Michigan has lots of deer and lots of hunters, and the state wants to keep it that way. Brent Rudolph, Michigan's deer and elk program leader, said herd management in his state is "certainly geared toward abundance of deer."
But that doesn't mean abundance at the expense of everything else. "Our focus is on trying to figure out what the appropriate number of deer is given both the positive and negative impacts deer can have," he said.
"Appropriate" also means quality animals, which Rudolph said are managed on an "area-by-area basis." And with a high number of Boone and Crockett entries, plus no shortage of hunter opportunities, the state seems to be doing things right.
Deer Population: 1.7 million
Economic Impact of Deer Hunting: $700 million
Michigan is divided into the Upper Peninsula (UP), the northern portion of the lower peninsula (LP) and the southern LP. The southern LP has the most deer but the least amount of public land.
Bigger and older deer can be found in the UP – on federal and state forest land – but deer numbers are lower because of harsher winters. Then again, hunter numbers are lower too. "If you get into some of those remote areas you might be more likely to find that buck that made it through an extra couple of years," Rudolph said, "but you may have to hunt pretty hard to find that."
Current Status of the Deer Population: 1-5 scale with 1 being poor and 5 being optimal
"We've been experiencing some [deer population] declines in the northern regions but have relatively stable numbers in the southern part of the state," Rudolph said. "We have enough deer for hunters to pursue, so I'd put it at a 4 or so."
He added that Michigan has "the classic problem: We have the greatest number of deer where it's hard to get to them."
Status 5 Years From Now
Rudolph expects it will be status quo (a 4) about five years out, but noted a couple factors he can't forecast. A big one is hunter numbers. "We've had declines in hunter numbers, and a lot of that is competition for limited resources," he said. "It's also increasingly hard in some areas of our southern region to get access to hunt deer."
Biggest Factors Over the Next 5 Years
Along with urbanization's basket of deer issues, Rudolph listed a couple issues going forward. "Probably one of the biggest is just trying to keep hunting seen as a valued activity – whether from the standpoint of serving as a tool to help mange deer in suburban settings or spending time outdoors. It's a value we don't want to see constrained by other people's differing viewpoints."
He's also concerned about habitat: "Areas that were in private timber production are becoming less and less utilized, and that means that habitat is aging." To address that, his department is "trying to focus on spreading out habitat improvement over time" instead of promoting wanton cutting.
Any Doom and Gloom?
Rudolph doesn't see any sort of crash coming, but "like many wildlife populations, deer go through cycles. It's unrealistic to think you'll always have lots of deer around. At some point you will have fewer. It's simply a fact of life."
That said, he noted the aforementioned habitat declines plus the possibility of harsh winters as factors that could possibly affect short-term deer numbers in the northern part of the state.