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Michigan deer: Hunters share thoughts on managing a changing herd

man holding deer
Stephen Cobb, 36 has been hunting for over 20 years in Grayling. He believes limiting antlerless deer tags may help better manage the state’s deer population.
  • The declining number of licensed hunters is making it harder to control the deer population 
  • Hunters, with decades of experiences, have watched the changing landscape of hunting in the state 
  • The DNR is asking hunters and others to join work groups focused on deer management

Deer hunters with decades of experience in Michigan fields and forests have seen the changing herd population and efforts to manage it. Now, the Department of Natural Resources is hoping some of those hunters will join a new initiative aimed at finding new solutions to growing problems. 

An aging and declining hunter population has led to lower and lower numbers of deer harvested in the past decade. Meanwhile, the deer population in Michigan continues to grow, according to the DNR.


That’s complicated with increased incidence of chronic wasting disease and bovine tuberculosis, all leading to several changes to hunting rules and regulations over the years.


But not all hunters feel those DNR’s changes have been successful.

Stephen Cobb, 36, of Grayling, has been a hunter for over 20 years. He feels the DNR’s current allowance of 10 does per hunter creates a situation where bucks will migrate — sometimes to other states — in search of does. 

“The deer numbers are absolutely pathetic, especially around my area compared to what they were even when I first started hunting 20 years ago,” he said. 

Cobb hunts for sport and to feed his family. Two deer can feed a family of four for up to a year. He said he thinks the DNR should stop issuing 10 antlerless tags and go back to rules limiting hunters to one buck per year. 

“Almost every serious hunter that I know is going out of state to hunt because we don't have … deer,” he said. “Go back to the one buck a year rule, impose stricter antler point restrictions, so we actually get quality deer.”

In the Upper Peninsula, deer populations are impacted by severe weather events and predators like black bears, coyotes and wolves.

Cobb says predators are a growing problem near Grayling as well. 

“We've never had this many coyotes here and you know one coyote can kill up to 30 fawns a year,” Cobb said. “I would even be 100 percent in support of bringing back the bounty on the coyotes because our predator populations are another big issue,” Cobb said.

For William Schwartz, 68 of Detroit, expanding the length of hunting season may help hunters have more success. 

“In Michigan, for gun season we have had a season that always starts and ends exactly on the same day,” Schwartz said.“Perhaps expanding that a little bit or making sure that the first day might happen on a weekend might help.”

Schwartz has been hunting for over 40 years. Most of the time, he hunts in  Newaygo County.

Cheaper hunting licenses for seniors could be an incentive to keep them in the sport longer, Schwartz said. Officials say hunters aging out of the sport plays a significant role in the declining deer harvests. 

“As a senior I don't get a break on a doe permit like I get a break on every other license. That's the one license that I have to pay exactly the same thing as everybody else does,” he said. 

“I'm 68 years old. How many more years am I going to do this, 10 [years] would seem to be a lot you know, from my perspective and … the younger generations, I don't think are participating as much.” 

The deer population has increased in certain pockets of Michigan, especially in the lower peninsula. That growth has led to more deer-vehicle car crashes. In 2022, the state reported over 58,000 deer-vehicle crashes, occurring between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. 

In late fall, Schwartz said he recalls seeing a buck with four points on either antler, on the shoulder of Interstate 75 in Detroit. The deer was on the highway for nearly a month until it rotted away, he said. 

“If I drive to my property in Newaygo County… I'm used to seeing 20 dead deer on the side of the road, and I just didn't see that anywhere else.”


The DNR and the state Natural Resources Commission are seeking hunters and their years of experience for a new Deer Management Initiative. They’ll join individuals from other natural resources organizations and tribal partners in seeking solutions to manage the changing deer population in the state. 

“What we're trying to do is basically get enough different opinions and views in the room, so we're looking at this from all angles,” said Chad Stewart, deer, moose and elk specialist for the DNR.

People interested in the program can apply online until Jan. 31, when applications will close. Selected applicants will be notified by early February when groups are finalized. 

The program will consist of two groups, one for each peninsula. Stewart said groups will begin meeting right away with hopes to have final recommendations to the commission by early May. 

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