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EUP Hunters May Try New Hunting Rules in Quality Deer Management Program

If one the areaís largest wildlife groups gets its way, it may significantly change the way in which area deer hunters pursue whitetail deer in the Eastern Upper Peninsula.

At its recent annual membership meeting held at the Great Outdoors Sport Shop in Cedarville, Tri-County Wildlife Unlimited, a 450 member outdoors group headquartered in Sault Ste. Marie, approved moving forward on an experimental, mandatory quality deer management (QDM) proposal for much of the Eastern Upper Peninsula.

QDM is an alternative to the "traditional" deer management program that Department of Natural Resource (DNR) staff follow today in the management of Michiganís 1.6 million deer herd. Generally, under a QDM program, hunters restrict the harvest of younger bucks and take more antlerless deer than they do under the traditional program.

The area covered by the proposal includes all of deer management units 495, 496 and 001, which is generally all of the Eastern UP east of I-75 from St. Ignace north to the Sault and the area west of I-75 from Brimley south to Rudyard. The proposal does not cover Drummond Island because it is already under a QDM program.

"Not everyone in the club is in favor of this proposal, but a number of our members thought we should move ahead and explore this further," Dan Keiper, Tri-County President and avid Sault Ste. Marie hunter explained. "The DNR requires us to hold a number of public hearings and then we need 66% of a sample of area landowners and hunters to vote "yes" to approve the proposal before we can implement this program. Those controls ensure that our members really want this program before we make it mandatory."

Under the proposal, hunters would have to pass up young bucks unless they have three antler points of one inch each on at least one antler. The program advocates letting most of these one and one-half year old bucks live at least one more year before they can be legally harvested. DNR officials estimate that about 73% of the yearling bucks will be spared under the experimental program, allowing them to grow to be larger eight and ten point bucks their second year.

Tri-County appointed former Sault Ste. Marie resident Leon E. Hank of Holt, Michigan as its director of the project which could last up to seven years. Hank has been active in local, state and national QDM activities. For the past four years, he has been practicing and advocating voluntary QDM programs on Neebish Island where he has a family hunting club. Hank says the results from QDM, in just a few years, are a remarkable improvement in the number of bucks seen, the size of the bucks and the quality of the hunting experience.

"Most hunters get a big kick out of seeing a buck during the hunting season, but traditionally most of us also shoot that buck the minute we see it even if itís a young spikehorn or small four-pointer," Hank explained. "With a QDM program, we let that small buck go one more year and then you can see him again and again throughout the season. Other hunters may get the enjoyment of seeing him as well."

"What is real great, is that the next year, someone has a chance to shoot this buck when heís a very nice eight or ten-pointer," Hank said. "Both events make for a higher-quality hunting experience."

A second key component of the QDM program is that hunters need to harvest more does so that the buck-to-doe ratio improves. As more does are harvested through antlerless permits and young bucks are allowed to live, the buck to doe ratio improves dramatically so that bucks make up more of the deer population and hunters begin seeing a higher number of bucks in the second and third years of the program.

Right now, throughout the EUP, DNR sources estimate the buck-to-doe ratio is about one buck to seven to ten does. Tri-County hopes the QDM program will bring that ratio down to closer to one buck to two does.

"I support the proposal because we need to start thinking about the long-term health of our deer herd and we, as hunters, have got to realize we are all managers of the deer herd," said Bob Ranson of Dafter. "We need to act responsibly by taking a few does and passing up these young bucks."

A third component of QDM is improving the habitat for deer, especially the winter habitat. As a part of the proposal, Tri-County will be sponsoring a number of deer management conferences and helping landowners learn what they can do to improve the habitat for deer.

"We plan to teach hunters and landowners things they can do like planting clover field foodplots, keeping their forests young, healthy and diversified, and planting trees and shrubs that are good, nutritional food sources for deer," Hank said.

Some hunters supported the proposal because there may already be too many deer for the habitat to support. They advocate harvesting more deer, including more does, so that the total number of deer is reduced and the habitat is not destroyed.

"If you walk through a hardwood forest in the Eastern UP today, you wonít see a single bit of new maple growth any where," Steve Ware of Barbeau told the Tri-County group. "The deer eat every little twig that tries to grow. Thatís a sign that we have too many deer for the habitat."

Experts say that when deer population levels are too high, the damage to the habitat can take years or decades to repair itself. A key part of the Tri-County proposal is to work with the DNR staff to ensure that the total deer population going into the winter is less than the "carrying capacity" that the land can support. Tri-County also hopes that effort will minimize the number of deer that starve in harsh winters like those in 1996 and 1997 when thousands of UP deer died.

Brian Harrison of Cedarville is a long time board member of Tri-County and he has been practicing QDM on a voluntary basis for a number of years. "I think this is one of the best things we can do for our deer herd and for the future of our sport. I strongly support this and I hope other hunters will give this a chance to work," Harrison said.

