By Howard Meyerson
Deer hunters have a bit to think about over the next couple of months as state wildlife biologists finish gathering data from surveys sent out to just over 4,000 hunters asking if they support expanding antler point restrictions (APRs) throughout the Lower Peninsula.
Two new proposals are on the table for 2014. If approved – and that is a long way from being decided – the deer hunting landscape will change drastically in the Lower Peninsula. It is up to deer hunters to decide whether for better or worse.
The proposals were brought to the Michigan DNR by an organized group called the Lower Peninsula Deer Management Initiative. Its members support passing on smaller bucks and shooting only larger and older deer. They contend that bigger deer and healthier herds will follow – in turn, keeping hunters interested and returning to hunt. That is good for the economy and for deer hunting.
Their proposals affect the northern Lower Peninsula, what is known as Zone 2, and the entire southern portion of Michigan, known as Zone 3. APRs are now in place for 13 northwest Michigan counties and Deer Management Unit 487. The proposal would expand APR use to the rest of the NLP.
If adopted, NLP hunters would be prohibited from shooting a first deer with fewer than three antler points on a side. A second buck would have to have four points on a side, which is already required. Southern Michigan hunters would only be able to shoot deer with four points, or more, on a side. Young hunters using mentored youth or apprentice licenses would be exempt when hunting during the designated youth season. More details are available at: Michigan.gov/dnr. Type APR into the search box on top.
The change would, no doubt, be huge for Michigan – where younger bucks are the majority of what is killed. But would it result in the change that the LPDMI purports? The voices are loud on each side of the debate, but wildlife biologists are uncertain.
AGE STRUCTURE CHANGES UNCERTAIN
Brent Rudolph, the DNR’s deer and elk specialist says “APRs reliably increase the number of deer that are 2.5 years old, but that is not a mature deer. I can’t say definitively that you get a more diverse age structure. That is where the question lingers.”
More rubs and scrapes? Yes. But research to date has shown no difference in conception rates, according to Rudolph, which is what proponents suggest. The theory is that rutting and breeding is suppressed in younger bucks when there are more dominant, older bucks on the landscape passing on their genes.
HUNTERS DIVIDED ABOUT APRS
Some, like Tom Harmon, a reader in St. Helen and a lifelong deer hunter, is simply against mandatory APRs.
“This is a personal decision whether to kill or not kill a certain legal buck,” Harmon said. “I am not against letting a small buck pass on by, but to have mandatory APRs is unrealistic for the average hunter who only hunts a week or less of the season.”
What really got under Harmon’s skin was learning that out-of-state hunters were having a say about the proposals. Harmon’s cousin lives in the state of Washington where he received a Michigan APR survey. He comes back to Michigan to hunt every year with the family. Harmon believes no out-of-state hunter should have any right to comment.
“They should have zero input or vote on these important issues of how deer are killed and harvested in Michigan,” Harmon said.
DNR wildlife officials say non-resident hunters may well have an opportunity to express their views if they are randomly selected to participate. The survey approach was developed to provide a consistent and random sampling of hunters in the proposal areas.
The survey results go members of the Natural Resources Commission – something expected this spring. Approval requires a 50 percent participation rate and 66 percent approval by hunters.
“It’s going to happen whenever you pick a random sample. If five percent of the hunters in an area are non-resident, five percent will be chosen,” said Brian Frawley, the DNR wildlife researcher conducting the survey. “I don’t know how many are non-resident; it will probably represent (the views of) a handful of guys. We don’t have that many that non-resident hunters.”
One online reader, Jarrod Fletcher, responded this way to an earlier piece about APRs: “Why are people complaining about this? If you want to provide for your family, shoot a doe…It’s not about rich hunters wanting antlers; it’s about putting Michigan on the map for a chance to compete against other states for record bucks. The meat is still there, they just have to wait a year longer to shoot that deer.”
“Silverdeer,” another reader, is on the fence about APRs. He said: “I like the fact that you are going to see larger bucks with larger antlers by instituting this rule. However, there are two reasons that I don’t like it. One is that youth hunters should be allowed to disregard the APR as it will really limit things for them. The second, and I think more importantly, is if people are just hunting for a set of antlers, I feel that they are hunting for the wrong reason.
“I hunt to put something in the freezer so I can provide for my family. There are species of game that I have no interest in hunting, just for that reason. Subsequently, harvesting an animal with an impressive set of antlers is nice. But, based on what I understand, it doesn’t matter how you cook/prepare the antlers, they are really unappetizing.”
The NRC is expected to take this up in spring. It has requested additional information about the biological impacts and economics, according to Rudolph. It is not certain that they will act at that time. They may seek additional information. But hunters should be advised that the time to think about it is now. Comments can be sent to Rudolph at DNRfirstname.lastname@example.org
This story appears on MLive Outdoors