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Matt Markey

OUTDOORS

Michigan firearms season a big business for big bucks

  • Michigan-deer-hunting

    About half of the deer harvested in Michigan in 2016 were taken during the regular firearms season, which attracted nearly 600,000 hunters. The 2017 firearms season opens Wednesday.

    David Kenyon/MDNR

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About half of the deer harvested in Michigan in 2016 were taken during the regular firearms season, which attracted nearly 600,000 hunters. The 2017 firearms season opens Wednesday.

David Kenyon/MDNR Enlarge

At 6:54 a.m. on Wednesday, the regular firearm season for white-tailed deer opens in Monroe, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties, and the rest of the eastern portion of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

Exactly six minutes later, the season opens in Lenawee, Hillsdale, and Jackson counties, and the center of the state. In the western edge of Michigan, excluding a chunk of the Upper Peninsula, the season opens after six more minutes tick off the clock. In the extreme western end of the U.P., the deer firearm season will open 18 minutes after those hunters in Monroe County have fired the first rounds.

Deer season is a precise, highly regulated, and extremely popular phenomenon in The Great Lakes State. And the show is focused on those four-legged, sharp-hooved, crepuscular browsers that are found throughout Michigan. Prized by hunters for the challenge they present in their varied habitat, and for their lean, high-protein meat, white-tailed deer will bring well more than a half million hunters afield during the two-week Michigan firearm season.

“Deer hunting is one of Michigan’s most important outdoor traditions,” said Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh. “We encourage hunters across the state to enjoy some treasured time with family and friends, support local economies, and have a safe and fun time in the woods.”

Figures from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicate that hunting in Michigan has an economic clout of more than $2.3 billion in the state, with expenditures of around $1.3 billion on equipment alone.

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“Hunting provides the perfect opportunity to get out and experience Michigan’s vast natural resources, while contributing to the tremendous quality of life found here in our state,” said Michigan Economic Development Corp. CEO Steve Arwood. “We know hunting drives travel to Michigan as well as within the state, and that travel in turn generates economic impact for communities and businesses across Michigan.”

Estimates compiled by the MDNR indicate that more than 90 percent of hunters licensed in Michigan take part in the archery, muzzleloader, or regular firearms seasons for deer, and about 60 percent of the licensed hunters in Michigan hunt only deer. Michigan trails only Texas and Pennsylvania in the number of hunting licenses sold, according to data compiled by the USFWS.

Hunters in Michigan harvested 341,288 deer in the 2016 hunting seasons — second nationally to Texas. After the relatively mild winter of 2016-17, with lower snowfall totals and temperatures that were above average, wildlife biologists expect there to be more deer this hunting season.

Chad Stewart, the Deer, Elk and Moose Management Specialist for the MDNR, said in an assessment of the prospects for the 2017 firearm season that the southern tier of Michigan continues to provide high-quality habitat and should see an abundance of deer. More than half of the 2016 deer harvest in the state came from the southern Lower Peninsula. The wild card is usually the timing of crop removal in this predominantly agricultural area.

“Harvest in the southern Lower Peninsula can depend heavily on the percentage of standing corn,” Stewart said. “If corn harvest is delayed going into the firearms season, a reduced deer harvest can be expected.”

Zach Cooley, the MDNR wildlife biologist for Lenawee, Monroe, and Wayne counties, said that with farmers actively removing crops from the fields, deer will be more concentrated in their traditional travel corridors.

Dennis Tison, wildlife biologist for Jackson, Hillsdale, and Washtenaw counties, said in a recent report that despite rains that temporarily slowed the corn harvest, he expects about 65 percent of the crops will be off the fields by Wednesday’s firearms opener. “Rut activity is in full swing right now, with many hunters reporting seeing bucks chasing does,” Tison said. “We are also seeing this at the check station, with larger bucks being checked in.”

Michigan's regular firearms deer season runs through Nov. 30. Michigan suspends archery hunting during the 16-day firearm season. The archery season resumes on Dec. 1 and runs through Jan. 1. The Ohio gun season opens Nov. 27 and runs through Dec. 3, with a second phase taking place Dec. 16-17.

Michigan hunters are reminded that during the regular firearms season, the state is divided into a northern zone and a southern limited firearm deer zone, where only shotguns, certain firearms, and certain handguns may be used for deer hunting. All hunters should consult the Hunting and Trapping Digest for a complete listing of the rules, hunting zones, antler point restrictions in certain counties, and a chart of the legal hunting hours.

To identify all public lands that are available for hunting in Michigan, visit the mcgi.state.mi.us/mi-hunt/ website, which has an interactive Web-based mapping application, and a collection of PDF maps.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

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