Michigan is a state seeped in a deep-rooted deer hunting tradition. The season dates have barely changed over the last 30 years, and the herd is as robust as it's ever been. The one thing that has changed over the years is the state's deer combo license. It's had a few small tweaks here and there, and we're not just talking about the price either. While most of Michigan's deer hunting regulations are straightforward, the combo license is not. In fact, as a lifelong Michigan resident and deer hunter, it sometimes feels like the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is trying to make it as complicated as possible. Which is why I'm going to break it down into easy to understand sections so new residents or out-of-state hunters know exactly what you're getting with a deer combo license.
A Base License Purchase Is Required
Michigan added a "base license" requirement a few years ago. It's simply a way for the state to generate some additional funding for conservation work and habitat restoration. At least they gave a bonus with this one because it doubles as a small game hunting license. If you are planning on participating in deer hunting season, you need to have this before you can buy any deer license. The prices are $11 for residents aged 17 and over, $151 for non-residents age 17 and over, and $5 for resident seniors aged 65 and over. A junior age license is only $6 for ages 10 to 16. Under 10 years old there is no cost.
What is a Deer Combo License?
Simply put, a combo license is the ONLY way license holders can harvest two antlered deer in a single hunting season. Things get confusing when we start talking about antler point restrictions (APRs) and the "regular tag" and "restricted tag." This is mostly because within different counties and deer management units (DMUs), the definition of a legal antlered deer varies. The main thing to know is for most of Michigan, the regular tag is legal for any deer that has at least one antler that is at least three inches long. The color-coded chart above comes directly from Michigan's regulations and should clarify things a bit more.
The only thing you need to watch for are 3+ and 4+ antler point restrictions. The Michigan DNR has been experimenting with APRs the last several years. The whole idea being to get more 1.5-year-old bucks to live beyond their first season. Emmet, Charlevoix, Antrim, Leelanau, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Missasaukee, Osceola, Lake, Mason, Manistee, and Wexford counties in the northwest part of the lower peninsula which require a deer with at least three points over one inch in length on the regular tag. That means spikes are completely off-limits if you are going to deer hunt in those areas.
If you are hunting in an area with 3+ antler restrictions, the animal must have three points over inch in length on one side. The deer combo restricted 4+ requires four points at least one inch on one side. The color coded chart and map of the lower peninsula above should help you figure out what will be legal for the county you hunt in 2022. The Upper Peninsula is a little different, and their restrictions haven't changed much from last year.
There are some areas of the state that have zero antler point restrictions for both the regular and restricted tags. These are mostly the chronic wasting disease (CWD) management zones. For instance, in the U.P., parts of DMU 122, 255, and 056 are all part of a core CWD surveillance area and you can shoot whatever you like on both tags. Note that these areas also have severe baiting restrictions. The antler point restrictions also do not apply to youth hunting, at least up until age 17. If a hunter turns 17 during the course of the season, they must follow APR restrictions for the county they are hunting from that point onward.
Can You Shoot a Doe With the Combination License?
Shooting a doe with a combination license is now allowed in Michigan. The DNR first started allowing hunters to tag "a deer without antlers, or antlers extending less than 3 inches above the skull" on the combo license in the 2020 season. Prior to that it was only legal for antlered deer in the firearms seasons. If you are hunting in the lower peninsula, you may harvest an antlerless deer using either kill tag. Technically, you could tag out completely on does if you so choose and you aren't in an area that restricts antlerless harvests. This applies to both public land and private land too. However, if you use one of these tags on an antlerless deer, that's one less antlered deer you can shoot.
It's a different story in the Upper Peninsula. Hunters can only use the combination license for antlerless deer harvested during the archery seasons. If you want to take an antlerless deer during firearms or muzzleloader, you will need to use the new universal antlerless deer license. The Upper Peninsula also has many more restrictions on areas where antlerless deer can be harvested simply because there are lower deer numbers up there than in the Lower Peninsula. Some DMUs are even draw-only areas, so make sure to check those regulations before heading out.
What Seasons Can I Use The Combination License?
The biggest benefit to purchasing the combination license is how versatile it is for hunting deer statewide. You may use it for archery deer, firearm deer, and for muzzleloader season. It does not matter if you use a crossbow, a rifle, or both. Buy one set of tags at the start of the year and you are good to go all season. If you are planning to do a lot of hunting in Michigan, the combination license makes much more sense than a single deer license, which is only good for the season you buy it for. Also, buying a single license means once you shoot an antlered deer, you are done for the season. It is something to keep in mind when you are shopping for licenses.
You can also use the kill tags on the combination license in the early and late antlerless firearm seasons that take place in the lower peninsula. Michigan hunters are very critical of our DNR, but we can at least give credit where it is due in the fact that the combo license is extremely useful. We look forward to trying to fill both tags this season!
READ MORE: AN OUTSIDER'S LOOK AT MICHIGAN DEER HUNTING
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