Deer season in Michigan is normally open in the fall through the early winter – from early October until the end of the year. Michigan is divided into three hunting zones: the upper peninsula (zone 1), the Northern zone (zone 2), and the Southern zone (zone 3). Each zone has multiple Deer Management Units (DMU) within it.
There is also a “Limited Firearm Deer Zone” that includes most of the Southern zone. All zones follow the same dates for the normal Archery, Firearm, and Muzzleloader seasons. There are two special seasons for youth hunters and hunters with disabilities, and also an early and late antlerless deer season in some areas.
In this article, we will discuss the various seasons, the licenses that are required, and the regulations for deer hunting in Michigan. Before hunting in Michigan, hunters should review the current Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) hunting digest, as well as the article below. There is much information to keep in mind, so read carefully.
Hunting License Requirements
Anyone that wishes to deer hunt in Michigan is required to purchase a Michigan deer license. If you are not a resident of Michigan and would like to hunt in the state, you must purchase a non-resident license, even if you have a license from another state. The cost for licenses in Michigan varies depending on the age of the hunter and if they are a resident or non-resident.
Youth and senior licenses are available at a discount, with hunters ages 17 to 64 required to purchase the standard licenses (Note that non-resident youth hunters under 17 may purchase resident youth licenses).
To hunt deer, all hunters must purchase a base hunting license. This can be the Base License or the Hunt/Fish combo license.
Deer-Specific Licenses and Tags
In addition to the base license, a deer license must be purchased. Each deer license includes the kill tags required for each harvested deer. The Deer License includes one regular kill tag, and the Deer combo license includes one regular kill tag and one restricted kill tag.
Only one of these licenses can be purchased each season, so if you are unsure, always purchase the combo license. The type of deer that can be harvested with each tag varies depending on the DMU you are hunting in.
There is also a universal antlerless deer license that is valid for one antlerless deer. Up to ten universal antlerless deer licenses may be purchased in one year. In zone one, there is also a special antlerless deer hunting access permit that is limited in number and awarded by random drawing. This special permit must be applied for before August 15th.
Safety Course Requirements
All hunters that were born on or after January 1st, 1960, must either present a hunter safety course completion certificate or their previous hunting license to purchase a new license each year.
There are three options for taking the course in Michigan. The first is a traditional in-person classroom course plus an in-person field day. The second option is an online course plus an in-person field day. The third option is a take-home study course plus an in-person field day.
Students under ten must be accompanied by an adult during the course. Details and schedules for the course can be found here. Non-residents may purchase a Michigan hunting license if they have completed a valid hunter education course from another state.
Hunters over the age of 10 that would like to try hunting and have not completed the course may purchase a base apprentice license. This license may be purchased for two years before the hunter must complete the course. When hunting, anyone that has the apprentice license must be accompanied by an adult 21 years of age or older who has a valid deer hunting license.
Accompanied means that the adult must be able to come to the immediate aid of the hunter and stay within a distance that allows uninterrupted and unaided verbal and visual contact. The adult may accompany no more than two apprentice hunters at one time.
Licenses can be purchased online here, or they can be purchased at license agents throughout the state. These are sporting goods, hunting supplies, hardware, and market stores. A list and map of the location of agents are available here.
Types of Deer Seasons in Michigan
In Michigan, there are three basic types of deer seasons: Archery, Firearm, and Muzzleloader. There are also special seasons for Youth hunters and hunters with disabilities. The first season to open is called the “Liberty Hunt.”
This season is open for two days during the second weekend in September. The following weekend, the Early Antlerless Firearm season is open for two days. Archery season is open from October 1st until mid-November and from December 1st through January 1st. Note that the Archery season is extended until January 31st for Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties.
Michigan also has an “Independence hunt” for hunters with disabilities open for four days in mid-October. The regular Firearms season follows and is open November 15th – 30th. The Muzzleloader season opens next for ten days, beginning December 2nd. Finally, the Late Antlerless Firearm season opens immediately after muzzleloader season for three weeks.
