Guest Post: A Guide to Hunting in Pure Michigan

Brent A. Rudolph is the Deer and Elk Program Leader for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and he took some time to answer some of our questions about hunting in Michigan. 

When is the busiest season for hunting in Michigan? Why?

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 from 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 many wildlife populations in our region 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. Wildlife in the woods are more readily found when leaves have come off of 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 ducks, geese, or woodcock, migration comes in the fall, so a surge in abundance occurs as wildlife once widely distributed pass state-by-state through the region on the move to wintering grounds.

How does hunting vary throughout the state?

One main variation is that we establish different regulations for antlered deer and antlerless deer. Antlered deer are defined as a deer with at least one antler that is 3 or more inches in length, which is what’s looked at to identify a male deer in the field. The annual take of these male deer has much less impact on the population than the harvest of does. As a consequence, many of our deer hunting licenses entitle hunters to take a buck from anywhere in the state, and we do not have an overall limit to the number of individuals that may buy one of these licenses.

By contrast, an antlerless license may only be used in a specifically designated Deer Management Unit, which in many cases is a single county, and a quota is established that limits the number of antlerless licenses available in each Deer Management Unit. In southern Michigan there are more antlerless licenses are available each year because the winter snow and cold is much less of an impact on deer, and a more productive climate and soils produces more nutritious forage and agricultural crops. In this area, there are even seasons before and after the more traditional deer hunting seasons that are open only for hunting antlerless deer.

Why is hunting important to Michigan’s economy?

Our state ranks 3rd in the nation in the number of licensed hunters, with around 750,000 individuals buying a license to hunt inMichiganin any given year. About 90 percent of all hunters in Michigan pursue deer. In 2010, that amounted to 656,500 hunters spending 9.6 million days in the field hunting deer. Studies have estimated deer hunting in Michigan has a more than $500 million annual economic impact on our state, and directly supports more than 5,300 jobs.

What’s the public benefit of hunting?

In addition to the overall economic benefits hunting activities provide to all Michigan citizens, hunters essentially foot the bill for nearly all 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 3 dollars generated through federal excise taxes on hunting equipment.

Hunting also serves as a tool to manage wildlife populations in public areas. 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. The only feasible means of addressing these potential negative impacts at a substantial geographic scale is through setting hunting regulations to reduce or maintain deer populations at a certain level.

Finally, there are a variety of social and cultural values associated with hunting deer and other wildlife. 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 is blessed with an abundance of public land. 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.

Do people travel to Michigan just for hunting? Beyond deer hunting, what are some other popular animals to hunt in Michigan?

About 20,000 out-of-state hunters pursue deer in Michigan each year, not including college students that are entitled to purchase resident licenses and Military Licenses that are also available to non-residents serving in the armed forces. 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 bears, 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 than it is 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 that 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 literally camp 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 that region of the state as well.

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). You can also follow the DNR on Twitter @MichiganDNR, @MichiganDNR_UP and @MDNR_Wildlife

Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University

Mi-HUNT Interactive Web Application:

Hunting and Trapping Resources:,

Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR):

Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger: