Deer Management: Harvest Management
The DNR has a public trust responsibility for the management of all wildlife species and populations. Primary legal authority for wildlife management and regulation comes from the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, Public Act 451 of 1994. Part 401 of Public Act 451 gives authority to the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) and the DNR Director to issue orders (Wildlife Conservation Order) specific to wildlife management and hunting.
In 1996, Michigan voters supported a hunting ballot initiative requiring the NRC to use "principles of sound scientific management" in making decisions concerning the taking of wildlife. This legislation gave exclusive authority to the NRC over the method and manner of take for game species. Following passage of the initiative, it was codified as Section 40113a of Public Act No. 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, MCL 324.40113a. PA 451 can be found on the state Legislature website at www.legislature.mi.gov.
The regulations established by the NRC pursuant to PA 451 for the taking of deer in the state of Michigan are found in the Wildlife Conservation Order (WCO). The link to the complete WCO may be found on the left-hand sidebar.
Establishment of Antlerless Regulations
Each year, biologists review deer population information including population data, mail survey information from hunters, crop damage complaints, winter mortality, deer-vehicle collisions, personal observations, and input from stakeholders prior to making recommendations regarding antlerless licenses. Recommendations are submitted by field staff regarding whether late antlerless seasons should be open, availability of antlerless licenses on public and private land, and antlerless license quotas for each DMU. Recommendations are reviewed by Management Unit Supervisors, the Statewide Field Coordinator, the Statewide Big Game Specialist, and the Species Section Supervisor. The Assistant Chief makes the final recommendation if there is not consensus between the Field Coordinator and the Species Section Supervisor. The final recommendation is forwarded by the Division Chief to all of the DNR Resource Bureau Division Chiefs for their approval. The recommendation is then reviewed and approved by the Resource Deputy Director and the Director before being forwarded to the NRC for consideration. The recommended proposal is listed on the NRC calendar for information for one month and then is listed again for another month before NRC action.
Natural Resources Commission Process
All the regulations governing the taking of deer in Michigan are found in either PA 451 or the WCO. Changes to PA 451 are the purview of the State Legislature. Changes (amendments) to the WCO are the purview of the NRC.
The NRC has an established process for review and approval of all Wildlife Conservation Order amendments. While a 60-day public review is built into that process, 30 days of public review are required by PA 451.
1) The process begins on the Monday following the regularly scheduled monthly NRC meeting when the Department submits a memo outlining the recommendations to the Director's Office. This action puts the recommendations on the NRC calendar for the following month and opens a public review period.
2) At the following month's NRC meeting, the Department typically makes a presentation "for information" on the recommendations, and questions from the NRC are addressed. At this time the public has an opportunity to speak before the NRC to voice their concerns, support, or opposition to the recommendations. The NRC does not take action to approve the recommendations at this meeting.
3) At the subsequent NRC meeting (approximately 60 days after the recommendation memo was submitted), the NRC typically takes action on the recommendations. There is another opportunity for the public to voice their concerns, support, or opposition to the recommendations. At the end of the meeting, most often the NRC votes on the recommendations, sometimes after changing the recommendation, yet can defer the decision to a later meeting following additional public comment. If approved, the recommendations become part of the Wildlife Conservation Order and the Department can take actions to ensure the approved recommendations are implemented.
All amendments to the WCO occur at the NRC monthly meetings which are open to the public. NRC meetings are typically held on the first Thursday on each month. The NRC Calendar is available on the DNR website or upon request from the DNR.
Current deer management strategies are aimed at maximizing recreational opportunities while maintaining healthy populations at appropriate levels. Hunters are legally allowed to harvest two bucks each year and antlerless quotas are designed to maintain deer populations at socially acceptable levels. These strategies do not specifically address sex and age ratios as desired by some stakeholders. Specifically, hunters seeking higher buck:doe ratios and a greater number of mature bucks in the population are requesting deer management designed to make these changes. Deer management strategies designed to alter buck:doe ratios and age structure in the buck population are often referred to as Quality Deer Management (QDM). QDM calls for adequate antlerless harvest, protection of young bucks and habitat improvement and may include: earn-a-buck (hunters must "earn" a buck tag by first harvesting antlerless deer), minimum antler restrictions, and a reduced annual bag limit of one buck per hunter. Another strategy, Trophy Deer Management advocates reducing deer densities to very low levels and protecting bucks from harvest until they reach the age where "peak" antler development occurs (e.g., five years of age or older). While many hunters appear satisfied with the current direction of deer management in Michigan, some hunters and land managers are expressing interest in making changes.
