The following article appeared in the COMMENTARY of the October 25, 2013 edition of Michigan Outdoor News. Although deer is the topic, it is just as appropriate to insert turkeys, grouse, woodcock, rabbits or hare.

-Jim Maturen

I am responding to the commentary by Quality Deer Management Association member Paul Plantinga that appeared in the August 30 issue of Michigan Outdoor News. In his article, he quotes statistics on the loss of hunters from Michigan and infers that the loss of deer hunters is due to our hunters leaving the state in a quest for large-antlered bucks. There is much more to the loss than he suggests.

During 1992, Michigan counted 1,171,721 hunters. By 2008, we lost 380,932 hunters for a 32 percent loss. Between 2008 and 2011, deer hunters declined another 7 percent and deer harvested declined by 13 percent during the same period. Since 1993, we have lost about 436,000 hunters. Within a 10-year period, 50 percent of our small-game hunters disappeared. Have 400,000 hunters left the state in their quest for big antlers? Not hardly.

The club and private-land deer hunters are still with us. The loss has occurred from the ranks of those who try to hunt on our public forests, either state or national. Decades ago, the DNR estimated there were 50 to 100 hunters per square mile on areas of state forests on the opening day of the rifle deer season. Today, you are lucky to find five. Seldom do you find a deer camp set up in the same spot two years in a row.

While the private landowners are creating necessary habitat to hold deer on their land, administration after administration of the Michigan DNR has failed to create and manage required habitat for game species, from woodcock to deer, on our 3.9 million acres of state forests.

During the early 1970’s, Michigan DER wildlife biologists created a Deer Range Improvement Program. It is an excellent document that lists in detail the plant communities most beneficial to deer to be maintained. Although the percentages listed were optimum, portion of each must be maintained if there is to be deer present. Unfortunately, the plan was never implemented, and the public land hunter is reaping the lack of benefits, regardless of the bird or animal being hunted. Those of us who hunted in the 1940’s realize that the game found on our public forests today are a fraction of what we used to find.

Several years ago, the chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave a speech at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas. He stated that he was concerned about the loss of hunters and that hunting was becoming “elitist.” Those who hunt on private land remained, while those who couldn’t afford to buy land or afford a lease either didn’t have a place to hunt, or if they did hunt public land, they found game to be scarce. His description fits Michigan like a glove. Hunting on our state and national forests is pathetic. Where have our hunters gone? It sure isn’t because of a lack of big antlers.

Apparently, the DNR does not have the success rate for the public-land deer hunter. At best, one deer hunter in 10 is able to kill a buck. Now, after 10 years of hunting, the hunter finally has a buck in range, but finds that it is only a 4-point and has to wait another 10 years.

How many letters to the editor and those speaking at public meetings about the lack of deer in our state forests and the difficulty trying to retain a son or daughter in hunting before we wake up? Until we as both private-land and public-land hunters speak up, there will be a continued loss of our fellow hunters.

Pure Michigan Hunt? Only if you can afford it.

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