Hunters will have 72 hours to report their kill

By Chad Steward, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Deer, Elk and Moose Management Specialist

It was late morning in October, and I had just lost her blood trail. I was confident in my shot, but the trail I followed slowly started to thin out. With sunlight on my side, I took a gamble and just began to walk in the direction where she was heading, hoping I’d run into either her or pick up a blood trail again. The bottomland forest was full of downed, dead ash trees, making long-distance surveillance difficult. I finally jumped on top of a downed tree to get a better vantage point, and low and behold, there she was below me. She had expired not more than 120 yards from where she encountered my stand about an hour earlier. A beautiful mature doe that will be turned into canned deer meat like the kind I used to eat growing up, deer sticks from a local processor and steaks. Like most hunters who recover their deer, the feelings of gratitude, excitement and relief swept over me at once.

My first step after finding the doe was to take a quiet moment to give thanks for the opportunity, to reflect on the traditions passed down from generations in my family and, finally, to fill out my harvest tag and affix it to her ear. This step has always been the last legal requirement for completing your harvest. It allows conservation officers to confirm that the animal was taken legally, shows that my tag purchase allows me the opportunity to pursue white-tailed deer in Michigan while simultaneously supporting conservation, and ensures that I claim responsibility for the ethical disposition of the animal that I took from Michigan’s woods. Affixing the harvest tag is an essential step to completing my harvest. And once that tag is completed and affixed to her, my requirements from the state perspective have been met. Activities like taking a quick selfie with the deer to send to my dad because I know he’s going to be excited by the harvest or sending a quick text to my wife letting her know I’ll be busy for the next couple of hours field dressing, dragging and taking this particular deer to a processor are simply done for enjoyment or family coordination.

Mandatory Deer Harvest Reporting

Beginning in 2022, hunters taking a deer in Michigan will have one more additional step to complete beyond tagging their deer before they have finalized their harvest. Successful hunters will now be subject to mandatory deer harvest reporting through Michigan’s new online harvest reporting website and a recently-developed mobile app. The good news is that successful hunters will have time — up to 72 hours — so this final step doesn’t have to be done right away. The other good news is that when this system was tested in 2021, most hunters could complete the harvest report in under five minutes. On average, reporting a buck harvest took about 30 seconds longer than reporting a doe harvest because of some additional questions surrounding antler points. Hunters who harvested and reported multiple deer through the system seemed to work through the report faster the second time, which tells us that the reporting process is easily understood after someone goes through it once.

So why now? Why is Michigan moving to mandatory deer harvest reporting after so many years? Or, why hasn’t Michigan done this sooner than all surrounding states have done?

They are a couple of great questions; fortunately, there are answers.

For years, Michigan has estimated its deer harvest through a post-season harvest survey administered to a random subset of Michigan hunters. This survey and estimate are conducted using standard statistical protocols and allows our state to estimate harvest numbers by state, county, season, etc., and also to include confidence limits with each estimate. Very few states have been able to produce this type of estimate. This technique has served us well in the past, but we are experiencing challenges with this current system. For example, hunters do not respond to the harvest reports the way they have in the past. In 2000, 74% of hunters receiving a survey returned it back to us. In 2020, the response rate was 44%, and it is getting lower as time goes on. These lower response rates increase the level of uncertainty or the expanse of our confidence limits, which gives us more uncertainty with our primary estimate. We feel it’s important to have confident harvest estimates to make the best, most informed management decisions for one of our most prized natural resources.

a screenshot of what mandatory deer harvest reporting will look like on a computer

We will continue to incorporate our deer hunter harvest survey, as we feel it still does a great job estimating our harvest. However, the scale of the survey will be reduced since we no longer have to estimate our harvest beginning at 0 deer for the year.

Our hunters reporting their harvest will provide much of the work for us during the season, allowing us to report on the season’s progress as it’s going and compare it to previous seasons, which is a near real-time update we have never been able to experience before. We do know that not everyone will report their harvest (no state ever sees 100% compliance rates), and that is where the misunderstanding of harvest reporting is greatest. Without an estimate of the percentage of successful hunters who report their deer harvest, the number provided by online harvest reporting only serves as a minimum count. A correction needs to be applied to account for the individuals who did not report their harvest, so the final numbers you see at the end of the season on January 31, when the last urban archery season ends, won’t necessarily reflect the total harvest. We know deer will be taken during the seasons that are not reported, and the survey at the end of the summer will help provide a real estimate of the total season harvest.

One early question that is often asked is, “What is the penalty for not reporting your harvest”? In short, the language for mandatory deer harvest reporting is now embedded in our Wildlife Conservation Order with our other game laws. Violations are considered a misdemeanor as written by statute. However, our Conservation Officers are taking an “Education over Enforcement” approach and will spend this year trying to inform hunters of the new requirements. We are also pursuing changes at the state level that would make this a civil infraction rather than a misdemeanor, but that change could take time.

The speed of the information available and the amount of information we’ll now have is one of the most significant advantages to this new system. Our new system, with its corresponding public-facing dashboard, will show hunters daily how harvest is progressing across the season, with up-to-date accounts on total harvest in the state, harvest by county, season harvest, and even harvest by day. Additionally, our state will be able to tie harvest to individual licenses — a feature we’ve been unable to incorporate previously. This means we’ll better understand how many hunters are using one of their combination license tags to take an antlerless deer in the archery season. Right now, we know the estimated antlerless harvest in the archery season but don’t understand what licenses hunters necessarily use to make their harvest decisions. We’ll also better understand reported harvests of button bucks, bucks with shed antlers, and bucks with antlers less than 3 inches. Currently, all of those deer are reported as antlerless deer, but we have never been able to quantify their values fully.

Another function of the online reporting system will be integrating disease surveillance information. Hunters reporting deer harvested in disease priority areas will receive notifications and instructions on submitting their deer for testing, should they choose to volunteer their deer for either CWD or Bovine TB testing. The submission process, with hunters receiving a confirmation number from their successful harvest submission, will improve the convenience and flexibility for hunters to submit their deer for testing and allow additional sites, such as 24/7 drop boxes and convenient locations through partnerships with processors and taxidermists, to be used for submission.

The new system represents a significant change for all Michigan hunters. Overall, the change will result in a faster understanding of how the season is going, offer more opportunities for understanding the impacts of management decisions and provide more flexibility for disease surveillance options with its integrated design.

For anyone who is a deer data nerd like myself, a treasure chest of information is right around the corner!