2003 Firearm Deer Season Estimates Announced

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The Department of Natural Resources today announced preliminary estimates of the 2003 Michigan firearm deer season harvest. The early estimate indicates approximately 277,000 deer were taken, of which 57 percent were antlered and 43 percent were antlerless.

Final deer harvest figures, which will be available in July, are based on a mail survey of approximately 50,000 of this year's deer hunters. The 2003 preliminary estimate is slightly below the 2002 estimated harvest of 299,000, calculated from the 2002 mail survey. The state's record firearm season harvest occurred in 1998, when an estimated 351,000 deer were taken. The DNR has modified the regulations for obtaining an antlerless license and established special “antlerless-only” seasons since 1996, to encourage hunters to take antlerless deer, in an effort to reduce the statewide deer herd. The record harvests in 1998, 1999, and 2000 reflect the success of this strategy, and the deer reductions has resulted in fewer antlerless licenses available in some areas this year contributing to the reduced harvest.

Hunter success during the firearm deer season generally comprises nearly 60 percent of the total annual deer harvest. Archery seasons contribute about 25 percent, muzzleloading about 5 percent, and special antlerless seasons about 10 percent. The total deer harvest from all seasons this year is expected to rank among Michigan’s top ten deer seasons.

The preliminary firearm season harvest is estimated through a survey of southbound traffic during the 16-day firearm season and DNR Wildlife Division employees’ assessment of the season. DNR Wildlife personnel, posted at strategic locations on the state's major highways, record the number of vehicles with harvested deer seen during each counting period. The DNR-operated highway deer check stations provide additional information on the ratio of visible to not-visible deer on vehicles coming through these stations. This data incorporated into mathematical models, provides estimates of the firearm harvest for the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula. Wildlife Management Unit Supervisors, who rely on an extensive network of employee, hunter, and processor contacts during the firearm season, provide a harvest estimate for their area. The preliminary harvest estimate is derived using both the traffic survey and employee estimates.

An estimated 700,000 hunters took to the field during the Nov. 15-30 hunt. Total license sales through the firearm season were comparable to last year’s sales (1,721,507 compared to 1,724,565). The weather conditions early in the firearm season were wet (rain, mist, fog) throughout most of the state, with mild temperatures (50o-60oF) creating marginal hunting conditions throughout most of Michigan for the opener through Nov. 19. Historically, hunting success is highest in the first 3 days, and weather may have affected this year’s harvest. There was a decrease in the Lower Peninsula deer harvest from 2002. The preliminary harvest estimate is 231,000 animals compared to last year’s estimated final harvest of 255,000. Upper Peninsula hunters took an estimated 46,000 deer this fall, slightly higher than last year’s final harvest estimate of 44,000 deer. The Mackinac Bridge count of vehicles with deer crossing the bridge, throughout the firearm deer season, was up 7 percent from last year.

“Deer season is far from over, and hunters have additional opportunities for successful hunting in December,” said DNR Wildlife Chief Rebecca Humphries. “Hunters should find good deer numbers in the Western U.P. and southern Michigan.” About 20 percent of the total 2003 deer harvest is expected to be taken during the remaining deer seasons. Archery deer hunting season continues through Jan. 1. Muzzleloading deer hunting season runs Dec. 5-14 in the UP and Dec. 12-21 in the LP. There also is a late firearm antlerless deer season, Dec. 22 through Jan. 1, on private land for antlerless deer in 20 deer management units in the LP (check the Hunting and Trapping Guide for open DMUs).