What's Michigan deer season for? Trophies or venison?

Each year, in late summer, the state Department of Natural Resources issues its "Hunting and Trapping Digest," a 5-by-8 1/2-inch booklet of 60 pages or so, filled with the rules and regulations hunters must follow to legally take game in Michigan.

Sixty pages? Well, hunting and trapping laws are a lot more complicated than you might think - more complicated, some would say, than they need to be. They vary from county to county, and change from year to year. To the credit of those who write the guide, they make it a point each year to highlight the new rules for that year. The 2013 edition, for example, features a box on the front of the digest labeled “MAJOR CHANGES.”

There are three such changes listed. Buried under two insignificant notes about cosmetic tweaks to the rules, you'll find this odious line: “New Antler Restrictions see pg. 32.” Whether the positioning is a deliberate attempt to downplay No. 3, I cannot say. In any case, it will hardly go unnoticed. Those of us who hunt the areas affected – and who pay attention to DNR maneuvering – knew the change was coming. The debate and deliberations were public record, although this was a classic case of the squeaky wheels getting all the grease.

Hunters who tuned out over the summer will hear about the new antler restrictions soon enough, presumably before they realize that the buck they just tagged – the kind of buck that has been legal in Michigan for at least 92 years – now can land them in jail and cost them up to $2,000 in fines and restitution.

In 1921 the DNR defined an antlered deer as one having at least one antler that measured three inches or more. (It's unclear whether there were any restrictions at all before then.) That's the way it's been since 1921. In that time many hunters – beginners and veterans – have been happy and proud to drag a “spikehorn” (one antler on each side), or a “forkhorn” ( two points on each side) back to camp. These people would be violators under the new laws.

If you turn to page 32 of the digest, and decipher the table there, you'll find that in many counties north of Clare, a legal buck must now have at least three antler points on one side. This includes Wexford County, where, at least in some sections, deer are scarce, bucks are scarcer, and so-called trophy bucks are virtually non-existent. I know because my extended family's 80-acre deer camp, established near the town of Manton in 1968, though rich in camaraderie, is poor in venison production. Every year on the opening day of the firearms season a dozen or more experienced, skilled hunters fan out on the property and the surrounding state land. In a typical three-day hunt, we kill two or three deer – a couple of does, maybe, and a forkhorn.

The new antler restrictions are the result of a movement among some hunters – and apparently inside the state Natural Resources Commission – called Quality Deer Management. Translation: "We want to kill deer with bigger antlers." The theory is that if hunters are forced, by law, to refrain from shooting spikehorns and forkhorns, those deer will live to grow bigger antlers. That's largely true; age is a key factor in determining antler size. But it's by no means the only factor. Nutrrition and genetics are also important. I have killed several eight-pointers – and one nine-pointer – on my 12-acre homestead in Ingham County that were determined by the wildlife experts at Rose Lake to be 1 1/2 years old. At our camp in Wexford, some 1 1/2-year-old bucks barely manage the three-inch minimum.

But the larger point is that the big-antler obsession is not necessarily universal. Who decided that “quality” automatically means bodacious headgear? Antlers don't improve the taste of the venison. And they don't automatically pose a bigger challenge. Killing a spikehorn in Wexford County is no less challenging than killing an eight-pointer in southern Michigan.

For reasons that aren't clear to me, the QDM people keep insisting it's not about “trophy hunting,” but that's exactly what it's about. What else could it be? And I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that; if a hunter wants to hold his fire until an eight-pointer comes along, more power to him. But that doesn't give him the right to change the rules.

QDM is, quite simply, a case of some hunters imposing their proclivities on all hunters. But there's more to hunting whitetails in Michigan than big antlers. Given a choice between a hunter who idolizes big antlers and one who prizes venison, I'll take the meat hunter any day.