To hunt in each of the seasons, there are different requirements that hunters must follow. The seasons have different weapons and hunting methods that are allowed. As mentioned, some may only be open to certain ages or those with disabilities. Details of each season are listed below:
This season is only open to Youth hunters and to eligible hunters with a disability. During this season, archery equipment, crossbows, and firearms may be used as described below. Youth hunters nine years old and younger are allowed to hunt through the Mentored Youth program and must be accompanied by a qualified mentor. The bag limit for this season is one deer.
During this season, hunters may use archery equipment such as Longbows, Recurve bows, and Compound bows. Crossbows may be used in the lower peninsula of the state during both archery seasons but only during the early archery season in the upper peninsula.
Crossbows must use bolts or arrows that are at least 14 inches in length and have a broadhead that is at least 7/8 of an inch wide. Firearms are not allowed during the archery season.
This season is open to qualified hunters with certain disabilities. This includes deaf and blind hunters, those with permits from the DNR to hunt from a standing vehicle or use a laser-sighting device, or hunters who are veterans and have been determined to have a 100% disability.
This season allows all legal weapons.
Bait to attract deer is allowed to be used during this season. The bait may be any food type, hunters may begin baiting five days before the season opens, and all bait must be removed on the final day. Bait must be limited to two gallons and spread directly on the ground over a minimum ten-foot by ten-foot area.
During this season, modern firearms may be used. Depending on if you are hunting north or south of the limited firearms line, there are different limitations.
North of the line, any caliber of handgun or rifle may be used that is larger than a .22 caliber rimfire. South of the line, a .35 caliber or larger rifle may be used that fires cartridges with a minimum case length of 1.16 inches and a maximum case length of 1.80 inches.
Handguns must be .35 caliber or larger and use straight-walled cartridges. They can be single-shot or multi-shot but cannot exceed a max capacity of nine rounds in the barrel and magazine. Air rifles or pistols that are .35 caliber or larger may be used if charged from an external, high-pressure source. Shotguns of any gauge are allowed in both zones.
Semi-automatic rifles and shotguns must not be able to hold more than six rounds in the barrel and magazine combined. Archery equipment, crossbows, and muzzleloading firearms may be used this season.
During this season, muzzleloading firearms may be used.
Muzzleloaders include rifles, shotguns, and pistols that are loaded from the muzzle of the barrel and use black powder or a commercially available black-powder substitute.
Crossbows may be used in zone 2 and the CWD surveillance area in zone 1 during this season. Modern firearms that use cartridges are not allowed during this season.
Early and Late Antlerless Firearm Seasons
The same weapon restrictions that apply during the firearm season apply to this season. The entire Upper Peninsula is closed for these seasons, and some DMUs in the Lower Peninsula are closed during these seasons. These seasons are also open on Private land only.
Antler Point Restrictions
The bag limit for bucks in Michigan is limited to the legal tags that a hunter possesses, as discussed in the license section. A deer license includes a regular tag, and a deer combo license includes a regular and a restricted tag.
Depending on the DMU that you are hunting in, there may be restrictions on the age of the buck you can harvest. There are three basic levels of legal bucks. The youngest level of buck is one with at least one antler that is 3 inches long or longer. The next level is a buck with three or more antler points on one antler. The oldest level is a buck with four or more antler points on one antler.
An antler point must be at least one inch long, measured from the tip to the nearest edge of the antler beam.
Most DMUs allow an antlerless deer (deer without antlers or with antlers that extend less than three inches above the skull) to be harvested with the regular and restricted deer tag. In the south-central DMUs, antlered deer harvested with both tags can be of the youngest level.
Antlered deer harvested in the eastern and southwestern DMUs can be of the youngest level with a regular tag but must have four points with the restricted tag. DMUs in the northwestern area of the state require antlered deer have three points with a regular tag and four points with a restricted tag.
