How would you like to face the possibility of losing your deer hunting opportunities for more than three years or five years and paying thousands of dollars in penalties for shooting a buck that was previously legal and, in fact, is legal to hunters over most of the state?
By Richard P. Smith
That’s the reality that many hunters were confronted with in the 12 counties of the Northwest Lower Peninsula where mandatory antler point restrictions (MAPR) went into effect last autumn. Conservation officers in those counties made contact with more than 100 hunters who mistakenly shot bucks with antlers that were too small, and that was probably only a fraction of the number of times mistakes were made.
The bottom line is antler rules can make violators out of normally law-abiding hunters. And those who know this only too well are the ones who mistakenly shot bucks that had previously been legal and that the hunters thought would be legal under the new regulations at the time they pulled the trigger. Some of those hunters were ticketed and lost their hunting privileges for the remainder of the year as well as three additional years besides having to pay fines, restitution and spend possible time in jail.
The penalties for mistakenly shooting a buck that doesn’t meet the new criteria for what constitutes a legal buck in those counties (at least 3 points on one antler, with each point being at least an inch long) are the same as for poachers who intentionally break the law. In both cases, an illegal deer is involved.
According to DNR law enforcement supervisor Ltd. David Shaw at the Cadillac DNR Office, the penalties for shooting an illegal deer during 2013 were $1,000 restitution, 5 to 90 days in jail, loss of hunting privileges for the year of the violation and three additional years and a fine of $250. Due to more stringent penalties for taking illegal deer that were approved this year, restitution for an illegal buck of any size is now $2,000 and loss of hunting privileges for two additional years.
Shaw’s district includes seven of the 12 counties where mandatory antler point restrictions went into effect last fall. Leelanau County is also in his district and 2013 was the eleventh year that antler rules have been in effect for that county.
“For those seven counties where the new regulations went into effect last year, we received 53 complaints of APR violations,” Shaw said. “These were either hunters who made a mistake and were reporting themselves or calling in about another hunter. Many of the calls were from hunters self reporting.
“There were 35 tickets issued in those seven counties for APR violations and 46 verbal warnings issued. Most of the verbal warnings were for hunters who self reported. In no cases did we let the people who shot illegal bucks keep the deer.”
So 81 deer were confiscated for APR violations in those seven counties. All of the deer were donated to needy families, according to Shaw. He added that officers in the district found additional bucks with sublegal antlers that had been shot and left where they fell when the shooters discovered the antlers were too small.
In those cases, the shooters decided to let the deer go to waste rather than face the penalties for shooting an illegal deer. In other cases, the hunters who made mistakes tried to salvage the meat and some of them ended up being ticketed.
“Every time there’s a new regulation, there’s a learning curve,” Shaw said. “Our position is to take an educational stance. There appears to be a steep learning curve with this regulation.
“I’m a hunter myself, so I understand what hunters face in the field when it comes to counting points,” Shaw added. “I shot a 6-point in Gladwin County last fall, where mandatory antler point restrictions aren’t in effect. I probably would not have shot that buck if MAPR had been effect. I could see the buck had antlers, but I’m not sure I could have counted the points. It had a small basket rack.”
Even though antler rules have been in effect for many years in Leelanau County, mistakes on antler points still occur there, too. Conservation officer Rebecca Hopkins dealt with 10 illegal bucks in that county during 2013. Ltd. Shaw said five complaints about antler violations were received in that county last fall, five tickets were issued and five verbal warnings were given.
Three counties where antler rules went into effect during 2013 (Antrim, Charlevoix and Emmet) are in Ltd. Jim Gorno’s Gaylord District. He said there were eight APR arrests in those counties, 15 warnings and 14 deer were seized. In some cases where young or handicapped hunters were involved, warnings were issued, but deer were not seized.
Sgt. Glenn Gutierrez is the law enforcement supervisor in the Roscommon District, which includes two new APR counties (Kalkaska and Missaukee). In those two counties, Gutierrez said five tickets were issued for antler violations, three warnings were given and three deer were seized.
So the total number of illegal deer for all 12 counties, in which the shooter was identified, comes to 112 or an average of 9.33 per county. An additional 10 deer were known to have been illegally killed in Leelanau County. These numbers only represent a fraction of the illegal kills that occurred, of course.
“We obviously don’t come in contact with all of the violations that occur,” Ltd. Dave Shaw said. “We only have one or two officers per county. There are a lot more violations going on that we don’t detect. We simply don’t have a good grasp on the violations that we don’t see.”
If the violations that officers are aware of comprise 25 percent of the total, there could have been as many as 488 illegal deer killed under antler rules in those 13 counties last fall. If the officers were aware of 50 percent of the illegal deer, the total would have been 244. Hunters who were ticketed probably were not happy for being penalized for shooting bucks that are legal over most of the state.
What do you think about mandatory antler restrictions, also known as APRs? We’d like to hear your comments – pro or con – about the issue.