Whitetail deer hunting in the Great Lake State goes back well before there was a Mackinac Bridge, an auto industry, or even statehood. Each fall hundreds of thousands of Michigan hunters take to the woods during the youth, archery, firearm, and muzzleloader seasons. With such a tremendous responsibility to the heritage of the sport, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has to work carefully to manage the herd, ensuring that future hunters have the opportunity to harvest a Michigan deer.

One of the tools used by biologists is the antlerless deer harvest, done by draw permit each season. This year, the application period began July 15 and runs through August 15 (the season proper begins October 1, with certain brief periods open before that for special hunts). Applicants can select either private or public land permits, or some of the special management areas with more generous permit availability. The units are divided by county in most cases and each unit has a quota for the number of permits available. Any leftover permits go on sale September 11, on a first-come, first-served basis.

Large numbers of deer emerged from the woods after this winter in most parts of Michigan.
Large numbers of deer emerged from the woods after this winter in most parts of Michigan.

Herd health

After this year’s severe winter, if you asked anyone in Michigan what they thought the deer herd was going to look like, most answers would have been pretty grim. A good portion of the state saw record cold and snow, two things that aren’t good for deer. There was just no way the deer could have made it through that, but they did. With the exception of parts of the Upper Peninsula, the deer herd appears to be pretty strong.

As the snow melted and the woods began coming back to life, I was happy to spot dozens of deer coming out into the fields on my family farm in the Lower Peninsula. In the early summer, I was also able to see a good number of does sporting two fawns.

The Upper Peninsula took the worst beating from harsh winter weather, so much so that the DNR is not issuing any antlerless permits for most of the region, with the exception of the southernmost areas near Menominee and Escanaba.

For 2014, antlerless deer license quotas have been reduced to about 494,000 statewide from about 550,000 in 2013. More permits are generally available for private land, so make sure you have permission before applying. The application process will ask for the landowner’s phone number for verification.

It’s not easy

Ask any hunter who’s spent a lot of days in a deer blind about how easy it is to harvest a mature doe, and you’re going to get the same answer—it’s not. Antlerless deer don’t go through the same “changes” as their male counterparts do during the fall, meaning they don’t get crazy and stupid during the rut like a buck.

Trail cameras are a great way to track and pattern whitetails, especially antlerless deer.
Trail cameras are a great way to track and pattern whitetails, especially antlerless deer.

On the contrary, a mature doe is hyper-alert during the fall. They are very cautious and the slightest sounds and smells will often keep them from coming into range. Indeed, getting a mature doe in-range is a great challenge to any hunter.

Where to hunt

Take a look at the unit map and then see how many tags are being issued for both public and private land in those units. The units can be found by looking at the 2014 Antlerless Deer Digest and the license availability quotas can be found on the DNR website.

The thing about hunting antlerless whitetails in Michigan is to learn the patterns of the deer. Bucks get all crazy and change things up when the rut kicks in, but the does generally stick to their patterns. There is some definite truth to the old saying that to best hunt the bucks, hunt the does first. Trail cameras are a great tool for learning antlerless deer patterns. Food plots work well for directing those patterns as well.

Hunting Michigan’s ample amounts of public land is a great option. Generally, there are fewer antlerless permits available on public land than on private, but there are still plenty. A map of public hunting land is also available for each county on the DNR website.

New for 2014 is the need for a base hunting license. Michigan hunters need the base license and then the individual licenses for the species they are hunting. This applies to nonresidents, too. The cost for a resident base license is $11, with junior licenses costing $6, $5 for senior citizens, and $151 for nonresidents.

With good deer numbers and an ample amount of permits available, there is no reason not to get out into the woods this autumn and enjoy the splendor and tradition of Michigan’s annual antlerless deer hunting season. Besides some great and challenging hunting, it is an opportunity to help control Michigan’s whitetail population and put some delicious venison in your freezer. Be sure to apply for a permit and, better yet, take a kid hunting during one of the youth hunts. What could possibly be better than that?

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.

Images courtesy Derrek Sigler

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