The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has released its annual deer hunting preview just ahead of the 2020 seasons, opening with this weekend’s Liberty Hunt (Sept. 12-13) for youth and hunters with disabilities. Overall, conditions are looking excellent for the upcoming seasons, and hunters can expect conditions that meet or exceed 2019.
Hunters who have seen the 2020 Hunting Digest may have noticed quite a few regulation changes. These changes reflect the evolution of deer hunting in Michigan.
“The last 20 years have resulted in dramatic and sustained declines in hunter numbers,” said Chad Stewart, DNR deer and elk program leader. “When combined with an abundant and resilient deer herd that continues to grow, and the added challenge of managing deer diseases, that shifting dynamic required some significant changes.”
The updated regulations take those three factors into consideration and are aimed at giving hunters rules that are easier to understand, improved flexibility in how deer licenses can be used and more value for their time and money.
The 2020 regional deer hunting forecast includes:
The Upper Peninsula deer herd seemed to fare well last winter. This, coupled with a good spring and excellent summer growing season, has most areas reporting more deer sightings than last year. Field staff is anticipating a slightly better hunting season.
While soft mast (berries, apples, etc.) appears spotty across the region (likely due to late frost conditions in spring), the hard mast (nuts, acorns, etc.), particularly acorns, appears to be excellent in those areas with oak trees. Hunters should be on the lookout for oak trees producing acorns and invest time determining if deer have trails near these areas.
During the archery season, hunters now can take an antlerless deer with either a deer or deer combo license, except in deer management units 027, 031, 036, 042, 066, 127 and 131.
Northern Lower Peninsula
Last winter had little to no impact on deer abundance in the northern Lower Peninsula, with numbers high across much of the region. Antler development and body size look exceptionally good this year, likely due to mild winter conditions and good natural food sources available in the spring and summer.
Soft mast appears spotty, but acorn production seems quite good throughout the region in areas with oak trees. Hunters can anticipate an even better hunting season this year, weather permitting.
Under the new regulations, the early and late antlerless firearm seasons are open on private lands only in all mainland Lower Peninsula deer management units. Additionally, hunters in all deer management units may take an antlerless deer with a single deer license or deer combo license during the early and late antlerless seasons and the archery, firearm and muzzleloading seasons.
Southern Lower Peninsula
The winter in southern Michigan was very mild and likely had no impact on the deer herd. Deer numbers appear to be quite high, and large bachelor groups have already been seen across much of the region. Field staff anticipate more hunter success this season.
Hard mast appears spotty in the south, but soft mast production of apple and pear seems very good. Staff recommends seeking out areas with wild apple and pear trees. Also, deer in this region are showing strong antler development and body size, and overall fawn numbers are very high.
In the southern Lower Peninsula, hunters may take an antlerless deer with a deer or deer combo license during the early and late antlerless seasons and the archery, firearm and muzzleloading seasons. Also, the muzzleloading season will be open to all legal firearms in Zone 3 in Bay, Isabella, Mecosta, Midland, Newaygo, Oceana and all remaining counties in southern Michigan.
Finally, muzzleloaders can be used on public lands in Zone 3 in Bay, Isabella, Mecosta, Midland, Newaygo, Oceana and all remaining counties in southern Michigan during the late antlerless firearm season to take any deer with a valid tag. Late antlerless season is still a “private land ONLY hunt” everywhere but Zone 3, and public lands may be used only by those hunting with a muzzleloader.
No matter the goal – a freezer full of venison, reconnecting with family and friends, or time and space in the woods – the DNR wishes all hunters a safe, enjoyable season.
For more information about 2020 deer hunting regulations, visit Michigan.gov/Deer or check out the 2020 Hunting Digest.