Check out the latest info for Michigan. Image by Rich Waite
Season Dates (2023):
Youth season is Sept. 9 and 10. The early antlerless season is Sept. 16 and 17. The independence hunt runs Oct. 19 through 22. Bow season spans Oct. 1 to Nov. 14 and Dec. 1 to Jan. 1. Gun season is Nov. 15 through 30. Muzzleloading varies depending on the zone, but it opens Dec. 1. The late antlerless season is Dec. 11 to Jan. 1. Dates are subject to change. Check the MICHIGAN DNR WEBSITE to confirm season dates.
The Grade: C
This a state that’s ripe with pretty landscapes and scenic drives. Sits in a tree stand are more … lackluster. It receives incredible amounts of pressure. Because of high hunter densities, the buck age structure isn’t as good as in surrounding states. Further, chronic wasting disease is established in the central and southern portions of the Lower Peninsula.
Although the DNR cites reduced hunter numbers and the discovery of CWD as the cause, another downfall is the fact that the DNR recently LIBERALIZED HUNTING REGULATIONS (again). It’s highly likely the antlerless harvest could increase this year. All factors in the balance, we still can’t give it better than a C.
There are silver linings, though. Michigan offers plenty of diversity: Big woods to the north. Rolling ag lands with intermittent woodlots in the south. A healthy mix between. It also has a good bit of public land. According to the DNR, Michigan has more acres of public land than any other state east of the mighty Mississippi, albeit mostly in the Upper Peninsula. Further, DNR officials report it ranks No. 1 in the country for total archery harvest and fluctuates between No. 2 and 4 in total deer harvest. Again, although there are a lot of deer here, a huge population of hunters drives those achievements.
“Michigan as a state has a reputation for producing small bucks, but last year, nearly two-thirds of all bucks (more than 172,000) reported harvested had at least one antler with four points to a side,” said Chad Stewart, deer, elk, and moose management specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “Also, the opening of firearms season always begins on Nov. 15, regardless of the day of the week that date falls. Last year, over 45,000 deer were taken on Nov. 15 (a Tuesday), which translates to one deer taken every 0.8 seconds of daylight that day.”
So, should hunters expect a better or worse deer herd and season this year? “For the most part, it should be pretty like last year,” Stewart said. “I suspect in most places in the Lower Peninsula, deer numbers will be abundant, and hunters should have no problem finding deer or deer sign. In parts of the U.P., the same will hold true for the southern part, but hunters in the North and in select other places may experience low deer sightings or sign due to the low numbers experienced in this region in recent years.”
Antler Nation Knowledge:
The Wolverine State offers several public lands programs. State and federal hunting grounds are ABUNDANT. County lands open to hunters are more difficult to find, but these tracts often go overlooked because of that. Also, remember the HUNTING ACCESS PROGRAM (HAP), which was established in 1977 to increase hunting opportunities in southern Michigan. It’s since expanded to other areas and provides a long list of ACCESS POINTS.
“Our state has a hunter access program that offers access to private land for the public,” Stewart said. “Hunters looking for a location to hunt can hunt these private properties. Landowners can receive payment for opening their property to hunters.”
Michigan isn’t a popular destination for giant bucks. But if a big Michigan whitetail is your goal, look to southern counties. Looking at combined Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young entries, the highest concentration of record deer come from the southwestern corner of the state. Focus on areas between Ottawa, Lapeer, Berrien, and Lenawee counties. Unfortunately, private landownership dominates the region, and public opportunities are limited.
The northern half of the L.P. and U.P. are filled with public land that’s often overlooked. The deer hunting isn’t as good, but POCKETS OF OPPORTUNITY EXIST.