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10 Things MI DNR Could do to Improve Whitetail Hunting (but probably won't)

November 20, 2019

Easy, common sense, and proven - why aren’t these already implemented? 

 

(this blog is specific to the MI DNR, but if you’re from other states - how many of these does your state do effectively? )

 

     If you live in the great lakes state, you probably know the whitetail hunting

(compared to other states in the union) is not so great. In fact, in many comparison articles over the years, Michigan consistently polls in the top ten worst states for deer hunting. Some may argue it is the worst when it comes to quality of whitetail taken, with most deer being young and the buck to doe ratio being unhealthy in most areas. But why does the state boasting a great tradition of whitetail hunting and high numbers of permit sales (revenue) have such poor hunting? One could point the blame in many places, but decisions the DNR has made over the years can be directly linked to many of these problems. If fact, the MI DNR is widely considered the laughing stock of DNR around the country for their practices. It could be reasoned then that the DNR and policy/regulations changes could also go far at making hunting in Michigan great, even rivaling other renown whitetail states in the MidWest. Below is a list of what I believe would be easy, common sense, and proven changes the DNR could, and should make to meet these ends. Every person may have a different list, but these are my top 10 along with the reasoning behind them. (It should be noted that some individuals and a grassroots movement of QDM is helping some area herds, but this article is limited to what the DNR could do)

 

1. ONE BUCK TAG: Instead of two buck tags that allows tens of thousands of additional bucks to be taken, 1 buck tag would improve the age structure of bucks making a more healthy herd. Here’s how. Psychologically, when you have 2 tags in your pocket you are much more likely to take a mediocre buck for the first tag knowing you have the 2nd tag as a backup. Hunters many times are much less picky, taking the first buck that steps out and passing very few - the “Michigan mentality.” With one buck tag, it forces you to be more selective and effectively implements QDM. You pass many more young bucks (let them go and let them grow) as many hunters don’t want to end their season early or on a small deer. However if you want, you aren’t saddled by arbitrary antler point restrictions that keep you from taking what you want (even if it is a spike). If you look at good whitetail hunting states that hunters actually want to travel to (IL, IA - nonres, KS, OH, KY, etc.) you will notice they only allow 1 buck to be harvested per year. 

 

     According to locals, APR’s have seemed to help some in regions of NW Michigan that have employed them, but studies also show that APR’s encourage promotion of bad genetics and weeding out of good genetics, hurting the age structure and health of the herd long-term (This is why I don’t support APR’s as well as it not allowing hunters a choice). Think of it this way, if you are consistently shooting the young 8+ point bucks with good genetics (4 on a side), you are removing the good genetics and allowing poor genetics to proliferate. With this practice it won’t be long until all the genetics in the herd are poor ones. One buck tag more naturally regulates the age structure and health of the herd. It works elsewhere, it would work wonders for Michigan too. 

 

2. ELIMINATE THE EXCESSIVE SEASONS: Frankly put, Michigan has too many and too long of deer seasons which puts undue strain on the deer population. Early doe hunt, youth hunt, a two- week long firearms season, muzzleloader, late doe season, and archery.. did I miss any? Along with mass issuing of block permits and doe tags in some areas, this has decimated the herd over the last 20 years. Some places it has gotten so low it cannot reach a critical mass to recover. I heard one story where a farmer/hunter thought too many does were damaging crops and got a block permit. They proceeded to shoot over 30 does/fawns that year and wonder the next 10 years why they were seeing no deer when hunting. Every time a doe is shot, approximately 3 deer are eliminated from the next year’s population (if you figure they will birth twins that spring). It doesn’t take long before this exponentially affects the deer herd. You actually can take too many does, and the DNR needs to be more responsible with the extra seasons and mass permits given.

 

3. MANDATORY HARVEST REPORTING: This is another one that other states do, and Michigan does not. Some argue that the current survey system is actually better at telling successful harvests, but I disagree. It is true that a large enough survey can be very accurate within a given tolerance range. The big assumption here, however, is that a fairly even number of successful/non-successful hunters reply to the non-mandatory survey. Do higher numbers of successful hunters report than non-successful ones? If so, or if other variances exist in who responds, then this system is fatally flawed. This potentially inaccurate data is then used by the DNR to figure the deer population and make decisions about seasons and bag limits. With mandatory reporting, the DNR would have actual data from honest and successful hunters and be able to better know what was taken, in which counties, and therefore make better management decisions. Its as if the DNR doesn’t want to know (so they can fudge the numbers and make arbitrary decisions for other purposes?), since this automated system would be very easy to setup, and actually cost less man $$ since deer check stations could be eliminated. 

 

4. 1 WEEK GUN SEASON: Another laughing point of many other states. With the huge number of “orage army” participants, 2 tags in their pocket, and 2 weeks during the whitetail’s most vulnerable time (the rut), it’s a wonder any deer survive. A much more healthy and responsible approach would be several 3-4 day hunts throughout the fall (like Illinois, and not during the rut), or a one week season not during the rut (like Ohio’s - first week of December). The “tradition” of the November 15-30th two week season is not a good enough reason to leave this one be.