Harrison warned that the program takes several years to work and that some hunters get discouraged, especially during the first year when there are going to be few bucks to shoot.

"We need to properly educate people about this program and to encourage them to be patient," Harrison explained. "Once hunters learn about the program and its benefits, they are usually in favor of it. We do have our work cut out for us though."

The Michigan DNR established rules for mandatory QDM programs in September, 1999. There are four other QDM experiments going on in Michigan, including a no spike rule on Drummond Island. Two other UP outdoor groups in Delta and Dickinson counties have filed similar QDM programs and may begin their mandatory programs in the 2001 hunting season. Tri-County hopes to begin its mandatory program in the 2002 or 2003 hunting season.

At least nine other states are experimenting with QDM programs, according to the Quality Deer Management Association, a 10,000 member non-profit organization dedicated to promoting QDM practices.

The biological reasons for supporting QDM are also impressive.

"Under a QDM program, the overall health of the deer herd can be improved because older bucks do most of the breeding, does are bred earlier in the fall, fawns are born earlier in the spring, survival rates of newborn fawn increase, and more deer are stronger and healthier, much more able to survive the winter," Sault DNR Biologist Rex Ainslie told Tri-County members.

Hank hopes that hunters all over the EUP will try to learn more about QDM and how it can impact their hunting experiences.

"When most people learn that you can take more bucks and bigger bucks each season and also increase the total deer kill under a QDM program, they are in favor of the program," Hank said. "They have to learn to accept the discipline of letting that little buck go, they have to learn to harvest a few does, and they have to be patient. If they do, the payoffs are high."

Tri-County expects to begin its educational efforts and public hearings on the proposal sometime in early summer. A vote on the proposal among hunters and landowners could take place as early as February 2002.

"Iíve been practicing QDM in the Eastern UP for more than two decades," said retired dentist Lou Kurtis of Detour. "If we can make this change, we as sportsmen, will have a lot more say over the management of our deer herd. This is something we have to try."

For more information, contact Leon E. Hank at 517-699-2393

March 2, 2001

Mr. Thomas Weise, Management Unit Supervisor
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Route 4

Dear Mr. Weise:

Attached is an application from the Tri-County Wildlife Unlimited Board of Trustees. It involves setting up an experimental, mandatory Quality Deer Management (QDM) program, under DNR supervision, in the Eastern Upper Peninsula.

Tri-County authorized the filing of this application at its Monday, February 26, 2001 annual members meeting. Tri-County also appointed me to serve as project director and to represent the interests of our club in this process. Rex Ainslie of the Sault Ste. Marie DNR office was present at the meeting and I also had time to speak with him before the meeting.

I would appreciate your review of the application and I am respectfully requesting your approval to proceed with the program under the DNR procedure established in 1999 for QDM programs. I would like to work closely with you and other DNR staff to modify the application to address any concerns you may have. I have taken the liberty to send a copy of this application to Rex Ainslie because of my previous interactions with him.

If it is at all possible, we request that the DNR approve our application before the May 15 deadline so we could begin implementing this program with the 2003 hunting season, assuming we complete all the other required tasks to your satisfaction. Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to working with you on this project.

Yours truly,

Leon E. Hank
4649 Crampton
Holt, MI 48842; 517-699-2393

Quality Deer Management Initiative
Covering Deer Management Units 001, 495 and 496
Sponsored by Tri-County Wildlife Unlimited
March 2, 2001

Executive Summary

The Tri-County Wildlife Unlimited (Tri-County) proposes to establish a five-year mandatory quality deer management program in DNR Deer Management Units (DMUs) 001, 495 and 496 for the purposes of improving the buck-to-doe ratio, creating an older buck age structure (protecting most one and one-half year old bucks), and achieving adequate (but not excessive) antlerless deer harvests so that the total deer population is under the areaís carrying capacity.

Background Information

Tri-County is an active wildlife management association covering parts of Chippewa, Mackinaw and Luce counties of the Eastern Upper Peninsula. Tri-County has been in existence since 1985 and has over 450 active members. Each year, during the second weekend of September, Tri-County holds an annual banquet for its members at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan with over 450 people from the tri-county area in attendance. Tri-County raises over $8,000 per year from its members for the support of wildlife and hunting and fishing opportunities in the tri-county area.

Tri-County operates as a non-profit corporation in the State of Michigan with Mr. Daniel Keiper, 1838 Fourteenth Street, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan as its President. A seven person board of directors works with President Keiper in managing the affairs of Tri-County.

