The U.P. Deer Advisory Team (UPDAT) is set to meet again next weekend in Iron Mountain. They are an ensemble of volunteer conservation stakeholders that first met a year ago to look at management options for bucks. They are also one of several such groups across the state, by region. The U.P. is a region by itself.
Focus on advancing the age class of bucks and thus improving the quality of antler racks on the deer came into focus as part of four options given to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). These options were based on input from UPDAT, deer camp surveys, and the 2010 U.P. Sportsmen's Alliance deer meetings.
The four options listed are:
One buck per year.
Two point minimum antler point restriction on both the single and Combination Licenses (a no spike horn rule).
Three point minimum antler point restriction on both the single and Combination Licenses.
Current U.P. Hunter's Choice regulation.
It should be noted that the main premise all conservationists working on this project must consider is that any option does not serve to damage the base population of deer. It is an after-the-fact type of approach, and the MDNR's continuing attempt to work with those who provide the majority of their annual revenue. It is the social side of the management science used in managing wildlife, and therefore may also create a problem.
I admire how the MDNR is working to cooperate and give the hunters a say in how things run. It could be looked at as a form of transparency, exposing the process in which other decisions are made.
Michigan has launched a major campaign to recruit and retain hunters. A lot of progress has been made, first with the change in the law that permits youngsters the opportunity to hunt small game at age 10 and big game (deer, bear, and elk) at 12. Secondly, the new Hunting Heritage Law permits kids of any age to hunt with a mentor, parent, or legal guardian, determining at what year it begins.
A prime consideration in what type of buck we can hunt should come from the perspective of each stage of hunting we experience through the years, and there are five.
The "shooting stage" is mostly for beginners. It is the point where the hunter takes their first game in following the rules of fair chase. It doesn't have to be something for the record books, it is simply good enough to enable them to say the got one.
The second level is the "limiting out stage." Here, the hunter wants to get as much of the quota allowed, again not necessarily a trophy, but more than average so that the sense of accomplishment remains.
From here we see the hunter evolve into the "trophy stage," a point where the record book, or best take on a local level is of utmost consideration. When it comes to antlered deer, the defined fit into this category starts with meeting the standards set by entities like Commemorative Bucks of Michigan, Boone and Crocket or Pope and Young, all of whom equate a trophy by total inch score of all measures of an antler rack added together.
Once reached, the now satisfied hunter decides the latest technological innovation will present the next challenge in taking wild game, so they enter the "equipment stage."
The final and most common of all is where the hunter looks more towards the fellowship of the hunt and looks forward more for the opportunity to hunt than he does the need to take; the "sporting stage."
He or she is the hunter who appreciates volunteer efforts of self control as the best means of management, using programs such as the "Let-em go and let-em grow - Take a doe where appropriate" campaign initiated years ago by U.P. Whitetails Association.
There are areas of the U.P. that remain closed to antlerless hunting, so taking a doe is out of the question. Otherwise, any buck with at least one antler with a length of three inches or better is the base rule for legal take. The other option is again the current U.P. Hunter's Choice regulations on the combination tag.
I think it fair to say that most of those who have provided input as to what they'd like to see as the best means to advance age class and thus antler development for deer hunting are older and more experienced than the younger novice. Consideration on whether tighter regulations will alienate them should play a role in what is available to take.
Moreover, if the only consideration is to put antler point restrictions as the primary consideration, one bad winter will destroy a lot of the progress made, as the loss of deer climbs from starvation and predation.
Any way you look at it, an absolute rule is a challenge no matter what you consider. I admire the effort by those on the UPDAT, as there will be no easy call. As for me, I'd leave it in the hands of the professionals and only ask that they make it as simple as possible and as always, consider the resource first.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.