In the Upper Peninsula, antlerless deer are not allowed to be taken with the regular deer tag in the northernmost DMUs. Other DMUs in the upper peninsula have similar requirements to the lower peninsula.
Note that apprentice hunters and youth hunters 16 years old and younger are exempt from the antler point restrictions during all seasons in any DMU. See the maps on the MDNR’s website or the hunting digest for details on these requirements for each DMU.
Important Regulations for All Seasons
While deer hunting in Michigan, some rules and regulations must be followed. Below is a list of some key ones to keep in mind. This is not a full, complete list, so all hunters should read and understand all the regulations as they may apply to their situation.
- Legal hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.
- Hunting with a firearm within 450 feet of an occupied dwelling or building, or any other barn or building used for farming purposes, is not allowed without written permission from the owner or occupant.
- If hunting on private property, the hunter must have permission from the landowner. This includes railroad rights-of-way; trespassing on railroad property is a misdemeanor.
- In Michigan, there are townships or parts of townships that are closed to hunting or have restrictions on the type of firearms or the discharge of firearms. See the MDNR’s website or the hunting digest for a current list of these areas.
- It is illegal to cut branches, limbs, or trees or to use any item that penetrates through the bark of a tree to construct or attach any device to assist in climbing a tree on state-owned public land.
- Hunters must wear hunter orange, cap, hat, vest, jacket, or rain gear when taking game during the legal hunting hours from August 15th through April 30th. This includes orange camouflage that is not less than 50 percent hunter orange. The hunter’s orange garments must be visible from all sides. This requirement does not apply to hunters hunting with a bow or crossbow during the archery season.
- It is illegal to set fires to drive game out from a certain area.
- Artificial light may not be used to locate deer between 11 pm and 6 am. You may not use artificial light to locate deer at any time if you have a weapon capable of shooting a projectile. Hunters may use a light one hour before and one hour after shooting hours to travel to their hunting location while carrying an unloaded weapon.
- It is illegal to hunt or pursue deer from a vehicle such as a car, aircraft, snowmobile, drone, or boat.
- While transporting, all firearms must be unloaded and enclosed in a case and carried in the trunk of a vehicle. This applies on public or private property and if the vehicle is parked, stopped, or moving.
- Using dogs to hunt deer is not allowed. Dogs can be used to assist in finding a mortally wounded deer, but they must remain on a leash.
- Baiting or feeding deer is prohibited in the Lower Peninsula, except during the independence hunt.
Deer hunting can be a fun and rewarding sport. However, safety should be a priority since firearms are involved.
As we have discussed, if you plan to take a buck deer, there are antler point restrictions in certain DMUs, so you must be able to properly identify that your target deer has a certain number of points longer than one inch before taking a shot. Even more critical, understand what is beyond your target deer.
If you take a shot and miss, is there a different deer that may not be legal that you may hit instead? Make certain there are no roads, buildings, or areas where people may be beyond your target deer. Hunters are responsible for every shot they take, and being careless could be costly. When you see a deer, be patient, stay calm, and be certain before taking that shot.
Many hunters like to hunt deer from an elevated position in a tree stand since deer have no natural predators from above. A portable tree stand is a great way to use this advantage and hunt in various areas during the season. It is a common belief that hunting accidents usually involve a firearm, and hunters are accidentally shot for being careless.
Data shows more accidents from hunters falling from tree stands than any other hunting accident. If you use a portable stand, read and understand all of the safety precautions from the manufacturer, practice with it before you go hunting, and always inspect it the day before using it.
Always use a safety harness and make it a habit to connect to a safety line before you start climbing. Typically, fall injuries occur when hunters are climbing. While climbing, do not attempt to hold a weapon or bag, as they can throw you off balance. Leave your equipment on the ground, make sure your firearm is unloaded and pointed away from you, and attach a rope or line to it.
Once you are safely in the stand, you can pull it up.
