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Michigan moves to end threat of jail to hunters who fail to report deer kills

deer in a field
Michigan lawmakers are considering reducing the penalty for failing to report a deer harvest from a misdemeanor to a civil fine of no more than $150. (Shutterstock)
  • Last year, it became mandatory for deer hunters to report their kill to the state
  • Failing to report is punishable by jail time (although that’s never been imposed)
  • Lawmakers want to reduce the penalty to a fine

LANSING — Michigan lawmakers are moving to reform a controversial law that threatens hunters with 90 days in jail for failing to notify state regulators of deer kills.

Fresh off the first season under a mandatory reporting policy that was never fully enforced, momentum is building to ease penalties to a simple fine of no more than $150.


“We’re talking about proportionality,” said Rep. John Cherry, D-Flint. “It is important to report your deer harvest. However, if you don't, it's not like a direct harm to the resource.”


Cherry is the chief sponsor of Senate Bill 52, to change the penalty to a civil fine. It passed Tuesday, sending it to the House for further consideration. It has support from Republicans, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and hunting advocacy groups.

Some Republicans want to take the matter even further, lowering penalties for defying Michigan’s deer-baiting ban or banning the DNR from requiring deer reports at all. But those efforts are unlikely to get traction in the Democratically-controlled Legislature. 

For the first time ever last fall, the state required deer hunters to report their kill within 72 hours.

The agency for decades had required only that hunters attach a paper tag to their deer carcass to prove it had been legally killed if a conservation officer happened to inquire. Wildlife officials used optional mail-in surveys to track deer hunting statistics. But fewer and fewer hunters were responding to the surveys, leaving the DNR with unreliable data as it sought to manage Michigan’s growing deer herds.

The agency’s effort to fix those shortcomings triggered a provision in the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act that makes failing to report a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. 

The agency didn’t ticket anyone for ignoring the rules, DNR Law Enforcement Division Chief David Shaw told lawmakers during a hearing on Cherry’s bill last month. 

Nick Green, a spokesperson for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said that although some hunters and lawmakers have grumbled about the reporting requirement, it serves a purpose that can benefit hunters and regulators alike. 


Data from last year’s hunt is already being used to craft better regulations for the 2023 season, Green said. Under the DNR’s old mail-in survey system, such data wasn’t always available in time for the DNR to set hunting regulations for the following year. 

The new system also offers “really cool data” for hunters, in real-time, to help them plan their excursions, Green said.

DNR officials estimated that about three-quarters of hunters reported their kill in the first season under the new reporting rules. 

When the 2023 deer hunting season opens this fall, Shaw said, DNR officers will continue to prioritize “an educational approach” over doling out tickets.

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