Final statewide deer season count down 15 percent for 2014

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently issued a Michigan Deer Harvest Survey Report on the 2014 hunting seasons indicating that roughly 615,000 hunters statewide harvested a total of roughly 329,000 deer. The harvest represents a drop of 15 percent from 2013.

Wildlife managers report that regional declines in deer harvest were greatest in the Upper Peninsula, where the overall harvest was down by nearly 36 percent.

The DNR said several factors including back-to-back years of severe winter weather that depleted the deer population in some parts of the state contributed to the decline.

“In the Upper Peninsula, winter started early with more than 3 feet of snow on the ground in some areas before the Nov. 15 opening of firearm deer season,” said DNR wildlife biologist Brian Frawley. “Though not as severe as the previous season, this marked the third consecutive rough winter for the deer population in the U.P.”

Frawley said that much of the region’s drop in deer harvest can be explained by those conditions. The heavy U.P. snowfall, for example, made it challenging sometimes impossible for some firearm deer hunters to get to their camps. Given the conditions, many decided not to hunt; others, after experiencing the effects of the two previous winters, decided not to buy licenses.

“When the number of hunters is reduced in a given year, the deer harvest potential naturally is reduced, too,” Frawley said.

Across all hunting seasons, 84,099 people hunted deer in the U.P. in 2014, down about 19 percent from 2013.

DNR Director Keith Creagh said that like Michigan’s deer population, the state’s deer harvest numbers have risen and fallen in an ebb-and-flow pattern since the early 1960s.

“The number of deer harvested hit a low in the early 1970s at below 100,000 statewide,” Creagh said. “With mild winters and changing forest conditions, deer populations then rose and hunter harvest climbed to more than 400,000 by the late 1980s.”

After tough back-to-back winters in the mid-1990s, the harvest followed the population steeply downhill, but rebounded again to nearly 600,000 by the end of the decade. Since then, deer harvest has remained below 500,000 since the early 2000s.

Other population indicators

DNR deer program biologist Ashley Autenrieth said U.P. deer-vehicle collisions tallied 2,961, down 22 percent from 2013. Crop damage permit kills were down to 1,664 in 2014 from 1,745 the previous year.

“These two factors indicate a drop in the overall deer population,” Autenrieth said.

The winter severity index, crop damage permits and deer-vehicle accidents also were down in the northern Lower Peninsula.

In northern parts of the U.P., firearm deer hunters who did get to their camps and blinds found the snowy conditions had put many deer on southward seasonal migration paths early. Hunters who altered their strategies to follow those paths fared better.

Despite the challenging conditions, firearm deer hunters in the U.P. harvested 14,734 antlered bucks, with 41,415 taken in the northern Lower Peninsula and 49,110 in the southern Lower Peninsula.

Across all 2014 deer hunting seasons, nearly a fourth of hunters in the western U.P., and 14.6 percent in the eastern U.P., harvested at least one antlered buck. Statewide, the percentage jumped to 26.9 percent.