Tuesday, December 15, 2015

One Buck Tag System in Michigan: Where to go from here

                      Over the past couple years we have witnessed hunters taking a stand for a better deer management practice. With some proposals being passed, we still have yet to come up with a sound management plan for Michigan’s deer herd. Antler Point Restrictions (APR’s) have been proposed and passed in areas like the Upper Peninsula, DMU 487 and the Northwest 12. Although some hunters will rave about the success of this management practice, very little progress has been made with these initiatives. As another season comes to an end, a new ripple has been cast among the deer hunting community, one that most Michigan hunters have seen to be inevitable and necessary. That is a one buck tag system.
          Whether hunters want to admit it or not, it has become crucial to our hunting future that something drastic take place. Michigan boasts a rich environment that deer have once and still can thrive in. One of the leading factors in hunter dissatisfaction is that there are not enough bucks. If you have hunted in Michigan enough, you will understand how this is true, especially when hunting in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Lower. In some areas of Michigan, APR’s have been put into place to help deer live to a mature age. Unfortunately, we have not seen the results that we once thought would come from such implementations. Some hunters have shifted ideologies to a one buck tag system. This management system very well could be the saving grace to our deer herd, but could also result in a major blow to our hunting traditions.
          Giving that only a miniscule amount of hunters actually fill both buck tags in a season, it doesn’t seem to make sense to go to the one buck tag system, right? Well here’s what I have to say about that. If a hunter only has one buck tag for the entire deer hunting season (Archery, Rifle and Muzzleloader), it would promote selective harvesting. Whether you believe this to be true or not, it would at least deplete the pressure put on deer though the season as hunters will not be in the woods trying to fill a second tag after already harvesting one buck.
          There are many counter arguments to this proposal, some of which I agree with. One being that hunters will have to give up either archery or firearm hunting, given they are lucky enough to harvest a buck in archery season or if they would rather participate in the rifle season. If you haven’t already seen the possible problem with this, here it is. Michigan brings in as much as $2.3 billion annually through deer hunting’s economic impact. Restricting a hunter to just one buck tag could negatively impact that number as hunters may be less likely to travel and spend money to hunt.
           Although some could argue otherwise, Michigan is not considered a trophy Whitetail hunting state. Some parts of Michigan are more likely to produce bigger bucks than others. Southern Michigan, with an abundance of food from the agriculture and the limited access to public hunting grounds, does tend to produce not only larger deer, but more of them. Even so, the standard at which Michigan manages our deer herd is depleting the resources (deer), so much, that to harvest a deer on a consistent basis happens only to more knowledgeable hunters or to those with access to prime hunting land.
I will be the first one to admit that I love the challenge of hunting public land in Northern Michigan. I know that my odds are from the likes of hunters in Southern Michigan. But I enjoy the challenge. I have no issue with working just a little harder than other hunters who are fortunate enough to hunt land that harbors more deer. But a large amount of Michigan hunters are restricted to hunting public land and may not have the time or financial means to prepare as much as myself.
          We have to consider what the future holds for Michigan deer hunting if we keep at this pace. Will there be any deer left in twenty years? How soon until we have to put in a draw to acquire a deer permit? These are serious questions that we have to ask ourselves as hunters. Can we sacrifice going to a one buck tag system in order to save the future of our hunting heritage and traditions? Or should we engage with fellow hunters to encourage better management practices on our own terms? I’m not talking about the keyboard warriors that flock the internet to bash on a 14 year old and his fork horn four point. I want to see hunters stand up for their beliefs and not condemn, but educate other hunters.          
As hunters we are the finest conservation tool outside of Mother Nature herself. If we have any chance to continue our tradition and hunting heritage, we have to educate one another. Whether it’s a one buck tag or two buck tags, both of which require an APR or nothing at all, we as hunters need to be more accountable. Conservation has always and will always be on us.