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DNR releases 2016 Michigan Deer Hunting Prospects report

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources today released its 2016 Michigan Deer Hunting Prospects report. The full text of the report follows.


The leading reason many individuals participate in deer hunting is simply the opportunity to spend time outdoors with friends and family, but harvesting a deer is important to many deer hunters as well. No amount of hunting guarantees a harvest; however, preparation and hard work are keys to producing the best opportunity to see and take deer, or to mentor a new hunter through a safe and enjoyable season. The 2016 deer season is expected to be a successful year for many hunters.

Persistence can pay off for deer hunters. Nationwide, successful deer hunters hunt an average of 18 days – slightly more than the average of about 14 days that Michigan deer hunters spent afield last year. Chances for success are greatest for those who are prepared. Part of hunting preparations each year includes becoming familiar with the most recent regulations. The DNR deer website provides highlights of regulation changes, information about deer management and links to additional resources, such as deer check station locations. Please refer to the 2016 Hunting and Trapping Digest and Antlerless Digest, which are available online and at DNR Customer Service Centers and license agents, for a map of all Deer Management Units (DMUs) and other regulation details.

Some successful hunting trips are just a result of being in the right place at the right time. Overall, deer activity tends to be highest a few weeks prior to breeding. The peak of breeding activity for Michigan deer generally occurs just prior to the opening of the firearm deer season. These peak breeding dates are earliest in the southern Lower Peninsula (LP), except that many does in the region that were born just this spring will already conceive their first fawns this year. Those breeding events for young does often occur a month or more later than they do for older deer, often not until mid-December. Hunters often seek to take advantage of these times of high deer movements, so archery hunting activity is often highest in late October and early November, followed by the busiest deer hunting day of the year – the opening of the firearm season. In southern Michigan, another late period of deer activity can occur several weeks prior to the late breeding events among young does, which can coincide with the end of the firearm season.

What to Expect Across the State

The 2015 season, while seeing a drop in hunter numbers, ended up with a slight increase in harvest from 2014. While hunting success decreased in the Upper Peninsula (UP) it increased across the entire LP, with a little more than four out of every 10 hunters taking home at least one deer last season. The decrease observed in the UP has been seen the last few years as a result of the severe, prolonged winters of 2012, 2013 and 2014. Deer numbers are expected to be depressed throughout much of the UP for this year and coming years, though the mild winter experienced last year offers hope that hunters may experience slightly better success this year than in previous years.

The winter of 2015 was a relatively mild winter across the entire state. With snowfall levels staying low and temperatures staying above average, it made for good survival conditions for deer and leads into a great potential for this year’s fawns. Spring had relatively mild weather as well, which is a major factor in both deer fitness and fawn survival. Due to these circumstances, field reports this year have indicated a high overall number of fawns seen, with plenty of twins and triplets across the state. In addition to the high number of fawns being reported, deer condition in terms of body weight and antler growth on bucks appears to be better than last year.

The 2016 deer season is forecasted to have similar to slightly increased success rates in comparison to last year. Please see below for more detailed information about the area you hunt and what to expect. Though this may help to get you started with what to look for, there is no substitute for scouting. The opportunity to find out which trees are producing, which deer trails are being utilized, and which patterns deer are following is priceless information for a deer hunter. So, whether the goal is to get meat in the freezer or simply get outdoors, Michigan’s deer seasons offer something for everyone. Best of luck, hunters! Have a wonderful and safe deer season.

Upper Peninsula

While the winter of 2015 was relatively mild, the three previous severe winters are still having an impact on deer numbers across the UP. Deer numbers are still quite low, and at least one more mild winter is needed in order to begin seeing deer numbers truly rebound. As a reminder, there are still only three units currently open for private-land antlerless licenses in the UP, and no areas open for public-land antlerless licenses. The three open units are located in the south central portion of the UP, which typically has higher deer populations than anywhere else in the UP. Antlerless permits are available in Deer Management Units 055 (Menominee), 122 (Norway) and 155 (Gladstone).

Despite last year’s mild winter, continued efforts to support the rebound of the deer herd after three previous consecutive severe winters for the UP remain. The UP will have its second year in a row where archers will not be allowed to harvest antlerless deer with either the single deer license or a combination deer license during the archery season. Archery hunters may only harvest antlerless deer if they have an antlerless license. This change does not affect the Liberty or Independence hunts and does not affect mentored youth hunters.

Apple production appears to be high this year, while acorn and beechnut production is spotty, so hunters will need to seek these areas out to determine which trees may be producing. Even though conditions throughout much of the summer were hot and dry, there was enough rain toward the end of the summer to have a productive growing season, giving deer many other food sources to seek out.

In general, hunters should expect to see about the same number of deer as last year. However, the 2.5-year-old and 3.5-year-old age-classes are still very low since they were most affected by the severe winters. Keep in mind that each area is influenced by local factors and conditions that affect deer density and sightings in that area. The largest bucks (heaviest and largest antlers) typically come from agricultural areas, but nice bucks are also taken from forested areas where hunter access is limited and the deer have an opportunity to grow older.

