission is increasing the number of does hunters can kill in certain parts of the state. Especially in southern lower Michigan where there are lots of deer.

They hope that by reducing the number of does in the fall, there’ll be fewer fawns born in the spring… and eventually the deer population will swing back into balance.

Tips on avoiding a deer-car crash

More info about the new regulations (.pdf file)

A related Environment Report story on deer birth control


(sound of game area)

I met up with Brent Rudolph at the Rose Lake game area near East Lansing. He’s a wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources and Environment. He says the deer hunting rules are conservative in northwest Michigan and the UP… because there aren’t as many deer there. But he says southern Michigan has lots of deer.

“So in southern Michigan we have gone to allowing individual hunters to buy an unlimited number of antlerless licenses.”

Hunters can get five permits a day… with no cap on the number of does they can take in the season.

“A lot of people see that and think there’s going to be a dramatic surge and oh my gosh are they trying to eliminate the deer herd in southern Michigan? It’s not the case. We’ve had regulations close to and possibly even more liberal than that in the past.”

Rudolph says they actually expect most hunters won’t take advantage of the new rules. He says they set the quotas higher than they need to. They don’t expect to sell all the permits.

Rudolph says that’s because most hunters want a buck.

“They don’t head into the woods thinking they want to go manage their deer herd today. So they’re still in a lot of places a lot more interested in taking bucks, in the tradition of taking a deer with antlers on its head and we’re trying to get folks over that.”

Rudolph says it’ll probably take a few years to see how the new rules affect the deer population.

(sound of Cabela’s store)

Joe Ross is the general manager of the Cabela’s store in Dundee. He says hunting license sales are up.

“We don’t have the exact figures for it yet but we have seen a definite increase in interest in license sales especially with antlerless licenses so far this year.”

The customers we talked to had mixed feelings about the new rules.

Chad Chissom lives in the Thumb. He says he’ll be taking only does this year.

“I think that’s a good thing for around my property. We have a square mile. Yesterday I counted 98 does with one buck which was a spike horn. So I have quite the ratio that’s not correct.”

Some hunters said they prefer taking a buck, but might take a doe for the meat. Other hunters said the rules are way too liberal.

Danny Nagle hunts in northeastern Michigan. He hunts in one of the counties where there’s a problem with tuberculosis in wild deer. So the state’s been aggressively controlling the herd there.

“There’s no deer left. You can hunt two weeks without seeing a deer. You go up there, you spent a lot of money, you go up deer hunting and you don’t see any deer. It’s not a cheap trip, especially all the equipment you buy.”

Although not everybody likes the way deer are managed… state officials say hunting is the best tool they have to get deer under control.

The lower peninsula doesn’t have a significant wolf population. There just aren’t the natural predators there used to be. So it’s up to the state to come up with a management plan that makes hunters happy but also controls the deer.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Special thanks to Suzy Vuljevic for her help with this story.