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Why is Deer Hunting Season in the Fall?

Travis Smola

If you don't already know, we have the answer for you.

Fall is finally upon us and the 2018 deer hunting seasons are either already open or about to open in many states. In some cases, some nice bucks have fallen already.

But did you ever wonder why the season dates are in the fall and winter?

The answer is a little more complicated than you might think and is directly tied to deer hunting history and deer biology.

The days before structured hunting seasons

Why is Deer Hunting Season in the Fall
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Let's look at my home state of Michigan when looking at deer season. These days, the two general seasons are archery season which runs from Oct. 1-Jan. 1 and firearms season, which runs from Nov. 15-30, right in the thick of the rut.

There are antlerless deer seasons, special muzzleloader seasons and youth seasons in there, but for the most part, you'll find most Michigan hunters doing their big-game hunting in that November time frame. It wasn't always that way. Prior to 1859, there was no season for whitetail deer in Michigan and there was no limit on how many animals hunters could shoot. Even then, it wasn't until 1895 that they finally started requiring a deer permit.

Michigan experimented with all sorts of deer season dates and possession limits. The season was as long as five to seven months long at several points! Unfortunately, in many cases, seasons had to be closed completely just to give the animals a chance to recover. For instance, from 1891-94, the county I hunt in, Van Buren, was completely closed to deer hunting.

It's wild for me to think about whenever I'm sitting in my blind every November. As I'm watching loads of does feed in the field in front of me, I simply can't imagine a time when deer were rare here.

Over-hunting was common throughout the U.S. By 1930, whitetails were in real trouble across North America. By 1930, it was estimated whitetail deer population numbers were at just 300,000 in the U.S. It wasn't just deer either. Wild turkey numbers also suffered in this time. It got so bad for the game bird that they nearly went extinct!

When to place the season

Why is Deer Hunting Season in the Fall
Travis Smola

Unfortunately, humans are flawed and completely unchecked hunting simply wasn't an option anymore. Wildlife biologists were left wondering when to place their seasons. While deer numbers were rebounding in Michigan, it became something of a taboo to shoot a doe because it was believed you weren't only killing the doe, but also killing any fawns she might have.

This resulted in buck-only rules in Michigan for years. That ended up being another mistake because it threw buck-to-doe ratios out of wack. But in 1925, the state first proposed the Nov. 15-30 season, and it's remained almost unchanged since then for the Great Lakes State.

Another factor biologists had to consider was fawn rearing. If hunting season were held during the time of year when does are giving birth, you'd end up with a lot of orphaned fawns. Without their mother, these young deer simply wouldn't make it. You'd end up killing two deer with one shot. This probably happened a lot in the 1800s when some Michigan hunters shot deer in the summer simply for their hide.

By the time October and November rolls around, many does may still have fawns hanging around, but the deer are finally old enough to make it on their own should their parents die.

Again going back to the turkey, you'll notice the timeline for hunting is almost the complete opposite because turkey breeding season is in the spring. Turkeys are a little more unique than deer in that their young grow much faster. That's why some states are able to have fall turkey seasons.

Would you really want to deer hunt at any other time?

Why is Deer Hunting Season in the Fall
Travis Smola

Fall and winter deer seasons have become so ingrained in hunting culture that we simply can't imagine pursuing them at any other time of year. No matter if you're hunting whitetails, mulies, blacktail or coues deer. And when you think about it, would you really want to?

We simply can't imagine sitting in a treestand on a hot June or July day swatting bugs and sweating from the 90-degree temperatures. The warm temperatures are another logistical problem for hunting in the heat. Remember the last time you had to let a deer lay up overnight and recover him the next morning? Yep, that's just not an option if you want to make use of the meat.

Also, it would just be a shame to bring down that big buck before his glorious antlers had finished growing. It's taken hundreds of years for biologists to figure out when best to place deer season, but it seems they finally hit the sweet spot.

NEXT: #WHITETAILWEDNESDAY: THE RAREST DEER COLOR PHASE OF ALL: MELANISTIC 

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Why is Deer Hunting Season in the Fall?