How To

The Nonresident’s Guide to Michigan Deer Hunting

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Michigan has a lot to offer nonresident whitetail hunters, including ample amounts of public land.

Michigan has a lot to offer nonresident whitetail hunters, including ample amounts of public land.

For decades, Michigan has played host to an army of out-of-state, orange-clad, deer hunting warriors every November. October brings in a plethora of camouflaged archers as well. With a large deer herd, and readily available over-the-counter tags with a reasonable price point, the Great Lake State is a destination for nonresident deer hunters from across the country.

As with any hunting trip, there are some definite things to plan on and some significant rule changes for this year. Look no farther than this article for (almost) everything a nonresident hunter will need to know in Michigan this season.

Play by the rules

There are some new regulations in place for the upcoming season, the most important of which is a new licensing structure. Every hunter taking to Michigan’s wilds will need to purchase a base license. The base license serves as a small game license as well as the starting point for acquiring other licenses. The cost for a nonresident base license is $151. The hunter can then add a deer tag, good for an antlered deer, for an additional $20. If you want to get the combo license, it is an additional $190. This will let you hunt both archery and firearm seasons and take up to two deer.

The best deal, however, is the Hunt/Fish Combo license. It costs $266 and includes the base license, the deer combo license, and a fishing license. Last year, just the combo license alone would set you back $276 for a nonresident. Now, for $266, you can enjoy Michigan deer hunting, great fall fishing, and excellent grouse and small game hunting to boot. Michigan truly is one of the least expensive states to hunt as a nonresident. You’ll need a $1 Michigan Sportcard ID, too.

Hunters traveling to the Great Lake State also need to pay attention to rules regarding what constitutes a legal deer. There are antler-point restrictions in place for Emmet, Charlevoix, Antrim, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Mason, Lake, Osceola, and Leelanau counties, as well as Beaver Island, DMU 487, South Fox Island, and the entire Upper Peninsula, although the U.P.’s rules are slightly different in that the restrictions only apply to combo license sales. In the regulated hunts, bucks must have at minimum of three points to one side.

Soldotna, Alaska resident Mike Wheat traveled to Michigan a few years ago to chase deer with his bow. It paid off and he’s planning to come back soon.

Soldotna, Alaska resident Mike Wheat traveled to Michigan a few years ago to chase deer with his bow. It paid off and he’s planning to come back soon.

Important dates for deer hunting in Michigan:

  • Early antlerless firearm: September 20-21
  • Independence Hunt: October 16-19
  • Archery: October 1-November 14 and December 1-January 1
  • Regular firearm: November 15-30
  • Muzzleloading Zone 1: December 5-14
  • Muzzleloading Zone 2: December 5-14
  • Muzzleloading Zone 3: December 5-21
  • Late antlerless firearm: December 22-January 1

Tools of the trade

Deer hunting in Michigan offers a lot of options as far as what you can use to hunt. Michigan is the birthplace of modern archery hunting thanks to Fred Bear, and hunters have enjoyed great bowhunting for many years. In fact, some of the leading archery companies in the United States are based right here in Michigan. In the state, it is legal to hunt with both fixed blade and mechanical broadheads,.

Traditional bows and compound bows are perfectly legal to use and there is no “proficiency requirement” as in other states, although you are required to make every effort to make a clean and ethical shot/kill. In recent years, crossbows have become legal to use through all seasons open to archery equipment. A crossbow stamp is no longer required for 2014.

If you plan on hunting during the firearm season, there are a few rules to note. The Lower Peninsula is divided into two zones. The southern zone, or Zone 3, starts near Muskegon and cuts across to Bay County. There is a detailed map and description in the book of hunting regulations. In this zone, hunters must use a shotgun with either a smooth or rifled bore, instead of a rifle. Muzzleloaders are legal, as are handguns above .35 caliber. Hunters may also use archery equipment in this area, but must meet the blaze orange clothing requirements for the firearm season. Remember, if you’re a nonresident and you want to bring a handgun to hunt with in the state, you must have either a concealed pistol license or a permit to purchase from your home state in order to legally transport a handgun into the state of Michigan.

Where to hunt

Michigan has a massive amount of public land available for hunting. In fact, there is enough public land in the state that if you took it all and clumped it together, it would form a land mass greater in size than several East Coast states.

Finding a great location to hunt isn’t all that hard. Take the time to survey where you want to go and scout if you can. There are some great tools available to help you scout a great location. Michigan has a great mapping website, Mi-HUNT, that will help you find all of the public access sites throughout the state. There is also the age-old tradition of knocking on doors.

Michigan has a lot of decent bucks and they are getting better each year with antler restrictions in place.

Michigan has a lot of decent bucks and they are getting better each year with antler restrictions in place.

You’re welcome, year after year

You’ll find yourself pretty welcome here in Michigan when it comes to hunting. Hunters add over $2.3 billion to the state’s economy annually, split between residents and nonresidents alike. You’ll see a lot of “Hunters Welcome” signs on businesses, from big cities to small towns. While you’re here, fill your cooler full of Vernor’s Ginger Ale, or your beverage of choice. If you’re in the U.P., dine on pasties for dinner. When you leave, fill that same cooler full of delicious Great Lake State venison.

It’s important too, that you come back year after year. That means being safe. In Michigan you are required to wear hunter’s orange during any time you hunt with a firearm, and any time you’re in the woods between November 15 through 30, regardless of whether you’re carrying a bow or firearm (unless you’re duck hunting). The orange garment must be visible from all sides and be the outermost garment on your person.

Firearm deer hunters are allowed to hunt from a tree or elevated platform in the state. While a safety harness is not mandatory, it should be. There is no good reason to go up into a stand and not wear some kind of safety harness. While accidents are on a sharp decline, every year, there is at least one accident involving a hunter falling out of a treestand, and the person never has a safety harness on. Don’t be a statistic! Don’t be that guy! If you think a harness is too cumbersome or uncomfortable, try something like the new Tree Spider clothing line. If you can wear a pair of pants with suspenders, you can wear the Tree Spider harness.

So with that, we say welcome. Come and enjoy Michigan and all of the splendor that is the Pure Michigan great outdoors!

Visit our Pure Michigan page for more Michigan articles!

For more information on Michigan hunting go to michigan.orgClick here to purchase a Michigan hunting license online.

This article was produced in partnership with Pure Michigan.

Featured image copyright Getty/Dantesattic, other images courtesy Derrek Sigler

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of OutdoorHub. Comments on this article reflect the sole opinions of their writers.
  • Rork1

    I know this article is oldish, but it’s probably still studied by people, so I thought I’d mention the “hunter’s choice” regs for unit 487 and the U.P., cause it’s an interesting reg that other states may want to think about. You have the choice to either buy a single regular tag or the two tags called the combo tags (one regular, one restricted). With the single tag, you can tag any buck (pretty much, buck means 3 inches or more on one side), but if you elected to buy the combo tags the regular tag can only be used on a buck that has at least 3 points on at least one side, and the restricted one it must be at least 4 on one side. To try and summarize: if you want to be able to shoot any buck, you can only get one buck tag. To repeat my DNR’s sentence “Hunter’s Choice involves a 3 point APR (antler point restriction) on the regular kill tag of the
    combination license (there is also a statewide 4 point APR on the
    restricted kill tag) or no APR (3 inch statewide minimum length applies)
    on the single deer license.”

    I hunt with my in-laws in unit 487, where allot of 1.5-year-olds do not meet the 3-points-on-a-side requirement, and the decision on which buck tags to buy is a difficult one. There is talk about going to a hunters choice with the regular tag of the combo license having a 4 point APR for southern lower MI – that’ll be a tough choice.