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Deer hunting preview
Chad Stewart, deer, elk and moose management specialist
The 2022 deer hunting season is nearly upon us, and it is shaping up to be one of the more historically important hunting seasons Michigan has ever experienced. In 2022, for the first time, hunters taking a deer in Michigan will have one additional step to complete beyond tagging their deer before they have finalized their harvest. Successful hunters will now be required to report their harvest online through Michigan’s new harvest reporting system or recently developed mobile app.
The good news is that successful hunters will have time, up to 72 hours, to report their harvest, so this final step doesn’t have to be done right away. The other good news is that when this system was tested in 2021, most hunters were able to complete the harvest report in under five minutes. On average, reporting a buck harvest took about 30 seconds longer than reporting a doe harvest because of some additional questions about antler points. Hunters who harvested and reported multiple deer through the system seemed to work through the report faster the second time, which tells us that the report process is easily understood after someone goes through it once.
So why now? Why is Michigan moving to an online harvest report now after so many years? Or, why hasn’t Michigan done this sooner, the way that all surrounding states have done? Those are great questions, and fortunately, there are answers.
For years, Michigan has estimated its deer harvest through a postseason harvest survey sent to a random subset of Michigan hunters. This survey and estimate are conducted using standard statistical protocols and allow our state to not only estimate harvest numbers by state, county, season, etc., but also to include confidence limits with each estimate. Very few states have been able to produce this type of estimate. This technique served us well in the past, but we are experiencing challenges with this system. For example, hunters do not respond to the harvest reports the same way they have in the past. In 2000, 74% of hunters receiving a survey returned it. In 2021, the response rate was 33%. These lower response rates create more uncertainty with our primary estimate. We feel it’s important to have confident harvest estimates to make the best, most informed management decisions for one of our most prized natural resources. We will continue to incorporate our deer hunter harvest survey, as we feel it still does a great job at estimating our harvest. However, the scale of the survey will be reduced since we no longer have to estimate our harvest beginning at zero deer for the year.
Speed of available information
The amount of information we’ll now have available, and the speed at which it is available, is one of the biggest advantages to this new system. Our new system, with its corresponding public-facing dashboard, will show hunters every day how deer harvest is progressing across the season, with up-to-date accounts on total harvest in the state, harvest by county, season harvest and even harvest by day.
Additionally, our state will be able to tie harvest to individual licenses, which is a feature we’ve been unable to incorporate previously. This means we’ll have a better understanding of how many hunters are using one of their combination license tags to take an antlerless deer in the archery season. Right now, we know what the estimated antlerless harvest is in the archery season, but don’t necessarily understand which licenses hunters are using to make their harvest decisions. We’ll also have a better understanding of reported harvests of button bucks, bucks with shed antlers and bucks with antlers less than 3 inches. Currently, all of those deer are reported as antlerless deer, but we have never been able to fully quantify the values for any of them.
Another function of the online reporting system will be the integration of disease monitoring information. Hunters reporting deer harvested in disease priority areas will receive notifications and instructions on submitting their deer for testing, should they choose to volunteer their deer for either chronic wasting disease or bovine tuberculosis testing. The submission process, with hunters receiving a confirmation number from their successful harvest submission, will improve the convenience and flexibility for hunters to submit their deer for testing and allow additional sites, such as 24/7 drop boxes and convenient locations through partnerships with processors and taxidermists, to be used for submission.
The new system represents a major change for all Michigan hunters. Overall, this change will result in a faster understanding of how the season is going, offer more opportunities for interpreting the impacts of management decisions and provide more flexibility for disease monitoring options with its integrated design. While we understand this change will not be universally supported by all hunters, we hope that the benefits of the system are apparent very early!
In addition to the changes for harvest reporting, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the successful hunter patch in Michigan. This patch has served as a collectible for many hunters throughout the years, and is one of the traditions associated with the culture of deer hunting in Michigan. This year it will be even easier to get a patch, as they will now be available online where licenses are purchased. For $8, which includes shipping, hunters can order their patch online and not have to worry about traveling around the state and finding open locations where patches are distributed. With the added costs associated with travel, it's now easier than ever to get your patch.
The DNR wishes every deer hunter a season filled with memories. Whether it’s bucks, does or just good times with friends and family, we hope you are successful in whatever you pursue.
