A Beginner's Guide to Hunting in Pure Michigan

Hunting season means something a little different to each hunter, but for many Michiganders fall is a very special time of the year.

Two deer walking through a river by the edge of a forest
Deer the woods of Randville | Photo Courtesy of Instagram Fan mbourke56

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Use this guide to learn the basics of hunting in Pure Michigan, and visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to stay up-to-date on all outdoor recreation activities available throughout the state.

When is the busiest season for hunting in Michigan?

Fall is by far the busiest season for hunting for several reasons. When hunting seasons were established many years ago, the intent was to set conditions that allowed for the maximum benefit with the minimum impact on wildlife. Fall is the best time of year to meet this objective, because most young animals are born in the spring and summer, and natural deaths most commonly occur among our region’s many wildlife populations during the winter.

Fall is also generally the time that wild animals are in their best physical condition, and therefore provide the maximum protein and nutrition. Animals have had the spring and summer growing season to feed on the most nutritious forage available, and many are in the best shape of the year before heading into the lean winter months.

Finally, for a variety of reasons, fall is the time that many animals are most available. Woodland wildlife are more readily found when leaves have fallen from the trees, and the thick, understory ferns are browning up and packing down. Bear hunting in our north country must occur in early fall, for bears will be in a den by late fall to early winter. And for many game birds, such as ducks, geese, or woodcock, migration comes in the fall, so a surge in abundance occurs as these once-widely-distributed animals pass state-by-state through the region on the move to wintering grounds.

Why is hunting important to Michigan’s economy?

The hunting and fishing industry brings in $11.2 billion to Michigan’s state economy each year. Approximately 700,000 people participate in hunting in Michigan, which supports more than 135,000 jobs in the state. 

What’s the public benefit of hunting?

In addition to the overall economic benefits, hunting license fees fund a large portion of wildlife conservation and management that is carried out in the state. Money from the purchase of licenses is not only directly invested in managing wildlife populations and habitat, but every license dollar is matched with funds generated through federal excise taxes on hunting equipment.

Hunting also serves as a tool to manage wildlife populations in public areas. For example, deer can be the source of some negative impacts such as damage to crops and forest products, deer-vehicle collisions, and helping to sustain diseases such as bovine tuberculosis. The preference deer have for eating some plant species over others can even lead abundant deer to influence how our forests look and function as habitat for other wildlife. Through setting hunting regulations, deer populations can be reduced or maintained at a certain level, creating a more balanced environment.

Finally, there are a variety of social and cultural values associated with hunting. Public awareness has grown about the impacts of the choices we make about what to eat and how that food gets to our tables, and many hunters take pride in providing their families a healthy, sustainable, local source of nourishment. And whether or not hunters are successful in harvesting game, a day outside and time spent with friends and family are always key benefits of hunting. In fact, surveys of hunters consistently show that these benefits of the overall hunting experience are the leading reasons driving hunting participation.

Where are some popular hunting locations in Michigan and/or in the Upper Peninsula?

Michigan has an abundance of public land for you to explore. About 40% of the Upper Peninsula and 30% of the Northern Lower Peninsula is in public ownership. In the Southern Lower Peninsula, 3% of the land is publicly owned, but there are some locations with sizeable State Game Areas or Recreation Areas that provide abundant hunting opportunities. Compared to many other states in the region and around the country, nearly all Michigan residents are reasonably close to land that is open to public hunting.

Beyond deer hunting, what are some other popular animals to hunt in Michigan?

Michigan is home to the largest dedicated state forest system in the nation, as well as several significant national forests, and a large network of private land open to public access. This draws out-of-state residents to Michigan to hunt forest wildlife such as deer, bear, grouse, woodcock, and snowshoe hare. Squirrels, rabbits, and pheasants are more abundant in southern Michigan, and while there are good hunting opportunities for these animals on public land areas in the region, it is also often easier to get permission to hunt these small game on the predominantly private land in this region, rather than to compete for access to hunt white-tailed deer, the state’s most popular species. Turkey hunting has grown in popularity in Michigan, as well as many other areas of the country, and there are opportunities to hunt turkeys in every part of the state.

Are there any hunting traditions in Michigan (or in general)?

Many early deer hunting traditions - which still persist to this day - developed around the need for “going north to deer camp.” In decades past, there were very few deer in southern Michigan, and so the only place deer could be hunted in the state was in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Lower Peninsula. Many Michigan citizens already live “up north,” but even in those regions, many families or groups of friends pitched in together to purchase land specifically for hunting and build a cabin to use as a “deer camp.” Many others loaded up camping gear or trailers and made annual pilgrimages to public land to camp traditionally while pursuing deer.

Many hunters still observe these traditions, but over the last few decades, deer numbers in southern Michigan have grown to provide ample hunting opportunity in all regions of the state.

Where can people go for more information about hunting rules and information?

The following resources are available for people to learn more about hunting regulations, locations and best practices, and donation programs.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR): www.Michigan.gov/DNR
You can also follow the DNR on Twitter @MichiganDNR@MichiganDNR_UP and @MDNR_Wildlife

Mi-HUNT Interactive Web Application: michigan.gov/mihunt

Hunting and Trapping Resources: michigan.gov/huntingmichigan.gov/trapping

Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger: sportsmenagainsthunger.org