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2023 deer hunting preview

Upper Peninsula

The winter of 2022-2023 was again severe, with several impactful snowfalls late in the winter, raising fears about a significant mortality event across much of the Upper Peninsula. While there was some adult and fawn mortality reported in select areas, major die-offs from the hard winter were again avoided.

Deer numbers remain low in many locations, especially along the Lake Superior shoreline and in the western counties and even some locations in the eastern U.P., which will again temper expectations of overall harvest in the U.P. The southern portions of the U.P., including parts of Menominee, Delta and even Dickinson counties, seem to have consistent deer numbers, and another good year is anticipated for those areas. But, to be clear, 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. 

Where oaks are present, acorn production looks good for this year, and bowhunters may find added success in emphasizing these areas early in the season. 

The big news in the Upper Peninsula this year is that the Chronic Wasting Disease Surveillance Zone, surrounding the lone detection of a deer with CWD, was lifted. After testing nearly 2,100 deer since 2018, we identified no other CWD-positive animals. This led the DNR to recommend, and the Michigan Natural Resources Commission to approve, the removal of this zone. Of course, hunters who still want to get their deer head tested can do so. The best way to understand your testing options is to visit to see what options are available in the area you are hunting. Hunters in the previously defined CWD Surveillance Zone can resume baiting, which had been prohibited since the establishment of the zone.

Also returning will be the “hunter’s choice” deer regulations. This allows any legal buck (one with one antler 3 inches or longer) to be harvested on a single deer license, but hunters purchasing a deer combo license must hunt under an antler point restriction, using the regular tag to take a buck with at least three points on one side and the restricted tag to take a buck with at least four points on one side. The entire area of the former CWD Surveillance Zone will have these regulations, consistent with the surrounding units, which should simplify the regulations.

To learn more about which deer you can harvest in the area you hunt using each deer tag, see information about U.P. antler point restrictions in the 2023 Michigan Hunting Regulations Summary.

Northern Lower Peninsula

The winter appeared to be mild across much of the northern Lower Peninsula, and the deer herd didn’t appear to have any negative impacts coming into the spring. This has been a common trend in recent years, with typically minimal, if any, winter loss reported across the region. 

Hard mast seems to be plentiful and widely distributed. It’s shaping up to be a good, and potentially great, year for both red oak and white oak acorns. Preseason scouting can definitely pay off in identifying these areas of abundance ahead of time. It’s important to note that some areas have been affected by spongy moth in recent years, and those areas still might be on the lower end of mast production.

Deer numbers can vary depending on where you are in the region, but numbers are plentiful in many locations. With time in the field, most hunters should have opportunities to be successful this year. Antler growth seems to be good 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 and passing on younger bucks to try to help manage the deer herd. Your choices will pay off in the future. 

If you’re able, don’t hesitate to take advantage of the venison donation program through Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger. It’s a great program that allows you to donate the meat from your deer at a registered processor to be distributed to those in need. 

No regulatory changes for the northern Lower Peninsula this year, so what you experienced last year should hold true for this coming year as well. It’s worth noting that we still require online harvest reporting, so make sure to record your harvest within 72 hours of tagging your deer to help us with data collection and deer harvest tracking.

One big change hunters will notice this year will be to the online reporting map. Last year, hunters were asked to identify a location where the deer was harvested. After feedback from this past season, we shifted this map to the township level, giving hunters greater confidence in reporting their harvest knowing that the specific location of the deer will no longer be collected. To record your deer harvest, visit or download the Michigan DNR Hunt Fish mobile app, where you can purchase licenses, track your lottery points and record your harvest all in one location.

For 2023, testing will be focused on the northwestern Lower Peninsula and in a few counties in other areas where additional information is still needed. The counties for CWD testing in 2023 include Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Hillsdale, Isabella, Kalkaska, Lake, Leelanau, Manistee, Missaukee, Osceola and Wexford. In these counties there will be drop boxes, staffed submission sites, and partner processors and taxidermists to assist with collection efforts.

Southern Lower Peninsula

Deer remain abundant throughout much of the region. The winter of 2022 was relatively mild and once again didn’t negatively affect deer in this region. In fact, the southern Lower Peninsula’s deer herd is one that rarely experiences any overwinter mortality due to the abundance of summer food and the relatively mild winters.

The summer of 2023 started with droughtlike conditions throughout much of May and June. The slow growing at the start of the planting season may translate into a later crop harvest, which typically reduces hunter success due to the availability of more standing cover for deer. This is always something worth monitoring as we approach harvest season.

The concern of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, which is often associated with droughtlike conditions, has been a discussion in deer circles for most of the summer. At the time of writing this report, EHD has only been identified in Washtenaw County, and with the peak time period coming to a close with the onset of colder temperatures, it appears we will not have a significant outbreak this year.

One change many in the southern Lower Peninsula will notice is the return of antler point restrictions on the second tag of the deer combo license.

Data from last year’s online harvest reporting showed that the percentage of bucks killed with four points on one side didn’t differ between southern Lower Peninsula counties with the four-point restriction on the second tag (68.1% of bucks harvested had a rack with four points on one side) and those counties without the four-point restriction on the second tag (69.4% of bucks harvested had a rack with four points on one side).

Essentially, we discovered that we had two regulations doing the same thing, so in the interest of simplicity, we placed the four-point restriction back on the second tag in 19 counties (Barry, Calhoun, Clinton, Eaton, Gratiot, Hillsdale, Ingham, Ionia, Isabella, Jackson, Kent, Lenawee, Mecosta, Midland, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Ottawa and Shiawassee). Deer combo license buyers who hunt throughout the region will have an unrestricted first tag, with their second tag dedicated toward a buck with four points on one side. Of course, hunters can still harvest an antlerless deer on either of these tags during the archery, firearm or muzzleloader seasons.

To learn more about which deer you can harvest in the area you hunt using each deer tag, see information about Lower Peninsula antler point restrictions in the 2023 Michigan Hunting Regulations Summary.

Chronic wasting disease is still present in parts of the Lower Peninsula, particularly Gratiot, Isabella, Jackson, Kent and Montcalm counties. It also has been identified previously in Clinton, Eaton, Hillsdale, Ingham and, recently, Midland counties. If this is a concern to you and your family and you reside in one of these counties, the DNR has made self-service CWD testing kits available. These kits can be picked up at locations identified at, under “Get my deer tested,” and will help teach hunters how to extract lymph nodes from deer, with all costs for shipping and testing covered by the DNR. It’s a great new program that we introduced last year and hope to expand in the future.