 

5. CHOP YOUTH SEASON: Not entirely nix, but put common-sense limits that actually produce the desired outcome. According to the DNR, the desired goal is to introduce youth to hunting in hopes to get them hooked and hunters for life (and the DNR collecting revenues from them, which seems to be a driving factor in decision making). However, the current setup does not produce this, but actually the opposite. Now a youth can hunt at any age, and kill any deer (until they are 16 years old). Since whitetail are still in summer patterns at this time, these kids easily sit over bean fields and kill monster bucks when most vulnerable. This creates an unrealistic view of hunting which will be a demotivating shock when they get older, and leaves nothing to look forward to since hunting will be tougher when they actually join regular hunting seasons. A better approach would allow teaching of hunting skills, and wet their appetite. For example, allow kids from 8-11 years old to shoot 1 deer a year, but only two bucks total during this 4 year period with APR restrictions keeping them from harvesting a large animal (giving incentive to join the regular seasons when of age). Also, once they can legally hunt a regular season, why allow them to still hunt the youth season? Currently Michigan youth can hunt the early youth season until they are sixteen. This also disincentivizes them from joining the hunting force that  the DNR claims they want them to. Once they can legally bow hunt (12 years old), they should not be able to participate in the youth season, thus forcing them to hunt regular seasons - the goal. 

 

6. DROP CWD HYSTERIA: Maybe you believe in jumping on bandwagons and throwing things at a wall hoping desperately that one will stick, but I do not. The current approaches in Michigan, following Wisconsin’s historic slaughter, is not backed by data but driven by a “follower” mentality and fear. The DNR does not know that slaughtering deer, or banning baiting, will actually do anything to slow or stop the spread of CWD. Prions supposedly stay in the soil and plants for up to 25 years able to be spread, so mass killings will not stop the spread unless all deer are eradicated and kept out of an area for 25 years. Sound plausible? Not to me. Also, deer are not dying from CWD, they are dying from excessive bullets and arrows flying at them. Even in the “hot zone” in WI, the percent of deer with CWD has not increased, or decreased, since the DNR implemented these tactics. That does not sound like a “success”, and the DNR does not have a way to measure if it is. Science should rule, not guesswork. DNR should have test groups to see the effect of given strategies before implementing them, which is basic middle school science. For example, MI DNR should have 2 test groups to see if baiting affects spread of CWD, as well as mass extinction. The latter would be tougher, but still plausible. To test the effect of baiting, one group of deer are baited  and tested for CWD with known CWD present (lets say 10% of the herd) - the test group. They are then tested over time to see the spread, compared to a group that is the exactly same except no baiting is allowed - the control group. DNR would then know if a baiting ban actually decreases the spread of CWD because of actual data, which is needed for scientific and good decisions.

 

7. INTRODUCE CWD RESISTANT GENETICS: Instead of focusing on knee jerk reactions and ones without scientific evidence, why not help deer farmers introduce the genes that actually stop it from spreading? Deer farms around the state and country have identified the genes that make deer resistant to getting CWD. Why not stop wasting money on strategies that don’t work, and use it to help farmers isolate these genes and then spread them to wild deer? Over time this would affect the whole deer herd making CWD a thing of the past like vaccines have for polio and measles in humans.

 

8. RESTRICT CROSSBOWS: In my opinion the decision to allow crossbows in regular bow season a few years ago was completely based on revenues. The MI DNR saw an opportunity to make more tag sales, and they changed regulations to do so. With this came other consequences, however. From what I’ve seen, the consequence is many poor hunters and poor shooters entering the woods. Lets face it, a crossbow is basically a gun (scope and all) and hunters usually do not practice with them. This leads to many poor shots and lost deer, as well as the “orange army” of gun season now invading the archery woods. This leads to decreased quality of hunting, in my opinion. Instead of the DNR chasing people to try to get $ (which usually has a “push away” effect - lowering of standards spiraling quality further downward), they should set the standard high and let people rise to it. Senior citizens, or medically incapable people should be the only ones to be allowed using crossbows from my point of view.  

 

9. ELECT HEADS OF DNR AND NRC: Making these high-ranking decision makers prove their resume, show a track record, and show results is a needed component that adds accountability to the system making up all the rules determining our hunting future. Right now, there is none. The NRC (natural resource commision) positions are appointed, not elected, with no criteria. They answer to no one, and make the decisions for everyone. This needs to change. Heads of DNR are also long term positions regardless of their success and results of what they do. Making these much like senate positions, elected every two years, would make the decision makers accountable to the hunters of the state they serve, and allowing the voters to clean house if necessary. I believe, it is necessary.

 

10. SIGN IN ON PUBLIC LANDS: Public lands can be a great thing, but those who use them know that many people lack common courtesy and abuse this privilege. Ruined hunts, confrontations, and over-hunting are common and could be easily solved. Dividing lands into sections and allowing only so many people in each one (who would have to register with a hunter ID number or their tag number) would not only minimize the above, but also allow for more accountability. Hunters and DNR would know who is hunting where and when, making hunters self-regulate more and maintain areas better. If a trail cam, stand, or other equipment were stolen you would know who was in the area, who to talk to, and this would deter acts of this nature to begin with. If garbage was left strewn around, again the DNR would have a short list of who to contact. Wouldn’t it be great to know that another gun or bow hunter, or even bird hunter wasn’t going to ruin the hunt you’ve put so much effort into by marching into your area? Yep it would solve that too.

 

Common sense, easy, proven solutions the DNR could make to improve whitetail deer hunting in Michigan. Will they take my advice? Probably not.

 

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