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Fri, 09/13/2013 - 1:10pm
What about EHD? My area was hit hard, lost a lot of deer last year, especially bucks. We anticipated a rack restriction purposely so that the young bucks would have a chance at reaching that kind of maturity.
John Schneider
Fri, 09/13/2013 - 6:02pm
Thanks for your comment, Shawn. EHD was not an issue in the north.
Sat, 09/14/2013 - 3:25pm
I would bet a number of hunters are going to be in for an unpleasant surprise when they register their deer at a DNR station and find themselves with a $2,000 fine because they didn't bother to read the rules.
John Schneider
Sat, 09/14/2013 - 11:03pm
Nor would I be surprised if some hunters don't even buy buck tags this year, and hunt strictly with doe permits.
Sun, 09/15/2013 - 2:51pm
"QDM" is a joke. Genetics play a bigger factor in rack size than does age of buck. Ask any livestock breeder how they 'cull' their herd to get better stock (or so that the stock has the attributes they want). If you want bigger racks on the bucks in an area, you must cull the herd of those bucks with SMALLER racks. It's just that simple. The "teacher" at the hunter safety class my son took was all "You really should only shoot bucks, and only bucks with big racks." Truth to tell, that kind of ticked me off. He was (like those in the DNR who came up with this foolish plan) a "trophy" hunter, not a meat hunter. Doe meat tastes better than buck meat and young buck tastes better than old buck. All that aside, they also need to change the regular firearm season (as well as the archery season). IMO, regular fire arm should be the last 2 full weeks of November (starts on a Saturday, ends on the 2nd Sunday). Archery season should end at least the week before, leaving an "off week" between seasons.
John Schneider
Sun, 09/15/2013 - 7:36pm
You make some excellent points, Matt. I, too, favor a Saturday firearms opener. I've always thought it was disingenuous of the DNR to claim a desire to get more kids involved in hunting, then open the season on a weekday during the school year.
Tue, 10/06/2015 - 10:00pm
You're stupid my man. Rack size has nothing to do with the genes. It's actually having the right minerals, this is why they have feed for bigger racks. It's having the right minerals and food in the area to have big racks. Antlers are actually bones, which means you need calcium and many other nutrients. Kind of like why your mom (if you had one you bafoon) told you to drink milk because it would make you stronger (meaning your bones) plus, who's happy to show off a spike? Not me. I'm happy to show off the 2 8's a 7 and a 9 I've taken over the past few years.
Mon, 09/16/2013 - 9:18am
I have never eaten antlers as I find them a bit tough and unchewable. All humor aside, I am so disappointed in the DNR. They are always (in recent years) willing to listen to a few loud mouths who want things their way. If the"Trophy Hunters" want big racks, wait until they see one. I love hunting deer, the smells, watching deer, birds and other wildlife. I hunt to provide food for my family. I chose to hunt only bucks which I have done for over 25 years. I don't fault others who shoot does or those who want a big buck but I don't scream for the DNR to make other hunters so as I chose to do. The deer belong to all of us, not a few loud mouths who want their way. These loud mouths must have graduated from kindergarden by now and have learned you can't always have your own way!
John Schneider
Tue, 09/17/2013 - 3:05pm
Excellent attitude, Bob. Live and let live.
Thu, 11/21/2013 - 9:42am
Bob. You shoot all these bucks they can't produce any young. Thanks. The DNR has no clue on what they are doing to the heard. For michigan to turn things around we need a 1 buck tag and maybe 2 or 3 doe tags. By all means only shooting 1 buck would change a lot. Forget the restrictions people are still going to shoot small bucks.
Matt (not the o...
Mon, 09/16/2013 - 11:13am
I believe that getting rid of the second buck tag option would have just as big of an effect on deer (buck) herd quality as would antler point restrictions, without making folks who mistakenly shoot under pointed into accidental violators. The current system plants the mindset to shoot the first deer that goes by (often a stupid 1 1/2 year buck) and get a second tag for the potential wall hanger. Most of the states that have seen big improvement in their deer herd quality have a one buck only rule. Just making it past the first day or two of the season goes a long way to keeping small bucks alive another year. Sorry to Matt above but the best genetics in the world don't matter if the deer only lives to be a year and a half old!
Brian Coopenheimer
Fri, 11/08/2013 - 5:52pm
Michigan is a total disaster to me me as a hunter. I returned home in 99 after I retired. The old farms all chopped up and sold into little parcels. The public land nearly devoid of ruffed grouse and the big trees are being pillaged for cash. The pan fish are covered with nasty black spots,the rabbits and snowshoe hare are down to nothing on state land. Coyotes rule the woods. I loathe the practice of baiting and the way the archery season has suffocated the rifle segment for years. Most bow hunters boast of the bigger challenge of primitive weapons...not many use one and few without a pile of produce. That's hunting? No it is not. Now the great sports jock pathetic ego competition mode enters antler restrictions. Compensating for the usual lack of ...well you know. You '' big trophy'' guys got your way . Does not mean a thing to you that in this lousy economy that a lot of meat hunters who truly NEED the meat will have to do with much less or none.Some old timers will not fill their last tag and some new hunters will not score their first. How many Novembers do you big Trophy guys guarantee everyone? I don't give a rat's behind if this or any of it makes any of you mad. Purist or Fudd no bad label to me. That's a sight better than spoiled little men bent on instant gratification . How special...you get a big eight or ten point like everyone else...and your name in a record book that's not worth the paper its printed on. Should we all dress in ''Bass pro'' deer hunting garb next and Drive our big fat swollen prostates out to the heated blind at 75 mph...Oh wait tha'ts how you guys put the black dots on the fish and spread all the lake weeds. Hold your Bush light high and toast yourselves...you real hunters.
