The Nonresident’s Guide to Michigan Deer Hunting


*Updated November, 2019

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. Here is your nonresident’s guide to deer hunting in Michigan. to Hunt Deer in Michigan?

How Much Does it Cost to Hunt Deer in Michigan?

Every hunter taking to Michigan’s woods 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. Keep in mind, even if you own land in Michigan, but do not have Michigan residency, you are a nonresident and these fees apply.

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.

When Can I Hunt Deer in Michigan?

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.

The most important dates for deer hunting in Michigan are the ones that have become an annual tradition in the state. Archery deer season runs from October 1 to November 14, and then from December 1 to January 1. The grand daddy is the firearm deer season, which always runs from November 15 through 30. This time is considered a holiday for most of the state. Schools are closed, businesses run special events and the spectacle is something every deer hunter should experience. The Muzzleloader season dates vary every year and are done by zones within the state starting with the Upper Peninsula and working down.

What Do I Need to Hunt Deer in Michigan?

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 as of 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. And do not forget your blaze-orange outwear, which is a requirement for all firearm hunting in the state.

Can I Use Bait to Hunt Deer in Michigan?

This is a controversial topic in the state right now, and it doesn’t appear to be any quick resolutions in sight. Baiting deer is illegal in the Lower Peninsula and in the CWD Surveillance Zone in the Upper Peninsula. Hunter with disabilities are still able to bait in select regions of the Lower Peninsula. The reason behind the ban is where the controversy lies. In theory, the ban was to help prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD. CWD is proving to be a serious threat to deer herds, and it has been found in a few cases in the state. There is serious debate over the scientific proof being used as evidence for the ban, as researchers and deer behaviorists disagree on whether or not baiting causes the direct contact with saliva the deer would need to spread the disease. Nonresidents coming into the state to hunt, who have used bait in the past, will find that you probably can’t bait this year, and if you’re caught, there are serious penalties.

Where can I Deer Hunt in Michigan?

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.

Most of the state and federal land in Michigan is clearly marked on maps downloadable to a handheld GPS, like a Garmin Etrex, which is an economical way to navigate through the vast tracks of land in Michigan, especially in the U.P.

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 a Hunter Safety System harness to keep you safe.

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.

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