Chronic Wasting Disease Concerns in Michigan
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a contagious neurological disease that affects animals in the cervid family, such as elk, deer, and moose. CWD is always fatal and causes brain degeneration, resulting in abnormal weight loss, confused behavior, and loss of bodily functions.
Once a deer is infected, there is no way to detect it until they die and no way to cure it. The infection is caused by a mutating protein called a prion. The prion is shed in an infected deer’s saliva, urine, feces, blood, or from the carcass of a deer. The infection spreads through deer-to-deer contact.
Also, the prions can survive in the environment for years and infect other deer from contact with the soil.
CWD has been detected in many US states and Canadian provinces. CWD was first detected in Michigan on May 20th, 2015. To date, it has been detected in both the northern and southern peninsulas of Michigan. CWD Surveillance areas have been established in the central areas of the state and the upper peninsula. Any deer harvested in this area may not be transported out of the area unless the deer is deboned meat, quarters, or other parts that do not have any part of the spinal column or head attached.
Antlers or antlers with a clean skull cap cleaned of all tissue are allowed out of the area, as well as hides and finished taxidermy mounts.
The Michigan DNR has staffed CWD testing sites in addition to unstaffed drop boxes across the state. There are also CWD self-sample kits available in some counties for hunters to ship samples for testing themselves. For more info on testing, see the DNR’s website here.
While CWD has not been found to affect humans, health officials recommend taking precautions when handling a potentially infected deer. Always wear gloves when you field dress or handle the carcass. Avoid contact with high-risk parts, such as the brain, spinal column, and lymph nodes. Responsibly dispose of the unwanted carcass parts in a landfill, and never dump them outside to decompose.
Wash your hands and your equipment thoroughly. Do not consume meat from a deer that appeared sick or tested positive for CWD. If you’re hunting in an area with CWD, get your deer tested before eating it.
Tagging and Harvesting
Immediately after harvesting a deer, you should validate your kill tag and attach it to your deer. This must be done before you field dress or move the deer for transport. To attach the tag, wrap it half across a strong wire or cord, and tape it in place.
Then, tie it to the lower part of the deer’s antler, lower jaw, or lower leg. Make sure the tag is visible and legible. The tag must remain attached to the deer until it is butchered or processed. If you are having a taxidermy mount completed, make sure the tag is returned to you from the taxidermist.
Within 72 hours of harvesting your deer and before you take your deer to a processor or taxidermist, you must report your harvest to the DNR. There are two ways to report your harvest, online on the DNR’s website here or via the Michigan DNR Hunt Fish app.
Potential Fines and Other Penalties
Stealing deer in Michigan can result in fines, loss of hunting privileges, and jail time. Penalties for hunting violations can be fines of $1,000 per deer plus an additional $1,000 if the deer is antlered. In addition, if the deer has eight to ten points, the fine can be $500 for each point, and for deer with over eleven points can be $750 for each point.
The hunter’s license can be revoked for the current year and the next three years. If the deer was antlered, the first offense will result in the license being revoked for an additional two years. On the second offense, it will be revoked for an additional seven years.
In 2022, a man was banned from hunting permanently after he pled guilty to stealing nine trophy bucks. He could also face $25,000 in fines and serve 18 months or five years in prison. Also, these fines do not include any court costs or lawyer fees.
As you can see, violating the laws can have serious consequences. Be sure to read and understand all of the rules and regulations for deer hunting in Michigan before each season. If you are an experienced hunter, double-check to see what changes may have been made, as the rules may not be the same as last year.
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- New York Post, Available here: https://nypost.com/2022/02/25/michigan-gives-lifetime-hunting-ban-to-man-for-poaching/
- State of Michigan, Available here: https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/-/media/Project/Websites/dnr/Documents/LED/digests/hunting_digest.pdf?rev=a74dc1a373224d08be9874d5ee0a04f5&hash=03D23A8B206F1E39811CCE8D6254BE34
- State of Michigan, Available here: https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/things-to-do/hunting/deer