2014 Michigan Deer Herd Status and Hunting Prospects

Michigan Deer Population, Management News and Information Archive

Deer hunting prospects November 7, 2014 DNR News

As for the hunting prospects, DNR wildlife biologists are predicting a fairly typical season with one exception: the Upper Peninsula. In the U.P., hunters should be prepared to see and harvest fewer deer.

“We had a very difficult winter this last year, the second harsh winter in a row, so our deer herd is down from where it has been,” said Upper Peninsula wildlife biologist Dave Jentoft. “Opportunities are going to be reduced somewhat, without a doubt.”

In response, the DNR significantly decreased the number of available antlerless deer licenses in the U.P., with no public land antlerless tags available across the entire region, and private land antlerless licenses available in only three Deer Management Units in the southcentral U.P. where deer numbers tend to be higher.

Grandpa and grandson at camp“In the winter of 2012-13, the issue was a late spring,” Jentoft said. “We had a lot of snow cover from February until well into the spring season. Then, during the 2013-2014 winter, we had snow on the ground and sub-zero conditions from November all the way through spring.

“I think it’s going to be a challenging deer season. The bucks – especially younger bucks, the 1 ½-year-olds – are not going to be as plentiful as they were in past seasons.”

In the northern Lower Peninsula, things are looking “pretty darn good,” said wildlife biologist Ashley Autenrieth. “We’re seeing a lot of deer movement and good reproduction – a lot of healthy fawns and a numbers of twins as well.”

Despite a long, cold, snowy winter, the northern Lower Peninsula herd held up well, Autenrieth said, “but we might be seeing a little bit smaller rack size and a little smaller body size than they did last year.”

Helping to support the herd is the excellent production of hard and soft mast this year in the northern Lower Peninsula.

deer pole“We appear to be in the midst of a bumper acorn crop this year, so hunters should be looking for those acorn-producing trees. And hunters should also be on the lookout for those 2 ½-year-old bucks. Hunters should be seeing them more often beginning this year and we’re anticipating a pretty good season.”

In southern Michigan, deer numbers should be very good, even improved in some areas. Deer did not seem to suffer significant winter mortality, although the effects of the tough winter may be visible when looking at antler condition, said Brent Rudolph, the DNR’s deer and elk program leader.

“They made it through the winter well,” he said. “I thought we might see some impact on deer body conditions, but looking at what we’ve seen at check stations so far this fall the deer look like they’re in good shape. Antler development might be suppressed though. That’s typically what we see after a hard winter when preferred food sources become harder to find.”

Although the deer herd in southern Michigan made it through the winter without much impact, the region’s deer herd still continues to recover from the 2012 outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD). The disease, which is caused by a biting insect, typically during droughty conditions, “hit us hard two years ago,” Rudolph said.

“Since the EHD die-off, we’ve been monitoring deer in one of our most heavily hit outbreak areas and, as expected, deer numbers seem to be up a bit, but it will probably be a few years before they return to levels prior to EHD,” he said.

8-point buckAccordingly, antlerless licenses were reduced in the southern part of the state this year as well.

“In southern Michigan, deer numbers are down a bit and are closer to where we want to see them overall, so it makes sense to cut back on antlerless permits,” Rudolph said. “In the specific areas most affected by EHD we’d like to see numbers rebound a bit more and will continue to manage for that on a localized level.”

One more item Rudolph made note of, which could be key in determining hunter success early in the firearm season: The corn harvest appears to be a little behind schedule.

“That could mean deer are less visible in areas where there’s a lot of corn standing and less likely to be moving. But once the corn harvest starts, deer movement will be triggered and success rates will likely go up,” he said. “It’s important to keep field crop conditions in mind when hunting early in the season and keep an eye out for harvest activity before deciding the season is a bust.”

For the full 2014 Deer Season Prospects report, visit www.michigan.gov/deer. To learn more about the hunting license restructure and determine which license meets your needs, go to www.michigan.gov/hunting.

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