Thursday, June 25, 2015

Deer Hunting: Southern Michigan vs Northern Michigan


                I have floated my way through many conversations revolving around the difference between Southern Michigan deer hunting and Northern Michigan deer hunting, whether how much different or what differences there are. It’s obvious there are many differences when comparing the two, which is why one produces larger racks and yet the other is more accessible to hunters. There is no specific line where Southern Michigan meets Northern Michigan, but for the purpose of this article, let us say it’s where the corn field’s end and the Jack pines start.
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                 Much of Southern Michigan is covered in crop fields such as corn and beans. As most hunters know, that’s what deer love to eat. On the other side of the spectrum, Northern Michigan has oak trees which produce acorns. Although very abundant, oak trees do not always produce a fruitful crop. When the acorns are limited, the deer are restricted to cedar, twigs, and other browse. Limited food is a common issue in areas of Northern Michigan with less agriculture.


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                 Food plays a huge roll in how deer develop and survive. An abundance of food will give bucks a good head start on antler growth and will also support the survival rate for fawns and for all deer in that matter when considering Michigan’s harsh winters. Southern Michigan’s abundance in food helps sustain a healthy deer herd and sometimes an overpopulated deer herd. Northern Michigan is not so lucky. With limited forage, deer are restricted to browsing the tops of trees and eating bitter acorns, which can be detrimental to the winter survival rates and fawn recruitment. Most of all, it affects antler growth because many bucks cannot sustain a healthy enough diet to reach their true antler potential.
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                 Antlers will start growing as soon as the previous years have shed. Most do not know this because we don’t begin to see the new antler growth until the end of April or later. When a buck sheds his antlers, nutrition greatly affects how fast the new antlers will form. The pedestals on the head begin to form slowly until food is more abundant. How long a winter lasts and food is scares play a huge roll in when a bucks antlers can begin growing at a faster rate. If you have ever driven through Michigan in the middle of April, you can expect to start in the southern third seeing green fields and budding trees. When you get to Northern Michigan, you may still see snow and angler’s ice fishing. Because of an already limited food source in Northern Michigan, the deer must wait until the snow melts to get green forage. This can delay the antler growth process and also affect fawn recruitment.
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                 Northern Michigan has an abundance of public land. Any hunter can take up hunting with ample choices of where to hunt. Southern Michigan is far more restricted for the most part. Getting access from farmers and land owners is harder than it has ever been. This is a big reason why a lot of hunters travel from areas like Sterling Heights to as far as Big bay. This is not to say hunters do not travel to southern Michigan because a lot do have access to hunting land. If I had land to hunt in Hillsdale or Jackson County, I would have no problem traveling and neither would anyone I hunt with. But as access becomes limited, so does hunting pressure. Success rates and average age of harvested bucks can be reflected by the amount of hunters deer see and encounter. A lot of neighboring property owners are now joining forces to start a management program. This is easier to do when their land is most likely already land locked by other private property. In Northern Michigan where public land dominates deer hunting, our management plan is almost nonexistent and at the will of the DNR.

                 There are a lot of variable that affect a deer herd. Weather, nutrition and hunting pressure are just to name a few. I wish I had the number of hunters per county as I would like to speculate on that, however I do not. I am sure it would be relatively close all across the state and can be credited to Michigan’s huge tradition in deer hunting. Whether you hunt Hillsdale County for Boone and Crocket bucks or just take a trip across the bridge for a fun week at deer camp, the purpose is all the same in the end. We love to deer hunt.