While Michigan offers hunters a plethora of amazing hunting opportunities, deer hunting ranks first in popularity among the state’s sportsmen and women. With a huge population of whitetails and a virtual army of hunters going afield each fall, Michigan is a great destination for hunters looking to take part in the rich tradition. With the severity of last winter, the landscape for deer hunters has changed slightly. Still, the outlook is outstanding for another great Michigan deer hunting season.
Baby it’s cold outside
Last winter was brutal, not only in Michigan, but also across most of the Midwest. Record-low temperatures that had many areas experiencing 40 or more consecutive days below zero, and massive snowfall totals that had snow and ice lasting well into spring. All these factors combined to give deer hunters little hope for good numbers this fall. But, as everyone who has ever been around whitetails already knows, deer are pretty resilient.
The snow and cold did impact the deer herd in some areas of the state. The tremendous amount of snow led to the closure of antlerless hunting in counties along the northern edges of the Upper Peninsula (U.P.). While this does reduce some amount of opportunity, the hunting is still amazing in this area. Hunting deer in the U.P. is widely considered something that every deer hunter should experience at least once. Marquette, Baraga, Alger, and Luce counties offer some outstanding chances to get a buck of a lifetime.
Winterkill can actually be very beneficial for the overall health of the deer herd. Sick, weak and old deer are the first to die off when winter turns angry. Additionally, the cold helps kill off some of the viruses that harm the health of the deer. Spring reports showed some pretty healthy deer.
Patience pays off
Last season, Michigan expanded antler-point restrictions on deer hunters in both archery and firearm seasons. The restrictions in 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 U.P., are still in effect for the 2014 season. The restrictions stipulate that hunters can only harvest bucks with at least three antler points to one side. It protects the year-and-a-half-old bucks, letting them get at least another year to grow and contribute to the genetics of the herd. If you’re hunting in these areas, make sure you get a good look at your target’s rack before you fire.
While some hunters were upset about the restrictions, this season is proving to show that patience pays off. If you have seen any of the trail camera pictures being posted on social media this summer, or have gotten out to see for yourself, there are more bigger bucks showing up. Think of what hunters in those areas will see in coming years? With a healthier herd, excellent nutritional sources, and a little restraint, Michigan is poised to make a comeback as a top trophy deer destination.
Where should you go?
That is the question many hunters have. Michigan has thousands of acres of public land available for hunting. It is a myth that public land is completely overrun with hunters and there are no deer left. Chris Eberhart, a Michigan bowhunter and author of many articles and several books, favors hunting public lands and has harvested a lot of truly great bucks in Michigan. He says that on heavily pressured public lands, hunters just need to think differently. Look for the areas big bucks will use as travel corridors to escape areas with heavy pressure.
Basic maps of public land and hunting areas can be found on the Michigan DNR’s website. These maps show the general areas where hunting land is accessible, organized by county. A much more in-depth program showing details of the access points and other tools to plan your hunt can be found at Mi-HUNT.
Area that have historically produced big bucks and lots of deer harvests are Genesee, Jackson, and Kent counties in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula. More bucks that have made the record books have come from these counties than anywhere else in the state. Hunters in the northern half of the Lower Peninsula should look at Montmorency and Alpena counties. Even though these counties were hit hard by bovine tuberculosis in recent years, there are still lots of deer there. A sleeper destination is Leelanau County. This small county located to the northwest of Traverse City doesn’t have a huge amount of public lands, but does have a sizable amount of Hunter Access Program lands within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This includes North and South Manitou Island.
Are you ready?
The first deer seasons are almost here! Make sure you’ve got your gear ready to go and follow all of the regulations.
Important dates for the 2014 Michigan deer hunting season
- Early antlerless firearm: September 20-21
- Liberty Hunt: 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
For more information, go to the Michigan DNR’s whitetail deer hunting website.
This article was produced in partnership with Pure Michigan.
Images by Derrek Sigler