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A Review of Deer Management in Michigan
-History of Deer and Deer Hunting in Michigan Introduction
“A Review of Deer Management in Michigan” is a review of scientific information pertaining to deer, deer-related issues, and deer-management options in Michigan and summarizes the best available biological and social science relevant to these topics. It is not intended to provide management recommendations for white-tailed deer in Michigan. The information presented in this document was obtained from published scientific literature, agency and university reports, unpublished agency data, and personal communication with deer experts and is designed to aid in completion of the Michigan White-tailed Deer Management Plan. You are being provided with the following information on the History of Deer and Deer Hunting in Michigan to serve as background information for discussions that will occur during 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 is concluding.
History of Deer in Michigan
Deer have been a valuable resource in Michigan since the first Native Americans began to hunt them. Prior to European settlement, Michigan had an abundant deer herd in the south. The mixture of hardwoods, wetlands, bogs, forest openings and prairies was ideal for deer. There were few deer in the virgin forests of the north, which were inhabited mostly by elk and moose. These mature forests were so dense that sunlight could not reach the forest floor and therefore little deer food was available. As farmers and settlers moved into southern Michigan, deer habitat was eliminated by removal of cover for crop fields and by unregulated shooting for food - deer were mostly gone from the southern Lower Peninsula by 1870. Logging of forests in the north produced the opposite effect - more openings, brush, and young forests - the northern herd climbed to an estimated 1 million deer in the 1880s. As railroads were developed and provided access into the wilderness, market hunters shot hundreds of thousands of deer. Early measures to control market hunting, by restricting the 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 from changes in hunting regulations and available habitat.
In 1914, Game Commissioner William R. Oates estimated that there were only 45,000 deer 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 enacted limiting hunters to harvesting only deer with at least one antler 3 inches or greater in length. The deer herd began to rebound. Some of the increase was due to habitat changes as logged-over areas produced deer browse. In addition, shrubs and other deer foods developed in many areas that had been cleared for agriculture, but abandoned during the depression. By 1930, the abundance of deer was recognized. The first discussion of deer-vehicle accidents began. There was also a significant amount of winter starvation and overbrowsing in cedar swamps where field investigators reported a shortage of food and cover for the growing herd. Ilo Bartlett, the state's first deer biologist, reported that there were 1.125 million deer in the state in 1937 and he began to talk about the “Deer Problem.” About 1/3 of the deer at this time were in the Upper Peninsula and 2/3 in the northern 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 habitat in public ownership, the deer population continued to grow and peaked at about 1.5 million deer in the late 1940s. At first with small hunts beginning in 1941 and then in larger ones, antlerless deer were once again allowed to be taken by hunters in an attempt to reduce the size of the deer herd. However, before that could happen, the habitat for deer collapsed, due to a combination of pressure from a large herd and an increase in forested areas - mature stands of timber once again began to appear on formerly logged lands. 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 was designed to acquire and manage critical deer habitat and increase the deer herd to 1 million deer by spring of 1981. The success of the DRIP, along with series of mild winters and artificial feeding of deer by the public further propelled the herd to a new peak 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 through December 31. In 1881 deer that were spotted or had a red coat were protected, and it became 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 to deer hunting for the first time. The state legislature shortened the season to 25 days with the first bag limit (5 deer) and created the first deer license in 1895. Michigan sold 14,477 licenses for fifty cents each with 22 non-residents paying $25 for a Michigan deer license. An estimated 121,000 deer were taken that year. In 1909 market hunting became illegal as did the selling of venison. The bag limit was reduced to 3 deer. Youths less than 17 years of age were required to be accompanied with an adult while deer hunting beginning in 1915 and the bag limit was reduced to 1 deer. That year, 21,061 resident
licenses were sold and 178 non-resident deer licenses were sold harvesting an estimated 8,000 deer. Antlerless deer were protected in 1921 when a deer with at least one 3 inch antler became the only deer that could be legally taken. In 1925 the firearm deer season ran from November 15 through November 30. By 1930 over 75,000 people deer hunted in Michigan and harvested an estimated 32,000 deer. In 1937 the first archery season was opened from November 1-14. There were 186 archery licenses sold and the archery harvest was recorded at 4. That year over 150,000 people hunted deer in Michigan harvesting almost 40,000 deer. In 1955 mandatory reporting was discontinued in Michigan and permanently replaced by the use of a survey to assess the annual harvest, which was first initiated in 1952. There were over 500,000 deer hunters in 1963, harvesting an estimated 124,000 deer. The first muzzleloader season opened in 1975, with an estimated 8,500 hunters harvesting around 150 deer. State records for deer hunting were set in 1997 when 870,216 unique individuals purchased a deer license in Michigan and in 1998 when an estimated 582,000 deer were harvested (Figure Z).
Statewide Annual Deer Harvest
700000 600000 Number of deer 500000 400000 300000 200000 100000 0 1963 1965 1967 1969 1971 1973 1975 1977 1979 1981 1983 1985 1987 1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 2007
Figure Z. Estimated annual deer harvest 1963 through 2007 A complete listing of historic deer hunting regulations can be found on the DNR web site at www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/DEER_REGULATION HISTORY_210705_7.pdf
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