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Deer Hunting in MI

Deer Hunting in MI

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Published by: aspray on Apr 01, 2009
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Michigan Department of Natural ResourcesWildlife DivisionMarch 2009
A Review of Deer Management in Michigan
-History of Deer and Deer Hunting in MichiganIntroduction
“A Review of Deer Management in Michigan” is a review of scientific informationpertaining to deer, deer-related issues, and deer-management options in Michigan andsummarizes the best available biological and social science relevant to these topics. It isnot intended to provide management recommendations for white-tailed deer in Michigan.The information presented in this document was obtained from published scientificliterature, agency and university reports, unpublished agency data, and personalcommunication with deer experts and is designed to aid in completion of the MichiganWhite-tailed Deer Management Plan.You are being provided with the following information on the History of Deer and DeerHunting in Michigan to serve as background information for discussions that will occurduring the April 6-7 Deer Advisory Team (DAT) meeting. You will receive sections of the large document throughout the process of developing recommendations for the DNR.All sections will be compiled and a completed document finalized as the DAT process isconcluding.
History of Deer in Michigan
Deer have been a valuable resource in Michigan since the first Native Americans beganto hunt them. Prior to European settlement, Michigan had an abundant deer herd in thesouth. The mixture of hardwoods, wetlands, bogs, forest openings and prairies was idealfor deer. There were few deer in the virgin forests of the north, which were inhabitedmostly by elk and moose. These mature forests were so dense that sunlight could notreach the forest floor and therefore little deer food was available.As farmers and settlers moved into southern Michigan, deer habitat was eliminated byremoval of cover for crop fields and by unregulated shooting for food - deer were mostlygone from the southern Lower Peninsula by 1870. Logging of forests in the northproduced the opposite effect - more openings, brush, and young forests - the northernherd climbed to an estimated 1 million deer in the 1880s.As railroads were developed and provided access into the wilderness, market hunters shothundreds of thousands of deer. Early measures to control market hunting, by restrictingthe time frame to take deer but not the number of deer taken, were not very successful.What followed were decades of ups and downs in the deer population resulting fromchanges in hunting regulations and available habitat.
 
In 1914, Game Commissioner William R. Oates estimated that there were only 45,000deer in Michigan and recommended changing regulations limiting hunters to only 1 deer,with the goal to increase the size of the deer herd. In 1921 the 3 inch rule was enactedlimiting hunters to harvesting only deer with at least one antler 3 inches or greater inlength. The deer herd began to rebound. Some of the increase was due to habitat changesas logged-over areas produced deer browse. In addition, shrubs and other deer foodsdeveloped in many areas that had been cleared for agriculture, but abandoned during thedepression.By 1930, the abundance of deer was recognized. The first discussion of deer-vehicleaccidents began. There was also a significant amount of winter starvation and over-browsing in cedar swamps where field investigators reported a shortage of food andcover for the growing herd. Ilo Bartlett, the state's first deer biologist, reported that therewere 1.125 million deer in the state in 1937 and he began to talk about the “DeerProblem.” About 1/3 of the deer at this time were in the Upper Peninsula and 2/3 in thenorthern Lower Peninsula- only a very few deer were present in southern Michigan.Despite the state’s attempt to provide more hunting lands and to place more deer habitatin public ownership, the deer population continued to grow and peaked at about 1.5million deer in the late 1940s. At first with small hunts beginning in 1941 and then inlarger ones, antlerless deer were once again allowed to be taken by hunters in an attemptto reduce the size of the deer herd. However, before that could happen, the habitat fordeer collapsed, due to a combination of pressure from a large herd and an increase inforested areas - mature stands of timber once again began to appear on formerly loggedlands. The deer population once again dropped.To address the habitat problem, the Department of Conservation (precursor to the DNR)developed a Deer Range Improvement Program (DRIP) in 1971. The program wasdesigned to acquire and manage critical deer habitat and increase the deer herd to 1million deer by spring of 1981. The success of the DRIP, along with series of mildwinters and artificial feeding of deer by the public further propelled the herd to a newpeak of 2.2 million deer in 1995. Signs of distress in the herd appeared again.
History of Deer Hunting in Michigan
The first regulation enacted to limit the taking of deer in Michigan occurred in 1859,when the state legislature limited the taking of deer to the period of August 1 throughDecember 31. In 1881 deer that were spotted or had a red coat were protected, and itbecame illegal to kill deer using traps or while the deer was in water. In 1887 the use of dogs or artificial lights became illegal. In 1891 some areas of the state were closed todeer hunting for the first time. The state legislature shortened the season to 25 days withthe first bag limit (5 deer) and created the first deer license in 1895. Michigan sold14,477 licenses for fifty cents each with 22 non-residents paying $25 for a Michigan deerlicense. An estimated 121,000 deer were taken that year. In 1909 market hunting becameillegal as did the selling of venison. The bag limit was reduced to 3 deer. Youths lessthan 17 years of age were required to be accompanied with an adult while deer huntingbeginning in 1915 and the bag limit was reduced to 1 deer. That year, 21,061 resident

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