By Pat Maurer
Tuesday morning bow hunters will take to the woods and fields in search of one of those elusive white-tailed deer.
October 1 marks the beginning of the archery hunting season in Michigan. The season runs through November 14, reopens after gun season on December 1 and winds up on January 1.
Brent Rudolph, Department of Natural Resources Deer and Elk Program Leader, said, “Thanks to three mild winters and last winter’s more average weather, the deer population is on the rise in the Northern Lower Peninsula District. Last winter was a little more severe, but the herd is stable.”
Rudolph added that last season, “701,001 hunters purchased licenses for bow, gun and muzzle loading seasons. Of those 325,424 purchased archery licenses. That is up a bit from 2011,” he said.
More than one in three bow hunters bagged a deer last year. “Our estimate is that 127,281 deer were taken with bows and crossbows.” He added, “223,258 deer were taken during last year’s firearm season and 26,935 were bagged with muzzle loaders, while youth hunters shot another 12,703 deer. “
But even though a deer may not be harvested, the time spent in a tree stand waiting for a deer is never boring. Many hunters say they enjoy the solitude and the scenery.
Deer are not evenly distributed across the state. There are considerable differences in habitat and deer numbers across Michigan’s three regions – the Upper Peninsula (UP), northern Lower Peninsula (NLP), and the southern Lower Peninsula (SLP).
Rudolph estimated there are 580,000 deer in this region, the northern Lower Peninsula, and 840,000 in the herd in Southern Michigan, while in the Upper Peninsula the count is estimated at 310,000.
This year is also a better one for the herd because Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, which affected the Southern Lower Peninsula counties last summer, has only been reported this year in Muskegon County, where one to two dozen confirmed deer deaths were reported. “The disease, which is caused by midges – small biting flies – is caused by drought and heat during the summer.”
Jay’s Sporting Goods Archery Department Manager Eric Lafollette agreed. “I think the deer herd is in good shape due to several mild winters recently.”
He continued, “September is our busy season – it’s go time. We’ve had a lot of archers gearing up as well as others. Hunters, both men and women are getting excited about the seasons coming up.”
Lafollette said they have had lots of bow repairs and repairs on older equipment. “Archery equipment is something that needs constant maintenance.”
“We have also been selling a lot of new archery equipment,” he added. “Every year we get a lot of ‘first time’ hunters, both adults and youngsters. They come from all over Michigan, out of state and Canada.”
“There are a lot of local hunters too,” Eric added. “Central Michigan has one of the largest concentrations of hunters. That’s because we have more places to hunt from Clare County northwards. That attracts a lot of people from downstate.”
Eric said the choices for new bow hunters are good. “Major brands include Hoyt, Matthews and PSE. We also have some Michigan brands we are proud of – Quest and Prime bows made in Memphis and bows from Struthers Archery, a northern Michigan company.”
Lafollette said he believes the use of crossbows, added to the season about four years ago is helping to bring more people into the sport.
He also noted that the licensing system, which will be the same this year, will be changing next year. Hunters will purchase an overall “base” license and then individual licenses for the different hunting seasons. The new system will go into effect next March. “I think it will be a lot simpler for everyone,” he said.
He also said the antler restrictions have not changed for Clare County, but that counties to the north and west have new antler restrictions this year.
In Clare County, the first buck taken must have one antler at least one inch long and the second buck taken must have four or more points on one antler.
“Deer hunting has been a popular pastime in Michigan for a very long time,” Rodney Clute, DNR, big-game specialist said in a 2007 article. The first regulations restricting deer hunting were established in 1859, when a portion of the year was closed to the taking of deer. However, there was no bag limit or restriction of the method of take.
“The first deer license was required in 1895, which really marked the beginning of deer management in Michigan,” Clute said. “It cost 50 cents and 14,500 were sold.”
By 1937, the number of people purchasing a deer license had increased over 10 times to 157,000. At that time, department biologists reported there were about 1.1 million deer in the state (about one-third in the Upper Peninsula and two-thirds in the northern Lower Peninsula — only a very few deer were present in southern Michigan).
In response to hunters who wanted the opportunity to hunt with a bow and arrow, Michigan established a special archery season in 1937 in Iosco and Newaygo counties.
During that first archery season, Nov. 1-14, 186 archery hunters took only four deer, but hunters regarded the season as a success. In their opinion, “seeking game with a bow and arrow instead of a long range gun requires much more skill on the part of the hunter.”
The sport grew rapidly. By 1948, almost 10,000 people purchased an archery deer license and 67 of Michigan’s 83 counties were open to archery deer hunting. The bow and arrow deer season also was extended to Oct. 1 through Nov. 5.
In 2006, over 300,000 hunters participated in the archery deer season and harvested 125,000 deer.
Upcoming seasons include:
Independence Hunt: Oct. 17-20
Archery: Oct. 1 – Nov. 14 and Dec. 1 – Jan. 1
Regular Firearm: Nov. 15-30
Zone 1: Dec. 6-15
Zone 2: Dec. 13-22
Zone 3: Dec. 6-22
Late Antlerless Firearm: Dec. 23 – Jan. 1