The 2012 season proved to be a little better than the year before for many Michigan hunters.
Statewide hunting success and hunter satisfaction increased, with the majority of the increase occurring in the Upper Peninsula (UP) and Northern Lower Peninsula (NLP).
Increased harvest of deer in those regions was most likely due to slowly but steadily growing deer populations in many northern areas in recent years.
The “wild card” for many Southern Lower Peninsula (SLP) hunters in some locations last year was the extensive outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) experienced in summer 2012.
EHD outbreaks were ultimately confirmed in 30 Michigan counties — mostly in the Southern Lower Peninsula — and potential outbreaks were reported in 21 other counties.
Those hunting in the immediate vicinity of EHD outbreaks saw substantially fewer deer in 2012, while many hunters just a few miles away from such outbreaks noticed no difference compared to past experience.
Overall, about the same number of SLP bucks was harvested compared to the year before, but hunters took about 15% fewer antlerless deer.
Moving forward from the 2012 to the 2013 season, the winter of 2012 got off to a late start and continued to be mild through much of January and into early February. However, increased snowfall and a late thaw made for difficult conditions for deer, most notably in the Upper Peninsula. Some areas may see decreased numbers of deer (particularly fawns) as a result of that surge of severe conditions. Fortunately, deer survival and condition in the NLP appears minimally affected heading into the 2013 season.
Effects of the nearly 15,000 deer that were found and reported to the DNR as mortalities likely due to EHD will continue to linger for some time in those areas of the SLP where the most substantial outbreaks occurred. However, very few EHD outbreaks were reported in summer 2013 (as of the end of September, only Muskegon County had a confirmed outbreak).
Wherever the disease has emerged in the past, substantial long-lasting effects have never been noticed. Hunters in areas that appear to have been hardest hit by EHD are encouraged to continue to limit antlerless deer harvest, but hunters afield this season will have an opportunity to directly assess recovery of deer in these areas.
The deer population for the Northern Lower Peninsula (NLP) is expected to be higher than last year. The late start to winter made it possible for deer to come out of winter in fair to good conditions despite the extended winter months that went into late April.
High numbers of deer sightings have been reported throughout the summer months across the northern lower region. Reported pictures on trail cameras are giving many hunters high hopes for the coming season both for larger bucks and successful antlerless harvests.
Deer hunters in the following 12 northern lower counties: Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Lake, Manistee, Mason, Missaukee, Osceola and Wexford have new antler point restrictions this year. All hunters with the exception of the Liberty Hunt and Mentored Youth Hunters that plan to harvest a buck must only target bucks with at least 3 or more antler point on one side. If you plan to harvest two bucks at least one of those bucks must also have 4 or more points on one side which is the statewide rule.
An overview of these Antler Point Restrictions is available on the Department’s YouTube page.
Mast production (fruits and nuts) has been very good throughout the region. High production of acorns, apples and beechnuts has been reported. Deer should be targeting these areas frequently. Scouting to find these areas will be very important. Contacting your local wildlife office may be a good first step; they may be able to give you insight as to which areas are producing.