Editors Blog

Deer Antler Rules: Divided We Fall

Shoot this buck in some parts of Michigan, and you could be looking at thousands of dollars in fines, possible jail time, and losing your hunting license for years. (photo copyright Daniel E. Schmidt)

Shoot this buck in some parts of Michigan, and you could be looking at thousands of dollars in fines, possible jail time, and losing your hunting license for years. (photo copyright Daniel E. Schmidt)

If you need another stark reminder of where we’re at as a deer hunting community, check out the Facebook comments that are being logged in response to Richard Smith’s report on the new deer antler rules in Michigan.

Last fall, Michigan enacted mandatory antler rules in 12 counties. In short, hunters are required to pass up any buck that does not have more than 3 points on one side of its rack. According to Smith’s research, more than 100 hunters were ticketed last year for shooting sublegal bucks. Worse yet, the state’s new laws make these hunters “violators” and subjects them to stiff fines of up to $2,000 and even possible jail time.

Here are some of the Facebook comments:

“If meat is meat then shoot a doe.”

Not that easy. Doe permits are not available for many deer management area in Northern states. And, in the areas that do allow doe hunting, there were major cutbacks in areas hit with EHD. This isn’t the case in many parts of the South. In Alabama, for example, hunters can legally shoot one doe each day for every day of the season. Alabama’s season opens Oct. 15 (bow) and closes Jan. 31 in most of the state and Feb. 10 in the southern portion. Total season length is about 110 days. I have friends down there who literally put up dozens of deer each year. In Georgia, your deer license allows you to shoot five does during the season.

Those states also have huge properties that receive little hunter competition — relatively speaking — in comparison to places like Michigan. Although both Alabama and Michigan have roughly the same estimated deer population (1.7 deer),  Michigan has 800,000 hunters compared to Alabama’s 200,000. Just shoot a doe? If they were allowed to, Michigan hunters wouldn’t have any deer left.

“Let the kids kill whatever they want.”

Watch the above video. See how excited this little girl is? Absolutely priceless. Should she be allowed to shoot any buck she wants? Absolutely. But for how long? One year? Two? Ten? My guess is that little girl will be that excited over every deer she shoots for the rest of her life. She might not shake as much, but she’ll be excited. Want to tell her dad that she should have just a shot a doe instead?

The bigger point here is it’s a needless exercise. Deer hunting is a maturation process. Some folks will shoot spikes and forkhorns for a few years, then embrace deer antler rules and move up to targeting bigger bucks. Some folks don’t care and shoot small bucks their whole lives. Others wax in-between both modes. At the end of the day, if the hunter is happy with the buck he or she shot legally, the only one who is affected is the jealous neighbor who was hoping that deer would somehow survive three more years so he could shoot it. Doesn’t anyone else see the irony here?

“Not everyone has the time or land to just trophy hunt!”

Very true. What we as a deer hunting community need to realize is that of this country’s 11 million +/- deer hunters, the majority are not diehards. They’re our working-class brothers and sisters who might get out for opening weekend of gun season or maybe a few days of bow season each year. That’s it. If you’re hunting in an area with few deer, you might not even see a doe — much less have a tag to put on one. If you’re happy with a forkhorn, why should feel demonized in wanting to shoot it? Taking a buck out of the herd, regardless of its size, plays but one role in science-based management: taking one more mouth out of the food chain.

What about us hunters who can’t afford to lease or own land or get in a club?

Another good point. Deer hunting in America is fast becoming a game of the haves and have nots. But comments like these go beyond the classic public land debate. In Michigan, for example, the state owns almost 5 million acres of land. And that doesn’t include all of the Federal land that is open to deer hunting. No, the bigger point here should be “what about the hunters who have paid for land and leases?” Just because a small, vocal group successfully managed to get APRs implemented, why should the working-class stiff be handcuffed on his own property? I don’t know about you, but if I paid $3,000 an acre for hunting land, continually pay the taxes, plant food plots — whatever — shouldn’t I have the right to shoot any buck I want?

Now for the other side of the fence:

“Folks will get used to it and after three to four years, they will notice the improved buck population.”

I’ve been hearing that same comment from hunters in other states a lot lately. But those comments invariably come from diehard deer hunters. The guys I want to hear from are the casual deer hunters. Or did they merely say, “forget this nonsense” and trade their slug guns in for fishing poles? Who cares, you say? You should. We all should. There’s strength in numbers. If you need further reminders, refer to Aesop’s The Four Oxen and the Lion fable:

“A Lion used to prowl about a field in which four oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.”

