It's time for a change in combination deer licenses for the U.P. back to what they were prior to 2008 with one unrestricted tag. That's the best option for scientific deer management in the region, given the reality of periodic severe winters.
That option also best serves hunters by allowing them to take bucks that otherwise would die during the winter and maximizes recreational opportunity. That option has also been preferred by the highest number of deer hunters participating in opinion surveys conducted by the Department of Natural Resources during 2006 and 2012.
You can help bring that change about by signing a petition to that effect on Change.org. A link to the petition is http://chn.ge/1fDa2vM.
Seventy percent of the deer hunters who participated in DNR opinion surveys during 2006 and 2012 supported the combination deer license with one unrestricted tag and one restricted to bucks with at least 4 points on one antler.
The reason combo deer licenses with one unrestricted tag are so popular is they allow hunters maximum flexibility, leaving which bucks to shoot up to each hunter.
A second tag allows hunters to continue hunting for an adult buck. A small percentage of U.P. deer hunters (2 percent or less) are successful in filling two buck tags. The majority of U.P. hunters don't even shoot one buck. Hunters who want to simply hunt for one buck have the option of buying a single deer license.
Since 2008, both buck tags on combo deer licenses for the U.P. have been restricted to bucks with 3 or 4 points on one antler. Hunters who wanted to avoid the antler restrictions could buy a single license, but were supposed to be limited to one buck per year.
The restricted tags on combo licenses reduced the chances of hunters bagging one buck, much less two. And the one buck bag limit for those buying single licenses has been difficult to enforce.
The objective of having both buck tags of combo deer licenses in the U.P. restricted has been to increase the number of adult bucks in the herd. Last fall marked the sixth year for those regulations. If that objective had been accomplished, the buck kill during the fall of 2013 would have increased, but it decreased.
And even though the intent of antler point restrictions on U.P. combo licenses has been to protect 50 percent of the yearling bucks, requiring hunters to pass up bucks with less than 3 points on an antler protects many older bucks. According to DNR deer check station data from 2001 through 2011, 17 percent of 2 1/2-year-old bucks had less than 3 points on an antler and 8 percent of 5 1/2-year-old bucks fell into the same category.
On annual mail surveys the DNR conducts to estimate deer harvest, hunters have been asked their opinions about recent U.P. deer licensing and support has only been about 50 percent.
Based on passage of Proposal G by state voters in 1996, the DNR is supposed to use scientific wildlife management principles in managing game species such as whitetail deer. The deer hunting regulations for the U.P. that have been effect since 2008 do not accomplish that. They forced hunters to pass up some bucks that ended up dying of malnutrition during the winter of 2012-2013.
Retired DNR deer researcher John Ozoga from Munising said that the loss of a minimum of 50,000 deer in the U.P. last winter was "in the ball park." To put that into perspective, the DNR estimated that deer hunters harvested 33,978 deer in the U.P. during the fall of 2012. Some of those deer that died last winter were bucks that current regulations forced hunters to pass up.
The potential for even more deer to die this winter is extremely high, and that higher loss will include even more bucks that hunters were forced to pass up by current regulations. Those bucks that were lost to winter not only will not live long enough to see another birthday and grow another set of antlers, they consumed valuable winter browse before they died, degrading winter habitat for future generations of U.P. deer. It is far better for hunters to remove as many deer from the population as possible during fall hunting seasons to minimize winter losses.
Richard P. Smith