Mon, 11/11/2013 - 7:54pm
I enjoy seeing "the big one" as much as anyone. However, we hunt our deer too much. Youth hunts, archery, firearm, muzzleloader, archery again and late doe. Not an endless resource folks. Shoot them spikes and fours!! Also, when I was a young lad, I didn't need to be coddled and allowed to shoot deer in September to like hunting.
Darrin Sayre
Sun, 11/24/2013 - 3:14pm
You want to make it fair for everyone I say drop 2nd buck tag one buck per year period . Increase the doe kill so overall buck to doe ratio is in check and you get a healthier herd . Some places in the state run 20 does to one buck ratio.After spending 13 years hunting in ohio I have to say they got it right ...
jason tarno
Thu, 10/02/2014 - 10:28am
I hunt I northwestern mi last year I was able to bag two 8 points I seen more bucks than I have ever seen. Thanks to QDM and the michigan dnr keep up the good work. I seen a 4 point last year with at least a 16" spread very hard to pass up but wasn't a issue because bucks were plentiful. If venison is the issue shoot a doe. I make me laugh all these jokers hunt for two or three days and call themselves hunters. If I shot the first deer that stepped out that would take all the fun away what's the point. I understand not everyone has time to hunt noproblem take a doe. Michigan has big trophy buck potential if we all work togather everyone will be able to take a eight point every year. Thanks again Michigan dnr!!!!
Sun, 12/06/2015 - 1:21pm
First of all Michigan deer seasons and bag limits are crazy. Two bucks and pretty much unlimited does thanks to insurance companies wanting everything dead. I have hunted Mi my entire life and am truly saddened at what has happened to our states deer hunting. Bucks have to live to maturity to get big, bottom line. Also unbeknown to most of us the doe plays the biggest part in genetics. Talk to the most successful breeders and the right doe plays the biggest role. I now hunt Ohio more so than Mi because they have it together. There logic is simple take does for the freezer and if they shoot a buck they hold out for a good one, and it shows. I don't believe there is a hunter out there in Mi who wouldn't like to see 8 pointers on a regular basis. One buck and aggressive doe harvest ( where necessary ) could have a substantial affect on our deer herd here. Also I do a lot of hunting on public land and hunter etiquette doesn't exist, in fact its down right disgusting . No regard for safety of other hunters, stealing other hunters stands,not marking stands with name and address, illegal size bait piles everywhere, cutting trees that shouldn't be cut for clearing shooting lanes. I love Mi and when talking to other hunters from midwestern states they say Mi could be the best state for big bucks and deer hunting in general , if our Management was better. Our deer are so stressed from non stop hunting that this alone can affect the size of our bucks and fawns. The only way it will change is if we take it upon ourselves to do so. The attitude of well if i don't shoot it the next guy will would stop if most guys knew that was the only buck they could shoot. Look, I love deer hunting and the reason the one buck tag makes sense is simple. Feel free to shoot the buck of your choice, but know it is the only one you can shoot that season. Unless your one of those( poachers) who uses other peoples tags and calls yourself a hunter, not! Thanks for reading good luck to all.
steve bruechert
Mon, 06/13/2016 - 2:30pm
if you are truly hunting for meat than these antler restrictions shouldnt bother you at all.. I would much prefer to harvest a MATURE doe over an IMMATURE small buck for the table and the (old school) mindset of taking does is ignorrant and been proven so for over two decades.i have hunted michigan all over the state except the up good bucks can be found altho very few far between but thanks to the ridiculous 2 bucks 0 doe per hunter bag limits our herd is so unbalanced that i have counted over 60 doe for every buck on more than one occasion.And whats more that buck was either a spike or fork horn 1.5 year old. this is not deer managment this is deer mismanagement.with the amount and diversity of land in our beautiful state we could have one of the best herds in the country and instead of one of the worst. one that would draw hunters from all over the country and generate jobs and money that we are losing to neighboring states. just saying people
Mon, 08/15/2016 - 11:37pm
Michigan is a complete joke for hunting white tails! Our laws are a joke and hunters who kill spikes for meat is a joke! You can kill a doe any hunt you sit for meat! The people who are happy with spikes are the people who have never even seen a 4 yr old buck in the stand. And why? Bc the Michigan DNR manage this state so poorly! We allow 2 bucks per hunter! We allow shotgun/rifle in the middle of rut! And yes my Friend! It is in fact about tyrophy deer! If bucks didn't grow antlers more than half of all hunters wouldn't waste there time! Just aske yourself this. When's the last time you seen a mature buck hunting? Can't remember!? That's bc guys like yourself kill anything with antlers and your excuse is "meat" we started a co op in my area bc the DNR is a joke..and you know what! It put 3 bucks on my wall 120in 131in and a 150in 11pt.. So buddy, your new name is SPIKE! Plz reply! Id love you make you eat your words, but your probly to busy eating your 3 pt
Tue, 08/16/2016 - 12:06am
This was intended for anyone who praises Michigan DNR and anyone who kills 1 1/2 old bucks..whether there spikes 4pts and 6pts...you want meat kill a doe! You want trophys..PASS small bucks! And try to use just one buck tag! In 3 yrs youl see the difference..you DNR supporters are clueless..my brother works for them and it's all about money and insurance company's! NOT managing the herd..do your home work boys! We have everything in Michigan to create monster bucks..! But things will never change by supporting a tasteless DNR with money motivated laws with insurance kick backs to the DNR funded by US!