The leaves have fallen, snow has hit the ground in many places, the "hunter's moon" has come and gone, and in less than two weeks, the Upper Peninsula's much anticipated unofficial holiday will be upon us: The firearm deer season opener.
The next two weekends will be busy for deer hunters as they make the preparations necessary before opening day: Scouting locations, setting up blinds, sighting-in rifles, packing for camp, and - last, but in no way least - buying a hunting license.
Buying a license may seem like an easy and quick thing to check off the to-do list, but considering the various licenses available to deer hunters, and the number of ways in which hunters may choose to fill their tags in the U.P., giving this one task some extra attention could ultimately translate into higher success rates in the field and increased hunter satisfaction.
DNR licensing staff encourage hunters in the U.P. to consider the following questions before making their license purchase this fall: What are your overall goals for the season, and what is your hunting strategy? Knowing the answers to these questions will make the choice easier when deciding between a combination or regular deer hunting license.
The combination license
If a hunter wants the chance to harvest two bucks, and is okay with passing up deer that don't have at least three points on one side, then a combination license may be in order.
The combination license allows hunters in the U.P. to harvest a total of two deer during the deer hunting seasons (archery, firearm, late archery, muzzleloader). However, antler point restrictions apply to both combination tags (called the regular and restricted tags). The regular combo tag can be used on a buck with three or more antler points on a side, while the restricted tag can be used on a buck with four or more antler points on a side.
While it may seem that the combination license is only geared toward trophy hunters, there is added flexibility for combo license hunters during the archery seasons, when either of the tags may also be used for antlerless deer in addition to bucks (antler point restrictions still apply for bucks during archery season).
To answer a question we hear again and again: Yes, the restricted combination tag, requiring four or more points on one side for a buck, can be used to tag an antlerless deer during the archery seasons.
The scenarios are too numerous to list them all, but consider this: A combo license hunter could potentially take two antlerless deer during the archery seasons, could take an antlerless deer during archery and then take a six-pointer or larger during the archery or firearm seasons, or could really hit the jackpot and fill both combo tags with trophy deer.
The regular license
Now, if a U.P. hunter wants the chance to harvest two deer, and would like the option to take a spike or fork-horn buck, purchasing a regular firearm deer license and a regular archery deer license may be the best choice. The caveat: While two deer may be harvested, only one may be a buck.
This one-buck restriction for regular tag hunters should be carefully weighed by those who participate in both the archery and firearm seasons and who want to harvest two deer, for if an archery hunter with a regular tag kills a buck during the first archery season, they are then done for the year in the U.P. (unless they have an antlerless deer license).
To make it clear: In the U.P., a regular firearm tag can not legally be used to harvest a buck if the hunter already took a buck in the U.P. with their regular archery tag.
So how can hunters make the most of the antler point flexibility and hunting opportunities that the regular tags offer? DNR licensing staff recommend that regular tag hunters who have a goal of harvesting two deer be willing to harvest an antlerless deer with their archery tag. The hunter will then still have the opportunity to take any legal buck (at least one antler three inches or longer) during the firearm or muzzleloader seasons.
Bottom line is this: Which license to purchase and how to fill available tags is a decision that comes down to the individual's season goals and hunting strategy.
Still have questions about how to best choose between a combination license and the regular tags? DNR customer service staff are available to help answer licensing questions in person or over the phone. Please contact your local DNR Operations Service Center for help (contact information is available at michigan.gov/ contactDNR or call our licensing center at 517-373-1204. Full details on the combination license and regular tags can be found online at michigan.gov/deer.
Debbie Munson Badini is the DNR's Deputy Public Information Officer. Have a question about natural resource management in Michigan? Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, call 906-226-1352, or get in touch on Twitter @MichiganDNR_UP.