2007-10-04 / Outdoors

Archery deer hunting season enters 70th year

October is a fantastic month to be in the woods. Most mornings are cool and the days warm. Being in a tree stand, archery hunting for deer, as the sun peaks over the horizon is worth getting out of bed a couple of hours early.

Watching the sun highlight the fall leaves is just one of the enjoyments of archery deer hunting.

"Deer hunting has been a popular pastime in Michigan for a very long time," said Rodney Clute, biggame specialist for the Department of Natural Resources.

The first regulations restricting deer hunting were established in 1859, when a portion of the year was closed to the taking of deer. However, there was no bag limit or restriction of the method of take.

"The first deer license was required in 1895, which really marked the beginning of deer management in Michigan," Clute said. "It cost 50 cents and 14,500 were sold."

By 1937, the number of people purchasing a deer license had increased over 10 times to 157,000. At that time, department biologists reported there were about 1.1 million deer in the state (about one-third in the Upper Peninsula and two-thirds in the northern Lower Peninsula - only a very few deer were present in southern Michigan).

In response to hunters who wanted the opportunity to hunt with a bow and arrow, Michigan established a special archery season in 1937 in Iosco and Newaygo counties.

During that first archery season, Nov. 1-14, 186 archery hunters took only four deer, but hunters regarded the season as a success. In their opinion, "seeking game with a bow and arrow instead of a long range gun requires much more skill on the part of the hunter."

The sport grew rapidly. By 1948, almost 10,000 people purchased an archery deer license and 67 of Michigan's 83 counties were open to archery deer hunting. The bow and arrow deer season also was extended to Oct. 1 through Nov. 5.

"Archery deer hunting continues to grow," said Michael Bailey, supervisor of the Wildlife Division's Species/Habitat Section. "In 2006, over 300,000 hunters participated in the archery deer season and harvested 125,000 deer."

But on average, Bailey said only 40% of archery hunters will bring home venison. According to the hunter surveys, the average archery deer hunter spends 14 to 15 days afield, and, in 2006, all archery deer hunters spent 4.5 million days deer hunting.

"It takes a tremendous amount of skill and perseverance," said Clute, who is an archery hunter himself. "Archery deer hunters must understand white-tailed deer behavior and daily movement patterns. They must spend time selecting their hunting locations and have great patience. And, even with all that work done, there is never a guarantee that a deer will come within shooting range."

This year's archery season begins statewide on Oct. 1 and continues through Nov. 14. Then following the firearm deer season, archery season again begins Dec. 1 and concludes Jan. 1.

DNR biologists estimate Michigan's statewide fall whitetail population to be slightly above the estimated 2006 deer population.

According to the DNR's annual statewide deer hunting forecast, the deer herd is dynamic and not evenly distributed across the state. The whitetails' reproductive capability and their ability to adapt to the variety of habitats across the state have resulted in a Michigan deer herd estimated to be over 1.6 million animals.

This is exciting to citizens who enjoy hunting or observing deer, but is problematic to the habitat and the overall ecosystem.

Deer distribution also varies within every deer management unit, and most of the deer population is found on private land.

"In the last decade, the southern half of the Lower Peninsula has contained an increasing proportion of the statewide deer population," said Clute. "For the past four years, the estimated southern Michigan deer harvest has exceeded 50% of the statewide harvest."

And that figure, he said, has increased to 60% over the past two years, and DNR biologists expect that trend to continue in 2007.

"Our goal has been to reduce the size of the herd in southern Michigan, but that's only realistic if hunters cooperate and if landowners allow hunters on their land," Clute said.

But even though a deer may not be harvested, the time spent in a tree stand waiting for a deer is never boring. Many hunters say they enjoy the solitude and the scenery.

Squirrels and chipmunks are scurrying around storing acorns and walnuts for the winter. Ducks and geese are migrating south in large formations and fox can be seen hunting for dinner.

Depending upon your hunting location, not so common animals also may be seen as well, such as a moose in the Upper Peninsula or an elk in northern Lower Michigan.

Most archery hunters feel successful just sitting in a tree stand with the anticipation of taking a deer. We hope you have a great archery deer season.

(Editor's note: This article was provided by the DNR as part of its "Showcasing the DNR" program.)

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