For decades, the percentage of 1½-year-old or “yearling” bucks in the national harvest has been declining. Where yearlings once made up nearly 70 percent of the national buck harvest, today that number is around 34 percent and holding. However, yearling buck harvest remains high in some areas, and hunters in many areas are working to join the national trend – in particular QDMA Branches and volunteers in Michigan. In the northwestern corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula (LP), 12 counties (known as the “NW12”) were the focus of a new study by Michigan State University (MSU) that validates their work.
Antler-point restrictions (APRs) implemented by the Michigan DNR in those 12 counties in 2013 were intended to increase protection of yearling bucks. The MSU study, led by Rebecca Cain, used hunter harvest data collected before and after the implementation of APRs. The result was that yearling buck harvest dropped significantly while harvest of 2½-year-old and older bucks climbed. APRs, the authors noted, are a useful tool for advancing buck age structure.
While APRs have routinely proven successful at improving buck age structure, they also have potential for addressing other important aspects of deer management like increasing antlerless harvest and increasing hunter recruitment/retention. Both of these issues were examined in the MSU study. While the MSU study reported no statistical change in the antlerless harvest trend following APR implementation, the actual harvest data provide some additional insight. Average antlerless harvest in the NW12 increased 13 percent in the three seasons following APR implementation compared to a 16 percent decline in the surrounding counties that were not subject to an APR.
Similarly, while no statistical differences were detected for impacts on hunter recruitment or retention, it is noteworthy that the rate of hunter decline was lower in the northwest region of the LP than the statewide rate. From 2015 to 2016, according to the Michigan Deer Harvest Survey, hunter numbers in the northwest LP declined by 1.2 percent while the statewide decline was almost triple that rate at 3.5 percent. During the same period, days of hunter effort in the northwest LP declined 2.1 percent, a lower rate of decline than the statewide figure of 5.7 percent. Additionally, DNR data specifically from the NW12 counties shows an annual average of 9.83 days afield per hunter from 2001 to 2012, prior to the implementation of APRs. That annual average rose to 10.9 days afield during the first three seasons under APRs, 2013 to 2015. Collectively, these findings support QDMA’s position that APRs, while not a panacea, can be a useful strategy to address many deer management concerns.
PHOTO ABOVE: QDMA member Jim Rummer of Michigan killed this 10-pointer last season in Michigan’s NW12 counties, where an APR has been in effect since 2013. The buck was estimated to be 4½ years old. Jim is the President of QDMA’s Tip of the Mitt Branch.
With the discovery of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in south central Michigan in 2015, Michigan QDMA members have been actively engaging the Michigan DNR to address the issue. On May 4, leaders of several QDMA Branches, along with other Michigan conservation groups, submitted a proposed comprehensive disease management plan to their Natural Resources Commission. This plan was reviewed and approved by the QDMA National Office.
The recommendations include broadening efforts to protect the majority of yearling bucks statewide. QDMA supports the protection of yearling bucks in CWD zones through APRs in Michigan, as maintaining an older buck age structure helps maintain hunter interest and engagement, and QDMA recommends increased pressure on bucks 3½ years and older since CWD is often more prevalent in mature bucks.
The plan also calls for enhancing antlerless harvest incentives and opportunities. Deer densities remain high in both the CWD and bovine tuberculosis zones, and in other areas of the LP. Reducing density through antlerless harvest will aid in reducing spread of disease and improve herd health.
Further limits on baiting, supplemental feeding, movement of live deer, and movement of deer carcasses out of CWD zones are additional steps urged by the group to help curb the spread of disease.
Finally, QDMA’s Branches are urging the improvement of habitat, and they are taking an active role on public hunting lands by supplying labor and resources for improvement projects. They are also pitching in to help through a coordinated effort with DNR to increase the number of QDM Cooperatives in Michigan. Cooperatives, where they exist, can help in many of these areas through increasing hunter communication and education, improving habitat on private lands, and achieving appropriate doe harvests and yearling-buck protection – not to mention increasing hunter satisfaction, as documented in past research on hunters in Michigan Cooperatives.
QDMA commends our Michigan volunteers for the proactive engagement and cooperation with their state wildlife agency for the betterment of wild deer and deer hunters.
“We will only be successful in protecting our deer herd and deer hunting if all stakeholder groups can partner to co-create a comprehensive Michigan approach to fighting deer disease,” the authors wrote in their letter to the Natural Resources Commission.
That’s true in every state that holds whitetails. Congratulations to these Michigan hunters and QDMA members for setting an example that deer hunters everywhere should know about.
Lindsay Thomas Jr. is QDMA’s Director of Communications. Kip Adams is QDMA’s Director of Conservation.