Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Michigan white tail deer
Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources

From important dates to regulatory changes across the state—The ‘Gander’s Ultimate Michigan Deer Hunting Guide for 2021 has you covered.

MICHIGAN—Hunting is a favorite Michigan pastime, with approximately 700,000 ‘Ganders participating each year. The hobby goes into full force during autumn, when most wild animals are in peak physical condition for the best quality meat. 

Both hunting and fishing combined bring in $11.2 billion to Michigan’s economy annually.

Deer hunting is popular, and it serves the purpose to help manage the deer population. Recreational hunting helps prevent the overpopulation of deer, which can result in negative environmental outcomes, such as damage to crops and other important plants. Deer hunting is done legally with a rifle, shotgun, muzzleloader, or bow.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) and Michigan Natural Resources Commission approved updated deer hunting regulations at a virtual meeting in February 2021. These changes, which go into effect in September, were intended to simplify the existing deer regulations. These new regulations are meant to remove barriers and provide more opportunity, flexibility, and savings for hunters, including newbies that want to start. 

2021 Deer Season Dates

The MDNR has reported the 2021 deer hunting season dates as follows.

Antlerless Firearm

  • Sep. 18-19, 2021 (Early) 
  • Dec. 13, 2021 – Jan. 1, 2022 (Late)

Regular Firearm

  • Nov. 15-30

Archery

  • Oct. 1 – Nov. 14, 2021 
  • Dec. 1, 2021 – Jan. 1, 2022.
  • Urban Deer Management Zone in Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne Counties extend archery through Jan. 31, 2022.

Muzzleloading (All Zones)

  • Dec. 3-12, 2021

Liberty Hunt: Sept. 11-12, 2021

The Liberty Hunt is open to those with disabilities. Veterans are eligible with the determination of 100-percent disability or individual unemployable status, as certified by the US Department of Veteran Affairs. All others must be either blind or deaf as defined by the Michigan Compiled Laws. Individuals may also qualify if they have a permit from the MDNR to hunt from a standing vehicle or laser-sighting vehicle. Children ages 16 and younger are also eligible.

Independence Hunt: Oct. 14-17, 2021

The Independence Hunt allows use of a firearm or combination license for antlered or antlerless deer. The bag limit is one deer and Antler Point Restrictions do not apply. It is open only to those with disabilities. Veterans are eligible with the determination of 100-percent disability or individual unemployable status, as certified by the US Department of Veteran Affairs. All others must be either blind or deaf as defined by the Michigan Compiled Laws. Individuals may also qualify if they have a permit from the MDNR to hunt from a standing vehicle or laser-sighting vehicle.

Be advised to check local regulations, as not all counties participate in these seasons.

Base Hunting License

Almost every hunter in the state of Michigan will require a Base License, which is valid through March 31, 2022. Hunters must present this license in multiple situations upon request. 

Base Licenses may be purchased through the MDNR website or through an approved license vendor. To obtain this license, applicants must have a valid form of identification. This must come in the form of a driver’s license, State of Michigan ID card, or MDNR Sportcard. Sportcards are only $1 and are issued to non-residents, minors, and anyone else who does not have a valid Michigan Driver’s License or State ID.

The Base License is $11 for residents ages 17 and older, and $151 for non-residents of the same ages. A discount is provided for resident seniors ages 65 and older. 

Children ages 10 and up may purchase the Base License for $6. Children 9 and under must purchase a mentored youth license instead, but this includes one tag for any deer.

To earn a Base License, applicants born in 1960 or later must also complete a hunter education and safety course. Michigan offers these courses for no more than $10. The courses are both in-person and online, but online course participants must complete a field day within 12 months.

Wondering where all that money goes? Funding for Base Licenses supports habitat and conservation work on public and private land. It also promotes the regulation of safe and legal hunting practices by supporting conservation officers and field staff.

Base Licenses are not required to purchase a limited-license hunting application, such as the Pure Michigan Hunt.

Regulation Change: Licenses for Antlerless Deer Hunting

Hunters will no longer have to play the MDNR “lottery” to harvest does and antlerless males. The Universal Antlerless License allows hunters to hunt these deer almost anywhere, including both public and private land, during all valid deer seasons. The cost is $20 for everyone, regardless of age.

In previous years, this license was granted based on the applicant’s preferred hunting location and whether they hunted on public land or private land. This was a complicated process for hunters who liked to travel, as the previous system required these hunters to apply for multiple licenses with no guarantee of acceptance.

There are a few exceptions. Some Deer Management Units will require an additional access permit, along with the Universal Antlerless License. This includes units in the Upper Peninsula and reserved deer hunts at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, Sharonville State Game Area, Shiawassee River National Wildlife Refuge, and Shiawassee River State Game Area. 