Deer Management Units
Michigan has two primary discrete deer populations, those of the UP and the LP. To facilitate management within these populations, DMUs have been established. A DMU is the geographic unit within which deer management is implemented. In the LP, each county, with a few exceptions, is a single DMU. The majority of LP counties have roads along their borders, thus helping delineate the DMU. The primary advantage of using counties as DMUs is the existing familiarity of the area and it's boundaries as a political unit. This familiarity allows hunters to be sure about their location when hunting and aids in collection and analysis of deer harvest and other hunting data since hunters are easily able to report the DMU in which they were hunting. In addition, counties provide reasonably appropriate geographic size for managing deer by balancing the benefits of providing sufficient population size, hunter harvest, and biodata with the desire of many hunters and deer managers to have relatively small units that allow management of deer at the appropriate scale. In the UP, counties often do not have roads delineating boundaries. Therefore, DMUs in the UP are defined by major, easily defined, linear geographic or constructed boundaries like rivers, power lines, railroad right-a-ways, and roads. These recognizable boundaries allow hunters to be sure of their location and to know which DMU they are in.
Deer population goals were established for each DMU in 1999 in order to guide management decisions and strategies. Population goals were developed for each DMU by local wildlife biologists and reflect biological as well as social considerations. Many factors associated with deer population size were considered in development of DMU population goals including: hunter satisfaction and success rates, land ownership patterns, habitat quality, climate, crop damage complaints, forest regeneration concerns and deer vehicle collisions.
Updated draft population goals were developed in 2005 for the 2006 - 2010 period. Public input on the proposed goals was solicited through a series of public meetings that were held throughout the state. While public opinions of the proposed goals varied across the state and among stakeholder groups, many vocal stakeholders questioned the accuracy of DNR population estimates and felt the proposed population goals for many DMUs were too low. The controversy over the proposed 2006 – 2010 goals was significant and the draft goals have not been approved and will be revisited in 2010.
Deer Seasons, Licenses and Bag Limits
The primary deer hunting seasons in Michigan have traditionally consisted of the archery season (October 1 – November 14 and December 1 – January 1), the regular firearm season (November 15 – November 30), and the muzzleloading season (dates vary each year and by Hunting and Trapping Zone but occur in early to mid-December). In recent years, additional seasons designed to increase antlerless harvest or to provide special opportunities for young or disabled hunters have also been established. In 2009, the various seasons resulted in 100 days in which hunters could be deer hunting in Michigan.
Hunters are limited to purchasing two kill tags for taking an antlered (buck) deer. For hunting in the LP, hunters may purchase one archery license AND one firearm license (one kill tag each) OR one combination license (two kill tags). However, new UP buck hunting regulations in effect as of the 2008 hunting season place different restrictions on hunters depending upon the type of license purchased. Combination license holders have antler point restrictions (APR) for both licenses when hunting in the UP. To take an antlered deer in the UP with the regular combination license the deer must have at least one antler with three or more antler points, each at least one inch in length. The APR for the restricted combination license is unchanged (at least one antler with four or more points, each at least one inch in length). Both combination licenses are valid for an antlerless deer during the archery season. Hunters possessing both a firearm and archery deer license are limited to taking one antlered animal in the UP, all seasons combined. That deer must have at least one antler three or more inches in length. The archery license is valid for an antlerless deer during the archery season.
Antlerless Deer License Quotas
A regulated antlerless deer harvest allows biologists to manage deer populations by reducing the number of female deer in the population where appropriate. Antlerless deer licenses are generally issued to hunters in DMUs where harvest of antlerless deer will help achieve goals for maintaining or reducing deer populations or changing sex ratios. Antlerless license quotas are set each year when biologists determine the relationship of the projected October 1 population to the established deer goal for the DMU.
Generally, when the projected population is above goal, more antlerless deer licenses are offered in order to reduce the population. In many DMUs where deer populations are significantly over goal, especially in the southern Lower Peninsula (SLP), antlerless quotas are set high and are undersubscribed (some licenses remain unpurchased due to quotas exceeding hunter demand). When this occurs, it is difficult to maintain or lower deer populations. Even when projected populations are near goal or even slightly below goal, antlerless licenses are still offered to allow some antlerless harvest and keep the population in check. When populations fall well below population goals, antlerless quotas are set very low or eliminated for that DMU.
Since deer are not evenly distributed throughout a DMU and deer and hunter densities often vary across public and private lands, antlerless deer license quotas for each DMU are established separately for public land and private land. The number of private and public land antlerless licenses is based on the distribution of the deer population on these ownerships types and the impacts of these populations.