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Top 10 best practices for firearm deer season

Hunters can expect excellent conditions for the 2022 firearm deer season, which begins Tuesday, Nov. 15. To ensure a safe season, too, Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers are sharing best practices and tips to avoid the most common violations and mistakes they see every year.

“Most of the violations conservation officers encounter during firearm deer season are simple mistakes people make when they get caught up in the excitement of the hunt or forget to put safety first,” said F/Lt. Jason Wicklund, DNR Law Enforcement Division. “Our top priority is keeping people safe, so they have a good story to tell friends and family about their successful hunt.”

Here are 10 best practices for hunters to remember:

1 – Properly tag your deer

Before field-dressing or moving a deer, kill tags should be filled out (including the month and date the deer was taken and the deer’s gender and number of antler points) and properly placed on the deer. Conservation officers often see the wrong kill tag on game – such as fish or turkey licenses on deer. Often, this is a simple mistake made in the dark and can be corrected by re-tagging the deer as soon as you notice the error.

Remember, too, that reporting your deer within 72 hours of harvest is just as important as tagging it. Everything hunters need to know is available on the DNR’s harvest reporting webpage.

2 – Know your firearm and how it functions

Take the time to familiarize yourself with your firearm and make sure it is properly sighted and functioning before you go hunting. If it’s been a while since you used your firearm, consider visiting a local shooting range to shoot some live rounds. Safely handling your firearm is an important part of being a responsible hunter.

3 – Know your target and what’s beyond it

Know the area you’ll be hunting, including nearby buildings and properties. No one may hunt with a firearm within 450 feet of an occupied structure (including buildings, dwellings, homes, residences, cabins, barns or structures used for farm operations) unless they have permission from the landowner.

Each year, conservation officers investigate property damage caused by firearms. Rifle rounds travel long distances – hunters are responsible for where bullets end up.

4 – Respect landowner rights

Always respect posted trespassing signs and property boundaries. If a deer runs onto private property, the hunter cannot retrieve it without the landowner’s permission. Conservation officers usually are contacted when trespass disagreements escalate and a resolution cannot be reached.

If you’ll be hunting near someone else’s property, contact the landowner ahead of time; don't wait until you're tracking game. Most of the time, a friendly call or visit to your neighbor will remedy the situation.

5 – Share public land

Research and scout the land you plan to hunt before opening day. State-managed land is a popular place to hunt. Confrontations over hunting spots, or the illegal posting of trespassing or hunting signs on state-managed public land, do occur. Conservation officers, who are often asked to help resolve disputes, say the main reason for these situations is usually last-minute hunters who randomly pick a spot.

Brush, constructed blinds and tree stands on public land are just that – public. Regardless of who constructed, purchased or tends to these blinds, when they’re on state-managed public land, they are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Public land cannot be posted or reserved.

Tree stands used on public land must be portable and have the hunter’s name, address and Michigan driver’s license number or DNR sportcard number affixed in legible English that can easily be read from the ground. Hunting platforms cannot be affixed or attached to any tree by nails, screws or bolts.

6 – Leave the land better than you found it

Practice the “leave no trace” ethic and don’t litter. Whatever is brought into the woods must be taken back out. It is the responsibility of all hunters to be good environmental stewards and clean up after themselves.

Leaving propane bottles, hand-warmer wrappers, food wrappers, bottles and other trash is illegal and may result in a fine.

7 – Wear hunter orange

Hunters are required by law to wear hunter orange as the outermost layer of clothing at all times. Hunter orange garments, including camouflage, must be at least 50% hunter orange and be visible from all directions. Clothing options include a cap, hat, vest, jacket or raincoat and must remain on even if you are in a hunting blind. The DNR recommends wearing as much hunter orange as possible to increase visibility to other hunters.

8 – Know and follow baiting regulations

Baiting and feeding are banned in the entire Lower Peninsula and in the core chronic wasting disease surveillance area in the Upper Peninsula (portions of Delta, Dickinson and Menominee counties) except for hunters with disabilities who meet specific requirements.

In approved U.P. baiting areas, 2 gallons of bait can be spread in an area that measures 10 feet by 10 feet. On commercial forest land, bait must be brought in each night, unless the landowner has given permission. Use bait sparingly to help curb the spread of diseases like bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease.

9 – Hunt in-season, during legal hours

During firearm season, a hunter may legally shoot game starting 30 minutes before sunrise and until 30 minutes after sunset. Anyone who witnesses or suspects hunting outside of legal hours should immediately call or text the DNR’s Report All Poaching hotline at 800-292-7800. Fast reporting makes it more likely that a conservation officer will identify the suspect.

10 – Be respectful to other hunters

Michigan law prohibits anyone obstructing or interfering with the lawful taking of animals. Hunter harassment – when a person or organization intentionally sabotages another hunter’s quality opportunity to take game – is a misdemeanor offense. Examples include spraying repellent around a hunter’s blind, creating loud noises and/or barriers that prevent or deter a hunter or game from accessing an area, or destroying other hunters’ equipment such as trail cameras and blinds.

Anyone who feels targeted by hunter harassment or who witnesses a natural resource violation should immediately call or text the Report All Poaching Hotline line at 800-292-7800. Information can be left anonymously; monetary rewards may be offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of violators.

For more information on the firearm deer season, hunting safety, lands open to hunting, hunting digests and more, visit Michigan.gov/Hunting.

Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned law enforcement officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety and protect residents through general law enforcement and conducting lifesaving operations in the communities they serve. Learn more at Michigan.gov/ConservationOfficers.


Note to editors: Accompanying photos are available below for download. Caption information follows.

Deer: Conservation Officer Richard Cardenas checks a deer tag on a buck that a successful Barry County hunter took on opening day of the 2019 firearm deer season.

Contact: F/Lt. Jason Wicklund, 906-284-1933