Disagree with me all you want, but we are all in this together. Fighting amongst ourselves and using a ballot-box mentality on deer hunting regulations is a sure recipe for deer hunting’s demise. Deer hunting regulations should be based on sound, scientific practices that are in the best interest of the white-tailed deer. Not the whims or desires of any one of the subgroups within our community.

If we want to manage our private properties for big bucks, we should do that on our time and at our own risk.








3 thoughts on “Deer Antler Rules: Divided We Fall

  1. Logan Schmitz

    “Deer hunting regulations should be based on sound, scientific practices that are in the best interest of the white-tailed deer. Not the whims or desires of any one of the subgroups within our community.”
    I think this article gives people that manage extensively for whitetail deer a bad rap. People that manage for big bucks often have the healthiest deer herd as a result of strict management by having proper buck to doe ratio, improving habitat, and making their land the best it possibly can be to grow deer.
    I consider myself lucky to be able to have and manage a piece of private land, but that does not make me ignorant to hunters that hunt public land. This past season, I did not step foot on my own land once to bow hunt; all my bowhunting occured on public land. Why? For the challenge primarily, but also to gain an understanding on what public hunters face on a year to year basis. What I discovered is a lot of small, adolescent deer as a result from over predation by both large canines and hunters.
    I am a meat hunter. I hunt deer to feed my family throughout the year. That being said, I don’t go by the “brown is down” theory. I only kill deer that I feel can be killed without causing a drastic change in the deer herd. It is because of this I have never shot a deer on MY OWN PRIVATE LAND because of having neighbors that shoot every deer they see. I know if I shoot just as many deer as my neighbors, there will be far fewer deer if any in my area that I hunt. You don’t have to be a trophy hunter to manage land and a deer herd. ANY DEER HUNTER CAN MANAGE NO MATTER WHERE THEY HUNT.
    You say “divided we fall”. How would you want us to unify? Do you want everybody to unify to the side that throws any type of management to the wind and harvest any deer we want? Think about what this would do to the deer herd. It doesn’t take a biologist with a Ph.D. to know that without any source of management the population will decline extensively. The only way to preserve this great heritage of hunting and maintain or improve the deer herd is through management. State departments can only do so much in helping hunters manage the deer herds. It comes down to what the hunters are willing to do to preserve the deer population. It takes discipline and patience. I feel hunters today lack this discipline and patience to look at what the deer herd consists of in an area and determine what is best for both immediate and long term results.
    The biggest issue I have with your article is the harvesting of a buck, regardless of size, plays but one role in science based management: taking one more mouth out of the food chain.” Are you serious? What about the role that buck plays when breeding a doe? Fawns can’t be born unless a doe gets bred. What if there is a buck to doe ratio of 1:4? Figure that buck can breed 2 of the 4 does when they come into estrous. Those other two have to wait 21 days to come into estrous again, having the result of giving birth to their fawns almost a month later than the first two. These fawns now have a month less of summer/fall to grow and store enough energy to last through the winter. The end result for these late born fawns more often than not is being another statistic for winter mortality. And for that buck that was simply “one more mouth in the food chain” being harvested, the ratio in this area is now 1:8. What will the fawns look like the next season?

  2. Big Horse

    “Deer hunting regulations should be based on sound, scientific practices that are in the best interest of the white-tailed deer. Not the whims or desires of any one of the subgroups within our community.”

    I agree and will go as far as to add, or subgroups outside our community. I recently had a conversation with the Illinois DNR, which can be seen right here at D&DH in a thread titled “Illinois Whitetail Disaster” in the General Discussion portion of the Forums. I was informed that due to legislative pressures Illinois’ goal since 2007 has been herd reduction.

    A March 11, 2014 IDNR newsletter states that this past year the Late Winter Firearms Deer season was closed to 11 Illinois Counties that previously enjoyed it, and that in the 2014-15 season, 41 other Illinois Counties will be experiencing adjustments to deer season regulations and permit quotas.

    When asked, the IDNR said things such as droughts and outbreaks of EDH helped them reach their desired reductions in deer numbers.

    Auto accidents are sited as a major contributor to the reasons for herd reductions which I personally conclude to mean the money, power and influence of the insurance industry outweighs the “best interest” of the white tail herd.

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