Can you feel that change in the air? The weather is getting cooler. Deer hunting season is on the way in the Great Lakes state. Before you know it, we'll all be sitting in a treestand on a frosty morning waiting for that first sign of movement.
But before that first hunt begins, let's look at the hunting outlook for the state of Michigan in 2019.
We'll get you up to speed on new hunting regulations and what deer hunters need to know before you pick up your hunting license and the seasons start.
When does deer hunting season start in Michigan?
We'll start by running down the deer season dates for the 2019 seasons, which by and large, are mostly unchanged from previous years, but it never hurts to brush up.
- Early antlerless firearm: September 21-22
- Liberty Hunt (Youth and hunters with disabilities): September 14-15
- Independence Hunt (Hunters with disabilities: October 17-20
- Archery: October 1-November 14 and December 1, 2019-January 1, 2020
- Regular firearm: November 15-30
- Muzzleloader (Zone 1): December 6-15
- Muzzleloader (Zone 2): December 6-15
- Muzzleloader (Zone 3): December 6-22
- Late Antlerless Firearm: December 23-January 1, 2020
As you can see, not much change, which is the way most Michigan hunters like it.
CWD Concerns in Michigan
Chronic wasting disease, or CWD for short, continues to be an issue in Michigan. In 2019 it has sparked some major regulations changes (more on that later). If you're unfamiliar, it's an always-fatal neurological disease that attacks the brain and is highly contagious from deer to deer.
Last year was the first time the disease was found in an animal in the Upper Peninsula when one was found in Dickinson County. This has resulted in the DNR establishing CWD surveillance areas in Menominee and parts of Dickinson, Delta, Alger and Marquette counties. Hunters aren't required to submit deer for mandatory testing for the disease in these deer management units, but it is strongly encouraged.
Most CWD discoveries in the deer herd in recent years have been in the central part of the state in Montcalm and Mecosta counties. These two counties, along with Newaygo, Kent and Ionia are part of the core CWD area.
The DNR has put strict regulations in place regarding carcass transport in or out of the core. Hunters must debone, quarter and remove parts of the spinal column and head. If you're wanting to save the skull for a European mount or the antlers, the skull or cap needs to be cleaned of all brain matter ahead of time.
In another interesting twist, muzzleloader seasons will now be open to all legal firearms, so you can keep using your favorite rifle or shotgun into December.
The DNR is also doing an antler point restrictions study in the core CWD area this year. That means all bucks harvested in Mecosta, Montcalm and Ionia counties must have four or more points on one side.
Michigan deer hunting regulations changes
There are a few regulation changes you need to know going into the 2019 season. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has changed a few things. We've already gone over a few in the CWD section, but there's more you should know.
First, baiting has been banned for the entire lower peninsula. This is in response to CWD concerns and includes the use of salt and mineral licks. The only exceptions are for hunters with disabilities and even then, you're only allowed two gallons. You can use food-scented materials to attract the deer, but they must be made inaccessible for consumption.
Michigan is also cracking down natural urine-based attractants because of the fear some of these products could spread the prion that causes CWD. It isn't an outright ban on urine-based rut products, however. Just make sure the product you're using has a seal showing approval by the Archery Trade Association (ATA) on the label. Anything else is not legal for use.
Overall outlook for Michigan deer hunting season 2019
It's no secret that hunter numbers are dropping drastically each year in Michigan. Expect more of the same in 2019. Harvest numbers have also been down in recent years. But keep in mind that we had a slightly milder winter than the previous year. The only real exception was the polar vortex that dropped temperatures in the early part of this year. But the snowfall didn't seem as bad as 2017-2018.
Also consider that Michigan had an especially wet spring this year. In fact, there are some areas near me that flooded in the spring and STILL haven't dried out fully yet at this time. While this kind of thing causes headaches for us humans, it does mean plenty of foliage for the deer to feast on all summer.
I'm not sure about the rest of you, but the number of deer photos my trail cameras have been taking is way up. It appears a good number of fawns from last year survived the previous winter.
Lots of rain and the resulting nutrition should mean great antler growth for bucks this year and good things for Michigan hunting overall. There weren't a whole lot of notably large bucks that made headlines last year. It just seemed like many people weren't seeing a whole lot of deer. We'd expect things to bounce back.
It's worth noting that the Old Farmer's Almanac is predicting that this winter is going to be especially bad for the Great Lakes Region. They're predicting October and November, prime rut time, is going to be particularly cool. That's good, but it also may be wet, which could make for some miserable hunting. It could also mean success for those who brave the elements, while others stay home and skip out.
The good news is, drier cold weather is supposed to set in around December, which could make for some good late season muzzleloader and antlerless deer hunting as the deer start trying to recover from the rut by finding food they neglected the previous two months.
Whether your hunting area is public land or private land and no matter if you're looking for the buck of a lifetime, or just trying to fill the freezer, I just want to wish all my fellow Michigan hunters the best of luck this season!