2012-10-25 / Outdoors

DNR: Looking at the history of state antler restrictions

LANSING – For many years, Michigan restricted hunters to a bucks-only harvest in order to protect the reproductive capacity of the herd. This approach sustained deer populations that, at times, were scarce but still allowed recreational opportunity and a chance to put food on the table. As deer became increasingly numerous and widespread, however, it became obvious to wildlife managers that a continued focus on maximizing deer production was no longer the best approach.

Meanwhile, hunters – who became increasingly successful as the herd increased in size – began seeking different challenges. Many hunters no longer found it satisfying to simply kill a buck; instead, these hunters wanted to seek older bucks with larger antlers – “quality bucks,” to coin a phrase.

The single most important factor in determining antler size is age. Although genetics and nutrition play into the equation, virtually all bucks grow larger antlers as they age. Given Michigan’s tradition of allowing all hunters the opportunity to kill a buck every year and its large hunter population, the majority of Michigan bucks were killed the first year they sported legal antlers.

So, as some hunters began lobbying for a way to pass more of those bucks into an older age class, the idea of antler-point restrictions was broached. APRs require that deer have a certain number of antler points before they can be legally harvested – a radical idea in Michigan.

In 1956 – by which time the herd had grown significantly – the state began to allow hunters to take some antlerless deer, too, by making licenses good for “any deer” in specified areas with high deer numbers. It was a controversial regulation.

Nine years later, antlerless deer hunting was expanded to allow archery hunters to take a deer of either sex with their bow license. But there were so few archery hunters and their success rate was so low, the rule seemed rather inconsequential.

But 21 years later, in 1986, the Legislature created the secondbuck license, allowing hunters to purchase an additional deer tag for firearms or archery season (though the second archery tag was good in the Lower Peninsula, only). Because the regulations would not affect the herd’s reproductive capacity, there was no biological impact in allowing additional buck harvest. So the season limit was suddenly doubled; hunters who used both firearms and bows could take up to four bucks annually, putting even more pressure on the buck population.

Five years later (in 1991) the rule was changed to limit hunters to two bucks annually, though they could still buy up to four buck tags – two for firearms and two for archery – so the law was difficult to enforce.

“In 1997, Michigan enacted APRs for the first time,” Rudolph said. “Hunters who used a secondbuck tag were not allowed to take a deer unless it had at least four antler points on one side.”

In 1999, hunters in a portion of Clare County (DMU 107) successfully lobbied the Natural Resources Commission to enact APRs restricting the harvest to bucks with at least three antler points on one side. Deliberations over the proposal had been ongoing for quite some time, and similar discussions were being held around the state as interest in APRs increased.

In 2011, a proposal was submitted to consider establishing a three-point APR in 12 counties in the northwest Lower Peninsula (Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Lake, Manistee, Mason, Missaukee, Osceola and Wexford counties). Meanwhile, the NRC assembled a work group to provide input regarding whether the process for APR proposals should be modified. The moratorium on considering proposals was lifted, several changes were made, and the proposal for northwest Michigan came into consideration.

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