By Glen Wunderlich
United States -(AmmoLand.com)- Management is a conceptual process, whereby its effectiveness, or lack thereof, is measured in tangible results.
In Michigan, the Natural Resources Commission is responsible for rules and regulations that are enforced by the DNR and carried out by us hunters. Based on antler-point restrictions, whether self-imposed or mandated by law, Michigan has steadily decreased the number of adolescent bucks killed, while increasing the percentage of older bucks killed. A quick review of where we were, what has changed, and where we are today is in order.
Nationwide, in the year 2010 hunters in 54 percent of the states had better seasons than the previous year relative to antlered bucks taken (bucks 1 ½ years or older.) A look at buck kills by age class began to shed some light behind the numbers. Michigan led the way among 13 surrounding states with a whopping 64 percent of yearlings killed compared to the total buck kill figure. Nationally, Michigan ranked dead last and its adult buck deer kill numbers were on the decline.
In 2012 Michigan hunters killed more juvenile deer than any other state. Some 53 percent of all bucks killed in year 2012 were yearlings – down from 59 percent in 2011. With antler-point restrictions approved by hunters in 12 northwest Lower Peninsula counties for the first time, more young bucks were being afforded an opportunity to mature through a change in management.
With much promise, the DNR’s 2014 budget continued a bold move toward a shift in management from sheer numbers to more quality. An entirely new system of licensing featuring a base hunting license fee of $10, which included a small game hunting license and reduced the cost of an all-species fishing license. However, to hunt deer would require another tag at $20, effectively doubling the cost. Grumbling commenced by pessimists.
A national snapshot of year 2013 shows that some states’ deer kills had declined more than 40 percent during the previous decade. Michigan was steadily decreasing the number of adolescent bucks killed, while increasing the percentage of older bucks killed. For all regions, the average percentage of the antlered buck harvest that was 3½ years and older was 34 percent in 2013, making it the highest percentage of 3½-year-old or older bucks ever reported!
The Quality Deer Management Association has released its annual deer report for the 2014/2015 season and it reveals that for the first time, every state that collects age data reported the majority of their buck harvest was at least 2½ years old. In fact, in 2014 hunters shot more 3½-year-old and older bucks than yearling bucks for the first time in recorded history! At the same time, yearling buck kills are at record lows and the percentage of 3½-year-old and older bucks taken is at a record high.
Specifically, Michigan’s numbers follow: For the years 2012 – 2014 the percentage of yearlings killed has steadily dropped from 53 to 43 percent. For the same time period the percentage of 2 ½ year-old bucks taken has risen from 28 to 32 percent, while the percentage of 3 ½ year-old bucks taken has risen from 19 to 25 percent.
While total kill numbers are trending down – and, that includes antlerless deer – many factors contribute to the decrease including various diseases, carrying capacities of habitat and harsh winters and healthy predator populations.
Again, with less and less available land for wildlife, the populations simply cannot continue to increase. However, the proven principles of managing deer for quality are sweeping the nation and Michigan is showing the way.
About Glen Wunderlich:
Charter Member Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA). Outdoor writer and columnist for The Argus-Press (www.argus-press.com) and blog site at www.thinkingafield.org Member National Rifle Association (NRA), Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), member U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance (USSA), Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), Commemorative Bucks of Michigan (CBM).