Michigan Deer Hunting Season: What’s Going On?November 22nd, 2011 by MUCC Staff.
The first week of the firearms deer season is in the books. And, if local hunters are any indication, it was not one for the ages. At least not in a positive sense.
We should first start with a bit of a disclaimer. Expecting to see the numbers of deer that have been seen over the past decade is not realistic. We have, in fact, been on a path of serious herd reduction in many areas of the state for about 10 years now. Virtually unlimited doe tags, additional seasons and a “take them any way you legally can” mentality from the Department of Natural Resources has certainly placed an emphasis on taking more antlerless deer in an effort to reduce a deer population that was booming out of control.
No one should really expect to see the numbers of deer we saw in the early to mid-1990s.
But this season, thus far, has truly been eye-opening.
I live on the Eaton and Barry County line in southern Michigan. I’m located right in the heart of Michigan’s deer belt. Seeing deer here usually isn’t a problem. What has been a problem, in fact, has been the number of deer. Seeing 25-30 deer a morning wasn’t unusual with 95 percent of those being young does and fawns. The bucks you saw were seldom older than a year-and-a-half.
Over the past five years things have slowly changed. Instead of seeing 25-30 deer a morning, you’d see 15-20 with about 90 percent of those being antlerless. Of the bucks you saw, the majority were still 1.5-year-olds but there was the occasional 2- and even 3-year-old deer in the mix. Sure, there were probably still too many deer but the ratio was improved and the age structure was marginally better.
Something changed this year however. And it was something I noticed long before the November gun season started. In fact, in the November/December issue of Michigan OutofDoors Magazine, I wrote a piece about the trends I was seeing in relation to deer numbers.
I’m not a doomsday naysayer. I don’t think we were managing our deer population correctly in the 1990s and we had too many deer. I don’t think we’ve gone overboard with doe permits or that we should expect to see dozens of deer per day.
I do, however, think someone needs to take a long, hard look at what has happened this year. Because something certainly has happened.
In the winter months, deer were everywhere. In the spring, I saw plenty of whitetails but noticed a strange absence in newborn fawns. In early summer, deer were fairly visible but didn’t seem to be around in the numbers I was expecting based on winter observations. At that time, I did not notice a drastic decrease in the number of deer in my area. But I did notice a decrease.
Then came summer. And everything changed. I run trail cameras throughout the summer months on areas that I’ve hunted for a fair amount of time. I have a pretty good handle on how the deer use the areas in different crop rotation scenarios. It’s not a question of whether I’m placing the cameras in the right areas anymore. Years of experience have helped sort those issues out.
Trail cameras don’t lie. The deer numbers started to dwindle sometime in July and continued to decrease through October. I searched high and low for carcasses that would indicate a disease-related dieoff and couldn’t find any.
I started to think that maybe it was just something in my area and the deer were relocating. But many discussions with neighbors and other local hunters revealed the same thing – the deer were gone.
During the archery season my logs show that I saw 50 percent fewer deer this year than last. Again, discussions with other area hunters showed almost an identical decrease in deer sightings. Everyone blamed the standing corn – including me. Then the corn came down. And the deer were still absent.
The opening day of the gun season was foggy. Conditions were far from ideal. So hunters didn’t panic much when they heard fewer than a dozen shots on a day that typically features more than 100 shots fired within hearing distance by 10 a.m.
A local Quality Deer Management Association group holds a buck pole every year near my home. Last year about a dozen bucks were hanging after the opener. This year? There were six. The pole is held again on the first Saturday after the opener. Last year, the number of bucks there increased exponentially. This year? There were six.
The talk around the pole was of seeing very, very few deer. In fact, a number of hunters indicated that they had sat an entire day without seeing a single deer. This is southern Michigan – an area where it should be almost impossible to sit an entire day and not see at least a half-dozen deer. Yet guys got skunked.
Clearly something has changed. It’s not standing corn. It’s not poor weather. It’s a severe decrease in the deer population. And, as stated earlier, some of that certainly was/is by design. But I don’t think anyone was expecting to see this type of decrease this fast. Something has happened.
Where do we go from here? Well, we still have the Thanksgiving weekend coming up and it’s entirely possible that the deer were simply hiding in some undiscovered hole and hunters will fill a bunch of tags this weekend. But I’m not holding my breath on that one. I think it’s entirely possible that the 2011 gun season will go down as a major disappointment in terms of deer killed – at least in southern Michigan.
At this stage, I’d say the kill is down at least 50 percent. I’m sure there are those who will disagree and I’m not trying to say that I have some sort of special scientific survey in use here. I’m basing this prediction solely on my personal observations and discussions with a whole lot of guys that I know to be excellent deer hunters.
The deer are not being shot. Is it because they aren’t there to be shot? Or is it something else?
That’s the question I’d really like to know the answer to.