Extended firearm deer season proposed
ESCANABA — Opening day of Michigan’s firearm deer season, Nov. 15, is a Michigan holiday, especially in the Upper Peninsula. However, the season and its opening day may change.
A bill introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives in early November looks to extend firearm deer hunting season by 10 days.
The House Bill 5244, which was introduced on Nov. 13 by Rep. Gary Eisen, aims to move the start of firearm deer season up to Nov. 5 and end on Dec. 1.
Currently, the firearm deer season runs from Nov. 15 through Nov. 30.
The bill has been referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation.
This comes after reports of declines in deer hunting permits being sold in the state.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Deputy Public Information Officer John Pepin said at this point there was no official position the department was taking on the matter.
“At this point, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has not taken a position on the legislation proposed to extend the firearm deer season,” Pepin said. “We are continuing to explore the idea and what affects such a change might have on hunters and natural resources.”
Recently, the DNR released preliminary results from deer check stations across the Upper Peninsula showing the harvest for this year’s firearm deer hunting season was down roughly 5 percent compared to 2018 and a 10-year average.
“Michigan has experienced a decline in the overall number of hunters and the DNR supports, and is actively engaged in, efforts to retain, recruit and reactivate hunters and anglers,” Pepin said. “The department also works hard to provide recreational opportunities in balance with conservation of wildlife and other natural resources.”
Local hunters, of varying years of hunting experience, weighed in on the possible change.
Tyler Bray, of Hermansville, has been hunting for 11 years.
“I think (extending rifle season by 10 days) has its pros and cons,” he said. “It might be good because it might give people a chance to get in the woods more, like our younger generation.”
Although Bray supplied a possible benefit to the change, he overall felt it wasn’t a good idea for the state because it would end up hurting the deer population.
“We might see a very, very crazy drop in our deer numbers,” Bray said.
He explained he felt 15 days is plenty of time for firearm since there are other deer seasons in Michigan before and after it.
“We already have, since Oct. 1 to bow hunt — and then you have the youth hunt leading up to the bow hunt, so I don’t really think an extra 10 days is necessary,” he said. “After rifle season, we have muzzleloader season and late bow season. I mean, I truly believe if people wanted to hunt that much that somebody could get out and learn to hunt with a bow or go out and buy a muzzleloader and hunt with a muzzleloader.”
Richard Arduin, of Hermansville, has been hunting for 54 years.
“I believe we do not need to extend the firearm season,” Richard said. “The current 15 day season is sufficient.”
Nick Arduin, of Hermansville, has been hunting for 34 years.
He said if the firearm season was to be extended, it would cause a decline in the deer population and an inferior deer herd.
“If it opens in early November when peak rut usually is the first two weeks of November, a lot of mature bucks are very active all hours of the day, which will result in a substantial increase in the harvest of mature bucks,” Nick said.
He explained a substantial increase in harvesting mature bucks would lead to them not breeding does, which would then cause a decline in population and an inferior deer herd due to younger bucks breeding.
When it comes to the decline in numbers of people purchasing hunting licenses and a decline in number of deer harvested this year, Richard, Nick and Bray all agreed extending rifle season would not increase its popularity.
According to Richard, when he first started hunting, there was only the 15 day firearm season — there was no other whitetail deer seasons like there are now, and there were more hunters then than now.
“People hunt because they enjoy hunting,” he said. “Lengthening it will not effect whether more people enjoy it, it will just put more stress on the deer population.”
Bray said he felt the decline in hunting had a lot to do with the no baiting rules put in place before this year’s whitetail deer hunting seasons.
“I think it has a lot to do with the no baiting, and people are giving up on hunting thinking just because they can’t bait means they aren’t going to shoot a deer,” Bray said.
He added the no baiting rules definitely makes hunting in the core surveillance area tougher, but it makes harvesting deer a satisfying experience because hunters are really going to have to work for it.
In July, a series of deer hunting regulations aimed at slowing the spread of chronic wasting disease were approved by the Michigan Natural Resources Commission in Lansing. The regulations include a ban on baiting in part of the central U.P. that is being monitored for chronic wasting disease after a deer tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in southern Dickinson County in 2018. Consistent with regulations in the Lower Peninsula, there is an exception to the baiting ban in the U.P. Core Area for hunters with disabilities during the Liberty and Independence hunts.
CWD is a fatal neurological (brain and nervous system) disease found in cervids (deer, elk and moose). The disease attacks the brain of an infected animal and produces small lesions that result in death. There is no cure; once an animal is infected, it will die.
Recently, the Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature has given final approval to a bill that would lift the state ban on bait and supplemental feeding, but it faces a veto from Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
According to Nick, the only way to increase the popularity in hunting again would to allow controlled feeding again.