Michigan law requires that decisions about deer hunting rules be driven by scientific data. However, a lawsuit brought by a group of Upper Peninsula deer hunters alleges that recent decisions made by the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) have ignored the best available science. The group claims that the NRC rejected changes proposed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that were made on solid scientific grounds which would have benefitted hunters and improved the health of the deer population.
The Proposed Changes To UP Deer Hunting Rules
Michigan’s DNR recommended these three changes:
- Remove antler point restrictions on one buck tag of UP combination deer licenses
- Allow bowhunters to shoot antlerless deer
- Allow crossbow hunting in the UP in December, as it is in the rest of the state
The NRC rejected these changes.
The Science Behind The Proposed Changes
The group of hunters challenging the NRC’s rejections, known as Deer Hunters for Responsible UP Deer Management, states that the DNR’s proposals were based on sound science.
First, the current antler point restriction requiring UP hunters with combination tags to only take bucks with three points or greater means that hunters are passing up far too many deer. These deer then compete with each other for food, which becomes more scarce in winter months. The deer may ultimately die of starvation anyway. The group claims that more than 100,000 deer have died of starvation since the antler point restriction was instituted in 2008. Removing the restriction would mean that hunters could get better control of the deer population and fewer would die of starvation.
The argument for allowing bowhunters to take antlerless deer is similar. It would allow hunters to take deer that would perish anyway. In fact, prior to the current restriction’s establishment in 2015, the group argues that bowhunters taking antlerless deer had no negative impact, so the restriction was unnecessary.
As for crossbows use being restricted during December, the restriction was built on speculation, according to the group. The belief was that crossbow users had an advantage over vertical bow users. However, this has not been the case in the rest of the state, where crossbow hunters have continued to hunt through December. Data shows that the success rate for crossbow hunters and vertical bow hunters is more or less the same.
Another argument in favor of the proposed changes has to do with Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). If hunters are allowed to take younger animals (antlerless and fewer than three points), they have more of an opportunity to remove deer with CWD before they become adults, breed and pass it on to their children.
This case highlights the quickly evolving nature of hunting regulations in Michigan, and reinforces the need for hunters to review the rules every year prior to going out to hunt.