NRC Decisions Reduce UP Deer Hunting Success

NRC Decisions Reduce UP Deer Hunting Success

In spite of an increase in UP deer numbers this year due to a record mild winter last winter, UP hunters are being prevented from taking advantage of that increase thanks to the Natural Resources Commission. If current deer hunting regulations remain in place, many of those deer will be lost during the next severe winter. Deer Hunters For Responsible UP Deer Management are challenging the NRC decisions in court to try to prevent that from happening at the same time they try to make sure UP hunters get their fair share of whitetails. The group feels it is far better for hunters to harvest more deer to reduce winter losses and prevent damage to limited winter habitat.

The group is also concerned about the spread of CWD in the UP. Current regulations protect many yearling bucks and does, whitetails that are most likely to spread the disease. The only deer with CWD that has been examined so far, which was a doe that most likely had fawns, was collected on a crop damage permit. Deer Harvest regulations that are now in effect reduce the chances of hunters harvesting diseased deer. That is more likely the reason no additional deer with CWD have been detected in the UP than the fact they aren’t present.

Last year, the DNR recommended liberalizing UP deer hunting regulations starting this fall to allow hunters in the region to take more whitetails to better manage the animals, but the NRC rejected those recommendations. The proposed changes would have made harvest regulations in the UP the same as most of the rest of the state and would not have had a negative impact on the deer herd due to the lower number of deer hunters that now hunt in the UP. An estimated 78,142 hunters hunted deer in the UP last fall compared to more than 100,000 in the past, according to DNR estimates. Almost 104,000 hunters tried their luck in the UP in 2013 compared to 136,000 during 2000.

The DNR recommendations would have made one buck tag on combination deer licenses unrestricted like it was before 2008, made antlerless deer legal to bowhunters over the entire UP like they were prior to 2015 and to make crossbows legal during the late archery season in December like they have been over the rest of the state since 2009.

The only place where bowhunters can use crossbows during December in the UP is in the CWD Management Zone. Vertical bows are already legal during the late archery season and the DNR has determined that there’s little difference in success rates between vertical and horizontal bows. Hunting pressure is also light during the late archery season.

“Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that allowing crossbows would increase the number of deer killed or that deer are more vulnerable to crossbows than to any other piece of archery equipment,” The DNR wrote in their recommendations. “To provide more recreational opportunity, the Department recommends allowing crossbows during the late archery season in the entire UP.”

Prior to 2015, antlerless deer were legal to bowhunters over the entire UP for at least 50 years with no negative impacts and the same thing would happen if those regulations were resumed. At the present time, antlerless deer are only legal to bowhunters on regular hunting licenses in the UP’s southernmost counties. The last year that antlerless deer were legal to bowhunters over the entire UP (2014), the DNR estimated that bowhunters harvested 4,291 antlerless whitetails. That amounts to a fraction of a deer per square mile. With fewer deer hunters, the kill would most certainly be lower if the DNR recommendation had been approved.

Both buck tags on UP combination deer licenses were restricted starting in 2008 with the intent of trying to increase the number of older-age bucks in the herd by protecting bucks with spike and forked antlers. Instead, it increased the deer herd to a level that could not be supported during a severe winter. Consequently, many of the bucks that hunters were forced to pass up during hunting seasons perished during winters that followed. Those deer also seriously damaged winter habitat before they died, reducing the ability of that habitat to support as many deer in the future.

So instead of increasing the number of older bucks in the population, regulations that put mandatory antler point restrictions on both buck tags of combination licenses resulted in fewer bucks of all age classes and dramatically lower buck harvests by hunters. UP deer hunters harvested an estimated 51,769 antlered bucks during 2008, according to the DNR, compared to only 17,057 in 2015 after eight years under mandatory antler point restrictions on UP combination deer licenses.

“Department staff have reviewed this regulation and determined that this regulation has not achieved a biological benefit and has had very little impact on shifting the age structure of bucks in the UP,” the DNR wrote in their recommendation. “To create statewide consistency and clarify buck harvest opportunities, the Department recommends removing the 3-point APR on the deer combination regular license in the UP.”

Deer Hunters For Responsible UP Deer Management was formed by Marquette outdoor writer Richard P. Smith to appeal the NRC decisions in Ingham County Circuit Court. More than $2,000 has been raised so far to help cover legal fees associated with the appeal, but the group has been charged more than $6,700 so far for legal services associated with the case.

Donations of about $2,000 have accumulated on the group’s Go Fund Me Page and additional funds have been donated directly to the organization. The link to the Go Fund Me Page is Donations for legal fees can also be sent to UP Deer Management, 814 Clark St., Marquette, MI 49855.

Members of the organization challenging the NRC were hoping hunters would be willing to donate the cost of a deer license ($20) to help cover legal fees, but donations between $50 and $100 have been common. The largest donation received so far was $500.

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