3 Things That Set Michigan Whitetail Hunting Above the Rest
Derrek Sigler 10.16.15
It’s no secret that Michigan hunters love deer season. Where else is opening day of firearm season considered a holiday to the point that schools are closed? Sometimes we have to have a little reminding just how good we actually have it here. Michigan really is a deer hunter’s dream destination.
On a recent trip to Illinois’ Pike County, the current whitetail hot spot if you read just about every hunting magazine, I was having a discussion with an employee of a major hunting lodge. When I mentioned that I was from Michigan, his response was that the Great Lake State was his all-time favorite place to hunt deer. The conversation that ensued really hit home about what we have. Here are just three big things that make Michigan such an excellent deer hunting environment.
1. Variety of season
Michigan, like many states, has an archery season open to vertical bows and crossbows, a firearm season, and a muzzleloader season. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), there were 614,593 deer hunters last year in the state. Those hunters harvested roughly 329,000 deer. That harvest was down by 15 percent from the previous year, and due to some harsh winter conditions and other factors, that number will likely go down again for this year.
However, that doesn’t mean the quality of the hunting experience in Michigan is going down. Far from it, actually. Archery season kicked off on October 1 and as many hunters know, October is a great time to be in the Michigan woods. Weather-wise, you can start of the month in t-shirts and end the month in winter parkas.
November is the time we all look forward to, not just because of firearms season and Thanksgiving, but because of the rut. Bucks forget all about being stealthy when love is in the air.
December usually means hunting with a little snow on the ground. I know of more than one seasoned hunter who looks forward to this time of year above all others. Brian Sheets, a Michigan bowhunter with more than 30 years of experience said that December deer hunting is the best, because the deer are more predictable and easy to pattern than any other time of the season. He added that he’s filled more of his tags around the December holidays than the rest of the season.
2. Variety of terrain
There aren’t many places that have as wide of variety of deer hunting terrain as Michigan has. The climate of the Great Lakes has an effect on the growing seasons and has made Michigan one of the most important agricultural states in the country. Whether it is the fruits and vegetables the state is known for or the row and field crops that help feed the state, one thing is certain: deer, especially in the Lower Peninsula, have access to abundant food sources. Add to that the vast stretches of hardwoods, the edges, swamps, and cover surrounding the states many rivers and streams, and the areas of undeveloped land, and the Lower Peninsula has a lot of places for deer to thrive.
I remember when I was in college in the Upper Peninsula (UP) and I was reading in a major hunting and fishing magazine that the UP ranked as one of the top “must hunt” places for deer in the entire continent. I was impressed. The story said that while hunters won’t see as many deer as they will in other parts of the country, the deer they do see will be bigger, and the experience would serve as a “master class” in deer hunting. That was very true in my experience.
The last few winters have really taken a toll on the UP deer herd, however. As a result, the DNR has decided to restrict the harvest of antlerless deer in the UP to help give the herd a chance to bounce back. This has turned off some hunters to going deer hunting up north, but that might be a mistake. While the overall number of deer is going to be down, the challenge of hunting up there is still alive and well. Any buck that could survive the past few winters of record snowfall and bitter cold is going to be one tough and hearty buck. Regardless of the rack size, any buck taken in the UP this year is a trophy in anyone’s book.
3. Variety of success
The DNR has put in antler-point restrictions in counties in the northwest and northeast corners of the Lower Peninsula, as well as the UP. These restrictions were met with a range of reactions, but hunters cannot deny that deer populations are starting to really show the results of the restrictions. Personally, I have seen an increase in buck size every season. Some bucks are starting to show trophy potential. Of course, in my opinion, any deer is a “trophy” that I’m proud of.
What hunters are seeing now is a direct result of proper deer management. Will that make a few folks mad? Sure. You can’t please everyone. As a whole, hunters are the best conservationists by far. We know best how to manage our deer and we’re entrusting the DNR and the state of Michigan to carry out our wishes. It’s working. The best thing we can do and continue to do is let your voices be heard. Attend deer management planning meetings in your area. Reach out to your local DNR officials and let them know what you want to see and what you’re seeing in the field. That’s how we’re continuing to make Michigan a destination for deer hunters across the country.
The variety of deer hunting opportunities in the Great Lake State and the challenge of hunting the elusive whitetail make the entire state a master class in deer hunting, and class is in session. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some homework to do.
This article was produced in partnership with Pure Michigan.