Michigan DNR: Best prospects for whitetail deer in 2013 firearm season remain in southern Michigan
BROWN CITY — The 2012 season proved to be a little better than the year before for many Michigan hunters. Statewide hunting success and hunter satisfaction increased, with the majority of the increase occurring in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula.
According to the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources, increased harvest of deer in those regions was most likely due to slowly but steadily growing deer populations in many northern areas in recent years. The “wild card” for many southern Lower Peninsula hunters in some locations last year was the extensive outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) experienced in summer 2012. EHD outbreaks were ultimately confirmed in 30 Michigan counties — mostly in the SLP — and potential outbreaks were reported in 21 other counties. Those hunting in the immediate vicinity of EHD outbreaks saw substantially fewer deer in 2012, while many hunters just a few miles away from such outbreaks noticed no difference compared to past experience.
Overall, about the same number of SLP bucks was harvested compared to the year before, but hunters took about 15 percent fewer antlerless deer.
Moving forward from the 2012 to the 2013 season, the winter of 2012 got off to a late start and continued to be mild through much of January and into early February. However, increased snowfall and a late thaw made for difficult conditions for deer, most notably in the Upper Peninsula. Some areas may see decreased numbers of deer (particularly fawns) as a result of that surge of severe conditions.
Fortunately, deer survival and condition in the NLP appears minimally affected heading into the 2013 season. Effects of the nearly 15,000 deer that were found and reported to the DNR as mortalities likely due to EHD will continue to linger for some time in those areas of the SLP where the most substantial outbreaks occurred. Hunters in areas that appear to have been hardest hit by EHD are encouraged to continue to limit antlerless deer harvest, but hunters afield this season will have an opportunity to directly assess recovery of deer in these areas. Additional information regarding hunting expectations in each region is found below.
Abundant food and cover in the form of agricultural crops and scattered swamps and woodlots provide very good habitat across much of the southern Michigan landscape.
This high quality habitat, combined with relatively mild winter conditions, results in a productive deer population. Southern Michigan has the overall highest deer densities in the state, but the SLP deer population has been stable to decreasing over the last 5 to 10 years. The DNR has desired to reduce deer numbers in much of the region while still maintaining suitable densities to provide ample hunting opportunities. Beginning with the 2009 deer season, much of southern Michigan was incorporated into a single Deer Management Unit (DMU) for allocation of private land antlerless deer licenses.
This multi-county DMU 486 extended southward from Oceana, southern Newaygo, Mecosta, Isabella, Midland, and Bay counties, excluding only St. Clair, Macomb, Wayne, and Monroe counties. The multi-county DMU provided hunters with considerable flexibility regarding where antlerless deer could be harvested using any private land antlerless license valid for this area, and facilitated additional antlerless harvest and deer population reduction in these areas.
Since the creation of DMU 486, 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 area have stabilized or declined.
Repeated outbreaks of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) have also occurred over this period. 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 within the entire area of DMU 486 than has occurred in many years. Populations in a number of locations are likely now at or closer to goal than they have been for some time. At this point, management efforts would best be directed towards distinct areas at a smaller scale than DMU 486.
The DNR therefore defined new DMUs for southern Michigan — mostly ranging from one to four counties in size — starting with the 2013 deer season.
New Antler Point Restrictions
Deer hunters in the 12 northwest northern lower counties that include Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Osceola, Lake and Mason should keep in mind that they will have new antler point restrictions this year.
All hunters (with the exception of the Liberty Hunt and Mentored Youth Hunters that plan to harvest a buck) must only target bucks with at least three or more antler point on one side. If you plan to harvest two bucks at least one of those bucks must also have four or more points on one side, which is a restriction in effect statewide.