Firearm deer hunting season starts Wednesday in Michigan: What to know
- About 100,000 more hunting licenses are expected to be sold before opening day for firearm season on Wednesday
- So far, kills are down from archery season, which is worrisome because of deer overpopulation
- The state encourages hunters to shoot antlerless deer to help control the population
Michigan hunters are expected to make a late run on licenses ahead of opening day for firearm deer season on Wednesday, selling another 100,000 in the next few days.
As of Oct. 31, 456,731 licenses had been sold, down about 1 percent from this time last year, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. But of those, 40,000 licenses were sold to first-time hunters, up 1 percent.
Typically, over 1 million deer licenses are sold by the end of the year, and only about 25 to 30 percent of hunters shoot a deer.
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Early trends aren’t encouraging for this season, as archery season kills are down from 2022, prompting projections that total kills will dip below 300,000 this year, said Chad Stewart, deer, elk and moose specialist for the Department of Natural Resources.
That’s bad news for a state that continues to deal with deer overpopulation, Stewart said.
Here’s what to know before the season starts.
Ammunition is hard to find
Hunters who are just now getting their licenses may have trouble finding ammunition.
“Ammunition has been really hard to get so if I can restock it, and I do but, sometimes I just end up running out,” said Ron Beckett, owner of MR Guns, a gun shop in Cheboygan.
The nationwide shortage has been ongoing for a few years, and experts blame a host of factors, from increased gun sales nationwide and supply-chain issue to a copper shortage that started in the pandemic.
Deer kills down so far
Since archery season started Oct.1, 82,578 deer have been reported killed, down 13 percent from this time last year.
At this rate, officials are worried that Michigan hunters will be well short of the 303,000 deer killed last year.
“By the end of November, the deer harvest should probably climb to about a quarter of a million,” Stewart said. “So there's a lot of deer that are taken over the next two weeks, and we are expecting really good weather for the opening couple of days of firearm season, although it's a little bit on the warmer side.”
Temperatures are expected in the mid- and upper-50s with no rain in central and northern Michigan on Wednesday.
Why kills are down
Kills are down for several reasons, including a phenomenon of oak tree overproduction known as masting. The trees are overproducing acorns, prompting deer to stay put and eat, making them less visible to humans,
Another reason could be weather. Some parts of Michigan had 8 inches of rain in October, compared to an average of 3 inches to 5 inches. That had hunters like William Schwartz avoiding the sport.
“This hasn't been a great year weather wise,” said Schwartz, 68 of Detroit. “It's different when you hunt with a bow [than] if you hunt with a gun. I hesitate to shoot a deer with a bow … especially if it's raining hard. A bow is not as lethal as a gun and tracking deer becomes a little more difficult.”
Push for antlerless deer
In late September, the state sent an open letter to hunters encouraging them to kill more does to control populations, pointing out that states such as Illinois and Ohio typically kill a far greater percentage of female deer than Michigan.
“We're asking for hunters to focus on antlerless deer earlier in the year and how that can actually benefit and improve their hunting, at the same time while helping to manage the overall population,” said Stewart, who authored the letter.
That is a tough sell to many hunters, who often like to kill bucks early in the season. Many hunters prefer bucks because they are larger and have more meat.
“Most people wait to the end of the season to shoot a doe, and I'm one of those guys,” Schwartz said. "If I saw a great big doe first thing opening day, I’d probably let it go by because I'm trying to shoot a buck.”
Different parts of the state have various restrictions on what type of firearms can be used. South of Grand Rapids and Saginaw, hunters are restricted to:
- shotgun with smooth or rifled barrel of any gauge
- a muzzleloading rifle or black powder handgun, loaded with black powder or a commercially manufactured black powder substitute.
- a conventional (smokeless powder) handgun, .35-caliber or larger and loaded with straight-walled cartridges
In the northern part of the Lower Peninsula, hunters are allowed to use hunting rifles like handguns, rifles, crossbows, bows and arrows, shotguns, and muzzleloading firearms, including black powder handguns.
Although archery season has ended, hunters can still use bows, but they would have to follow firearm restrictions and wear hunter orange.
Firearm hunting begins Wednesday and continues until Nov. 30. And hunting with a muzzleloading firearm is from Dec. 1 to Dec. 10.
Late hunting for antlerless deer using a firearm is only permitted in the Lower Peninsula from Dec. 11 to Jan. 1 on private lands.
Deer hunting with archery will resume Dec. 1 and end Jan. 1.
Info on licenses
Hunters must purchase a base license, which ranges from $6 to $151, before purchasing a deer license, specific to how many deer they want to hunt.
A universal antlerless deer tag, which permits hunters to kill doe, can be purchased for residents, and nonresidents of all ages for $20.
More information can be found here.
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