The reason for the additional access permit is that certain units are in areas where the population is sensitive to winter weather conditions, so additional monitoring is required. These permits will be granted through a drawing.

Some Deer Management Units are closed for antlerless deer harvest during the archery seasons. Additionally, the northernmost units in the Upper Peninsula are closed to antlerless deer hunting regardless of the season.

If you specifically hunt in Alcona, Alpena, Iosco, Montmorency, Oscoda, and/or Presque Isle counties, you can buy a reduced-cost license specifically for those counties at $5. Otherwise, these counties are also included in the Universal Antlerless License.

Regulation Change: Archery in Metro Detroit

In 2018, the MDNR initiated a pilot program to extend archery deer season through the end of January specifically in Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties. 

As of 2021, the MDNR decided to make it permanent.

Chad Stewart, the MDNR deer, elk, and moose program leader, says “[The longer archery season] is a fairly low-cost first attempt for municipalities to help reduce the conflicts that arise when deer numbers rise in more populated, urban areas.”

Human/deer conflicts are more prominent in the urban areas, where deer may cause traffic collisions, feed on residential gardens, or cause other property damage.

All rules and regulations for the archery season still apply in the Urban Deer Management Zone.

Baiting and Chronic Wasting Disease

Conservation officers frequently respond to calls about baiting during deer season. Deer baiting involves placing a pile of food in a strategic location to lure deer into close range. It seems like a good strategy. And in most of Michigan, it’s very illegal.

The reason baiting is illegal in Michigan and not other states is because of the concern over chronic wasting disease (CWD). Baiting and feeding is illegal throughout the Lower Peninsula and within the core CWD surveillance area in the Upper Peninsula.

CWD is a neurological disease affecting deer, elk, and moose. It is contagious in these populations, but not to humans or other animals. The disease is transmitted either directly from animal to animal, or through contact with contaminated saliva, urine, feces, blood, carcass parts, or infected soil. Although no cases of CWD have been reported in humans, the US Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization still recommend against consumption of infected deer meat.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has already confirmed two cases of CWD in August at deer farms in Mecosta County and Montcalm County. 

If you hunt in the southern portion of the Lower Peninsula, you can help efforts to manage CWD in deer populations. The MDNR is asking hunters to bring deer heads and any antlers into their deer check stations from October 2021 through January 2022. They are most interested in deer hunted in the counties of Allegan, Barry, Branch, Calhoun, Eaton, Gratiot, southern Isabella, Hillsdale, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Lenawee, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Joseph, Washtenaw, and Wayne.

Upper Peninsula hunters may also help with CWD surveillance in the same time period if harvesting deer from portions of Dickinson, Menominee, or Delta counties. Deer harvested in Western Michigan counties are also beneficial, which includes Clinton, Dickinson, Ingham, Ionia, Kent, and Montcalm counties. However, the Western Michigan counties are only eligible for testing from Nov. 15-18.

Any deer harvested outside the critical areas or time frames may still be tested for CWD, for a fee. The Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory will accept samples for CWD testing.

An exception to the baiting ban occurs during the Liberty Hunt and Independence Hunt. Eligible hunters may begin baiting only for these hunts five days prior to the start of the season. All hunters may bait within the MDNR’s restrictions as long as they are in the Upper Peninsula and outside the CWD surveillance area.

Additionally, food plots are not considered bait. Any naturally occurring foods, standing crops, or other foods placed for agricultural purposes are exempt as long as the plot is not intended specifically to attract wildlife on public land.

COVID-19 in Deer Meat

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, observations concerning the susceptibility of animal populations to the virus have been ongoing. One of these populations may be the white-tailed deer. 

From January 2020 through 2021, the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) tested deer populations for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The study included samples taken from Michigan deer, as well as Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York.

For Michigan’s samples, 67% of the 113 samples contained SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, the highest percentage of the four states.

But does that mean you could get COVID-19 from eating infected deer meat? Not necessarily. 

Though APHIS isn’t sure how the deer populations contracted the virus, they report that there is no evidence a human can get COVID-19 through preparation or consumption of animal meat contaminated with the virus. Still, they recommend taking sanitary precautions regardless, since there are other diseases (such as CWD) that are a concern.

Read the full summary of the study here.

Hunting in State Parks and Recreation Areas

The MDNR reports about 92% of state parks and state recreation area lands are open to hunting.

All state recreation areas are open to hunting unless designated close. All state parks are closed to hunting unless designated open. Target shooting in any state park or recreation area is illegal unless it is on a designated shooting range.

Use the MDNR’s Recreation Search tool to find state-owned land that is qualified for hunting. Make sure to purchase a Recreation Passport to access these areas.

More Information to Get Started 

Consult the MDNR website to apply for licenses and permits, find a hunting location using the MiHUNT tool, read the full 2021 Hunting Digest, or see a full guide for beginners.