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.

The antler point restrictions in some parts of Michigan are working. Odds are this buck wouldn’t have ever made it this far, but now that hunters are forced to be more selective, he has a chance to reach good, mature size.
The antler point restrictions in some parts of Michigan are working. Odds are this buck wouldn’t have ever made it this far, but now that hunters are forced to be more selective, he has a chance to reach good, mature size.

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.

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 by Derrek Sigler

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4 thoughts on “Best Bets for Michigan Deer Hunters

  1. This is a joke! The deer herd in the UP has been decimated. Many areas are now devoid of whitetails. We have hunted everyday since October 1 and my wife and we are shocked at the lack of deer out there. The two past winters have taken their toll, and what has survived is being ravaged in our hunting areas by the resident wolf packs. “Come to Michigan” to deer hunt? Ya gotta be kidding me…what an insult to us hunters.

  2. too little deer, too many hunts for deer from September thru January! not about you or me or deer! MORE ABOUT INSURANCE COMPANIES AND THE ALMIGHTY DOLLAR INTAKE. I’M DONE

  3. I agree with the other two comments. I have been hunting in ALL of michigan since i was old enough to walk in the woods with my grandfather. 8 to 10 years ago I started to hunt in lower west part of lower peninsula due to ever so declining numbers of deer in the UP and upper/lower. In the lower west portion of the state we used to see at least 20 plus deer in a sitting with wide range of younger bucks that we would pass on. The past three years I have sat days in a row to maybe see two to three deer ALL day. Michigan has fallen every year off the list completely of top states to deer hunt. We are laughed at now when people mention Michigan for deer. Our largest deer harvest numbers years ago were equal to Wisconsin and yet that state constantly produces tons of great record deer and they manage well. Why, Our DNR, in my own opinion, has no friggen idea what proper deer management is nor do they trully understand how much income has been lost by the lack luster mgmt of our deer herd. The ones I feel the saddest for are all those small town, bars, stores, gas stations ect. that used to thrive off of deer season patrons. They dont even see an 1/8 of the crowd they used to. I have now started to spend the all mighty dollar visiting other states that have the mgmt down to a science. Sorry Michigan, Im out too.

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