The fear throughout the winter was that the long winter with plentiful snow would have an impact on the U.P. deer herd. Based on days with total snow on the ground exceeding 12 inches, it was determined that the winter of 2021 was severe. Fortunately, the fears seemed to exceed reality, and the deer seemed to fare well. While deer numbers remain low in many locations, overall harvest in the U.P. was up a little bit last year, and there is optimism that another minor increase will happen again this year, with the deer currently being observed this summer. To not sugar-coat anything, there will be places in the U.P. where deer densities remain low, and hunting efforts in some of these locations will prove extremely challenging.
Mast production, especially acorns, seems down this year compared to last year. While last year showed good productions from oaks, this year’s drought, coupled with the recency of last year’s heavier crop, seems to be limiting production.
Some hunters expressed concern last year about recently expanded antlerless harvest opportunities throughout much of the southern U.P. and the potential impact on harvest. While we only have one year of data available, it appears that while antlerless harvest did increase in many units, it never increased more than one antlerless deer per square mile in any unit, with most units only increasing their antlerless harvest by about one antlerless deer for every 3 to 4 square miles. There was quite a bit of variability in how this regulation affected management units, but it doesn’t appear to have a limiting population-level effect that some had feared, given the early returns. The same regulation structure is in place for 2022. As a reminder, for Deer Management Units 351 and 352, hunters will need an access permit as well as an antlerless license to participate in firearm antlerless deer hunting in either of those units. Hunters pursuing antlerless deer in the extreme southern part of the U.P. can simply purchase antlerless licenses and go hunting. As always, it’s best to consult our Hunting Digest for more information.
Northern Lower Peninsula
2021 was quite a year for deer hunters in the northern Lower Peninsula. Despite about a 10% dip in hunter efforts from 2020, the buck harvest increased by about 16%. Hunting should remain in good shape heading into the 2022 season. Winter mortality hasn’t really impacted the herd in the northern Lower for quite some time, and that trend seemed to continue during the winter of 2021. Deer came out of winter in great condition due to the mild weather, and that great condition has led to plentiful reports of does being seen with twin fawns in many areas.
Production of soft mast like native apples is doing well this summer. Hard mast production is looking good in several spots, though it’s worth noting that there are places still experiencing spongy moths, which have a negative impact on acorn production. If hunters come across any oaks producing acorns in early season, it’s sure to be an area with high deer traffic that can pay off with a successful hunting encounter.
A common theme echoed from reports out of this region is the skewed buck-to-doe ratio many are seeing. Improving this ratio through additional antlerless harvest can improve the number of bucks hunters see each fall, the timing and intensity of the rut, and even the age structure of bucks as efforts are transferred to antlerless deer. It can also help alleviate conflicts associated with high numbers of deer. If you are hunting in an area with a lot of does this year, consider taking an extra antlerless deer to help manage your deer herd. If you don’t have an immediate outlet for the venison, you can always share your harvest through Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger. This program allows you to donate your deer to a participating processor, with the resulting venison being delivered to a local food pantry at no cost to the hunter.
Southern Lower Peninsula
“Steady, As She Goes” by the Raconteurs is the song title that best describes the year-to-year trends in the southern Lower Peninsula. Abundant deer throughout much of the region, with little yearly variation, is what typically defines the deer population in lower Michigan. For yet another year, the winter of 2021 didn’t seem to negatively impact deer in this region. In fact, the southern Lower Peninsula deer herd rarely experiences any overwinter mortality due to the abundance of summer food and the relatively mild winters. The summer of 2022 saw drought-like conditions throughout much of June and July. Despite this weather, crops seem to have withstood the conditions and are in great shape, which means there will continue to be plentiful food for deer throughout the fall. One concern in the region, especially during summers with drought, is the potential experience of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), which is far more likely to show up in an impactful way under dry conditions. At the time of writing this report, no cases have been identified, though we are entering the peak time when reports are most likely to come in.
Deer numbers can vary depending on where you are in the region, but in many locations, numbers are plentiful and with time in the field, most hunters should have opportunities to be successful this year. Antler growth seems to be fairly average across the region compared to previous years, so while there are some great bucks to be had, if one doesn’t present itself while you are hunting, consider harvesting a doe this year and passing on younger bucks to try and help manage the herd. Your choices will pay off in the future.
The DNR is continuing to prioritize surveillance for chronic wasting disease in the southern Lower Peninsula. If you harvest a deer in a county where we are conducting surveillance, please consider dropping off your deer’s head at one of the collection stations in the link embedded in the message you receive when you report your harvest.