Northern Lower Peninsula

The deer population for the Northern Lower Peninsula (NLP) is expected to see an increase in harvest this year. With the mild winter from last year and little impact from the previous winter, deer populations have been increasing steadily across much of the NLP.

Deer sightings have been good throughout the region, and many have reported seeing healthy fawns, including many sets of twins and even some triplets.

Mast production (fruits and nuts) has been spotty throughout the region. For the third year in a row, high production of apples is being reported. Acorn and beechnut production is diverse, with some areas seeing decent production and others reporting none. Deer should be targeting the producing areas frequently. Scouting to find these areas will be very important to early-season success. Contacting a local wildlife office may be a good first step; DNR staff members may be able to give insight as to which areas are producing.

Expect to see increased deer numbers compared to last year throughout most of the NLP. Many areas may see more 2.5-year-old and 3.5-year-old bucks this year with the continued three-point antler point restriction (APR) in many counties in the northwest area. This APR allows the majority of 1.5-year-old bucks to mature to the next age class, thereby resulting in increased numbers of 2.5- and 3.5-year-old bucks in the years following. All NLP Deer Management Units are open for antlerless hunting; review the 2016 Antlerless Deer Digest for more information.

Southern Lower Peninsula

Abundant food and cover in the form of agricultural crops and scattered swamps and woodlots provide very good habitat across the Southern Lower Peninsula (SLP) landscape. This high-quality habitat, combined with relatively mild winter conditions, typically results in a more abundant and productive deer population compared to other regions of the state. The 2016 harvest forecast should be similar to last year, with perhaps a slight increase given the current conditions. Harvest in the SLP can depend heavily on the percentage of standing corn. If corn harvest is delayed going into the firearms season, a reduced harvest can be expected.

Over the last decade or more, deer population estimates and indices (including deer/vehicle collisions, crop damage complaints, and observations of deer by the hunting community and field staff) in the SLP have stabilized or declined. In many instances, reductions intended to reduce conflicts that can occur when deer populations are high, though the DNR still desires to keep adequate deer for enjoyable hunting and viewing experiences. A severe outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) in 2012 drastically affected the deer population in many areas for several years. These areas have largely recovered from the outbreak. Though individual EHD outbreak sites affect deer at the scale of a township or smaller, these outbreaks have likely produced more variability in deer densities across southern Michigan than has occurred in many years. Management efforts are now being directed towards distinct areas at a smaller scale rather than larger. Research is under way to improve understanding of the duration of EHD impacts that hunters and landowners should expect to see where outbreaks have occurred. Just recently, a deer was confirmed to be positive for EHD in Berrien County. Specific information related to this discovery will be provided soon.

Given the higher proportion of land in private ownership in this region, and the often small property sizes, the DNR is working to find more ways to support increased deer harvest and habitat management decisions among networks of private landowners and hunters.

Important Changes

Chronic Wasting Disease in Southern Michigan

In May 2015 the Michigan departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) confirmed that a free-ranging deer in Meridian Township (Ingham County) tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD), a fatal neurological disease that affects white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk and moose. Since that time, intensive monitoring and testing has been ongoing within Ingham, Clinton and Shiawassee counties, where eight additional positive cases have been discovered.

Several regulations have been implemented in accordance with the DNR 2012 CWD Response Plan. These include the formation of DMU 333, a small DMU that surrounds the area where the positive cases have been discovered, which was expanded this year to include 17 townships in Clinton, Ingham, Eaton and Shiawassee counties. Hunters taking deer in this DMU are required to submit all harvested deer for mandatory testing. Other characteristics of this DMU include the removal of the four points on a side rule on the restricted combination license and the ability to harvest antlerless deer during the firearm and muzzleloading seasons with the deer or deer combo license in place of a buck. A CWD Management Zone has also been created, DMU 419, which includes the parts of Clinton, Eaton, Ingham, Ionia and Shiawassee counties not included in DMU 333. A baiting and feeding ban applies in this DMU and also DMU 333, with increased antlerless quotas and reduced antlerless license costs. For more information on CWD, please visit mi.gov/cwd.

Things to Consider for this Deer Hunting Season

Where to Hunt

As any deer hunter knows, deer are not stationary animals; they are constantly moving to new places and, just as often, are returning to familiar spots. Michigan’s deer herd is no exception. It is spread out across the state and often locally pocketed in areas with the best habitat and resources available. For this reason, there is no better way to locate deer than by getting out on the landscape and scouting. Learning where this year’s deer trails are, finding which oak trees are producing acorns, and discovering where a group is bedding down each night are often the keys to a successful hunt. Michigan also offers a number of online tools such as Mi-HUNT, an interactive web application, to help hunters hone in on good habitat and potential hunting spots. If short on time, these tools are an excellent way to save some time and narrow down selection.

