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Michigan's Deer Combo License Explained and De-Mystified

Michigan Deer Combo License Explained
Travis Smola

All your questions about the Michigan combo deer license explained plainly.

Few Midwestern states are more seeped in the tradition of deer hunting than Michigan. The firearm season in the Great Lakes State is the stuff of legend and some rather famous bucks have been harvested during our archery seasons too.

For out-of-state deer hunters or new Michigan residents though, our deer hunting regulations may be straightforward enough. The combination license is not. As much as we wish the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) made it easy to understand, they have not.

Do not worry. We are here to help. As a lifelong Michigan resident and deer hunter, let me break down exactly what you are getting with a deer combo license. We will also answer some of the frequently asked questions regarding its use.

 First thing is first with a base license.

Michigan Deer Combo License Explained
Travis Smola

One change that was not met with open arms by Michigan hunters was the addition of a "base license." Basically, it is 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?

Michigan Deer Combo License Explained
Michigan.gov
Michigan Deer Combo License Explained
Michigan.gov

Many hunters get confused during their license purchase because the DNR has seemingly made things as convoluted as possible until you slow down and read them carefully. We will try to make it a little more obvious. In short, 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. For clarity, we are going to share the color-coded maps and keys from the Michigan hunting digest here. 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.

What you need to watch for are 3+ and 4+ antler point restrictions. The Michigan DNR has been experimenting with APRs in an effort to get more young bucks to live past their first year. Notably in 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.

Basically, 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 of at least one inch on one side. If you are hunting Ionia, Montcalm, and Mecosta counties, you may only harvest deer with 4+ points on one side for BOTH the regular and restricted kill tags. The DNR has also expanded APRs to most of the upper peninsula. For the 2021 seasons, most of "da U.P" will be under 3+ point restrictions for the regular tag and 4+ for the restricted tag.

Michigan Deer Combo License Explained
Michigan.gov
Michigan Deer Combo License Explained
Michigan.gov

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 in Michigan?

Yes, absolutely. For me personally, I believe this was the best change the DNR has done to combination licenses in the last 20 years. 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. This applies to both public land and private land too. Just keep in mind that if you use the tags from the combination license on an antlerless deer, that is one less antlered deer you can harvest.

If you are hunting the upper peninsula, there are some restrictions to using the combo license on an antlerless deer. This is mostly just because the deer population is not nearly as high up there. For most of the northern half of the U.P., you cannot use the combo tag on an antlerless deer. You can for some of the southern U.P. counties, but you may only use one of the combo's kill tags on an antlerless deer.

Considering that Michigan just introduced the simplified "universal antlerless deer license," in 2021 we may see more hunters going that route to harvest a doe here from now on as it eliminates all confusion entirely. Still, we love the idea of being able to use our combo for an antlerless deer. Especially for those late season hunts when big does are seemingly the only things showing up on the food plots. We may be able to fill the combo license completely every year now that we have options.

What seasons can I use the combination license in Michigan?

Michigan Deer Combo License Explained
Travis Smola

The biggest benefit to purchasing the combination license is how versatile it is for hunting 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!

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Michigan's Deer Combo License Explained and De-Mystified