Consider Mentoring a Youth Hunter

Shared experience with family and friends is one of the most cherished aspects of hunting. The DNR encourages hunters to share their heritage with a young person. Under the Mentored Youth Hunting Program, it is possible to take a youth 9 years of age or younger deer hunting. For specific program requirements, please visit mi.gov/mentoredhunting.

Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger Program

The Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger (MSAH) program is a wonderful way for hunters to share a part of their harvest this fall, or donate a whole deer. Since 1991, MSAH has been working to help connect donors, wild game processors and charities that feed needy individuals. Together, they have assembled a network of processors and charities to help channel wild game donations into the hands of those in need. If interested in donating, please contact a local field office. A list of field offices can be found at mi.gov/dnr.

Bring your Deer to a Check Station

Michigan has some of the best historical data on deer in the country. The data gathered at DNR check stations and from the hunter harvest surveys helps the DNR to make future management decisions and monitor the health of the herd, and provides an opportunity to time spend time with hunters, which is invaluable to field staff. Hunters can be a part of this important aspect of deer management by bringing their deer or deer head to a check station, along with information about where and when the deer was taken. Once the deer is checked, hunters will receive a successful hunter deer management cooperator patch. Please see the DNR Deer Check Station List for locations and hours.

Antler Point Restrictions

A number of different antler point restrictions, or APRs, have been implemented in Michigan in recent years, and other areas have received consideration for APRs. No new proposals have been submitted, and there are not any currently being considered for implementation in the next few seasons. The only change made to APR regulations was the removal of the four points on a side rule on the restricted combination license for DMU 333. This was done to help encourage hunters to harvest deer and have them tested for CWD so that the DNR may determine how prevalent the disease may be within the wild deer population.

See the 2016 Hunting and Trapping Digest, pages 32 and 33, for complete information on these regulations. You may also visit the APR Corner page located at mi.gov/deer for more information and history on APRs in Michigan.

Local Cooperative Opportunities

To assist hunters in better meeting their local hunting objectives, the DNR has partnered with Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Quality Deer Management Association and Pheasants Forever to create the Michigan Wildlife Cooperative Program, to equip and inform landowners how to manage their habitat and wildlife using data, local knowledge and neighborly communication. This program, which is housed within MUCC, is designed to assist neighboring landowners and hunters to work collaboratively with each other, the DNR and other interested parties to achieve a common wildlife management objective. If you would like to learn more about this program or start a wildlife cooperative in your area, please contact Wildlife Cooperative Coordinator Anna Mitterling at amitterling@mucc.org or visit www.mucc.org/cooperatives.

Wildlife Health Issues

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

CWD was discovered in Michigan’s wild deer herd in 2015, and several steps have been taken to determine the magnitude and scope of the infection in the deer herd population.  Last year, seven positive animals were identified, with four occurring in Ingham County and three occurring in Clinton County. Overall, prevalence appears to be low, but more samples are needed this year to fully determine the scale of the disease. Regulations established last year in the area surrounding where the positive animals have been found were expanded this year. The core CWD zone, DMU 333, has been expanded to include eight additional townships in southern Clinton County and northeastern Eaton County. The remainder of Eaton County and all of Ionia County have been added to the CWD Management Zone, which has been renamed DMU 419. In addition, educational material has been developed to answer questions the public may have regarding this disease and what it means not only for the deer herd but for Michigan residents as well. For the most up-to-date information, please see the DNR emerging diseases website.

Bovine Tuberculosis (TB)

In the northeast LP, the prevalence of TB showed a dramatic increase in the core area, DMU 452. Prevalence there increased from 1.0 percent in 2014 to 2.7 percent in 2015. Outside of DMU 452, the remainder of the five-county TB Management Zone (DMU 487) saw only a slight uptick in prevalence, from 0.2 to 0.3 percent. The rate of apparent prevalence in DMU 452 over the last five years showed a significant increasing trend for the first time since information has been gathered, and if an increasing trend continues for three consecutive years, it will prompt a USDA review of DNR deer management practices. Hunters are still strongly encouraged to harvest antlerless deer to help maintain reduced deer numbers and keep TB in check. Older antlered deer also should be harvested and are especially important to take to a check station, as these animals are much more likely to be TB-positive. Bringing in a deer or deer head to a check station for testing allows us to track the prevalence of the disease in the population and is an integral part of controlling the disease.

In 2013, a dairy herd in Saginaw County tested positive for bovine tuberculosis. There is no evidence of TB in deer near this location, but it is important to continue to test deer in this area to accurately assess the situation.

Individuals hunting in the following counties are highly encouraged to provide their deer head for testing: Alcona, Alpena, Arenac, Bay, Cheboygan, Crawford, Genesee, Gratiot, Huron, Iosco, Midland, Montmorency, Ogemaw, Oscoda, Otsego, Presque Isle, Roscommon and Saginaw.

For more information on these and other wildlife health issues, visitmi.gov/emergingdiseases.

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