Quality Deer Management (QDM) Proposal

Tri-county proposes to establish a five-year mandatory QDM program in accordance with DNR "Procedure for Initiation, Evaluation, and Review of Mandatory Quality Deer Management Proposals," dated September 9, 1999 (hereafter called QDM regulations). The areas proposed to be covered by this program include DMUs 001, 495 and 496 as defined by the DNR for the 2000 hunting season, covering most of the Eastern Upper Peninsula, except Drummond Island (DMU 497). Tri-County has been informed that it is likely these three DMUs will be combined into one DMU, beginning with the 2001 hunting season.

Preliminary Measure of Support

QDM regulations require a preliminary measure of support to be included with the draft proposal for a QDM program. Tri-County is the sponsoring organization for this proposal and offers its full support for this program to meet the preliminary measure of support requirements as defined in the regulations.

Statement of Purpose

Tri-Countyís statement of purpose for its proposed QDM program is as follows:

The mission of the Tri-County Wildlife Associationís Quality Deer Management program is to assist the Department of Natural Resources in managing the white-tailed deer herd in the Eastern Upper Peninsula to (1) improve the buck-to-doe ratio to approximately 1:2 or lower, (2) create an older buck age structure (protecting more than half of the one and one-half year old bucks), and (3) achieve adequate (but not excessive) antlerless deer harvests so that the total deer population is under the areaís carrying capacity, resulting in a healthy deer herd that can survive most winters without substantial losses.

Secondary goals of the program are to (1) promote the notion of stewardship, and (2) promote efforts to improve the quality of deer habitat management practices among the land-owner and the deer-hunting population in the area through expanded educational opportunities for land-owners and hunters.

Proposed Regulation

Tri-County proposes that its QDM program include a mandatory harvest restriction on bucks such that they must have at least three points on one side to be a legal buck, each of the three points being at least one inch in length. A second buck harvested would have to have four points on a side, as is the case with the existing regulations. Outside of this QDM process, Tri-County will also be working to eliminate the second buck license for these three DMUs as another important deer management strategy.

Tri-County believes this proposed regulation is a reasonable regulation because the regulation protects at least 73% of the one and one-half year old bucks (based on data summarized in the QDM regulations) and it is easily enforced by law enforcement officers, relative to other more complex and precise harvest restriction alternatives. This proposal meets the requirements in the QDM regulations that the proposed regulation must protect at least 50% of the yearling bucks.

Proposed Method of Evaluation

During the 2002 hunting season (one year prior to implementation), Tri-County will conduct a data collection effort by collecting at least 100 bucks and 200 antlerless deer to establish baseline data for evaluating the proposalís effectiveness. Tri-County will work with DNR staff to properly collect age, sex, antler size, and hunter success data needed for proper evaluation of future changes in the deer harvest regulation. Tri-County volunteers and DNR staff (and volunteers from Lake Superior State University) would collect this data at established collection points within DMUs 001, 495 and 496 and at DNR checkstations, including the Mackinaw Bridge. As required by the regulation, details of this process will be worked out cooperatively by Tri-County and the DNR. Tri-County has experience in collecting deer data throughout the proposed area and can find experienced volunteers willing to fulfill this requirement. Tri-County also has an excellent record of working collaboratively with DNR staff in the past on similar projects.

Tri-County will work cooperatively with the DNR throughout the remainder of the project (evaluation years 2-5, hunting seasons 2003-2006) to ensure that the progress of the project is evolving toward the accomplishment of its mission.

Furthermore, as a part of its QDM program, Tri-County will make an effort to educate hunters on the advantages of taking an adequate (but not excessive) number of antlerless deer in the area, working to provide some balance to the long-standing prejudices against harvesting antlerless deer that have existed for decades in the EUP. Tri-County would also make an effort to educate hunters on taking extra precautions to avoid harvesting "button" bucks as a part of the antlerless harvest, using material similar to that included in the DNRís 2000-01 Hunting Guide.

Buck to Doe Ratio

Where used in this proposal, the desired buck to doe ratio of 1:2, means the ratio of adult bucks (one and one-half year and older) to adult does (one and one-half year and older) as measured at or near April 1 of each year, after all hunting seasons have closed and after any winter kill losses are accounted for, but before the spring fawning season begins.

Project Director and Commitment

Establishing a five-year mandatory QDM program, in accordance with DNR regulations, requires a seven-year commitment for successful completion. Tri-County is committed to carrying out this project and has named Mr. Leon E. Hank of Holt, Michigan as its Project Director. Mr. Hank has been very active in QDM activities on a national, statewide and local level since 1996 and he makes a personal commitment, as a part of this application, that he will work diligently to meet the objectives of the project over the next seven years and that he will work collaboratively with the DNR staff on the project.

Tri-County also shows its commitment to the project by agreeing to pay the required $2,000 fee to the DNR "Wildlife Bureau Gift Account." As a part of promoting support for the program throughout the EUP, Tri-County will also speak to other wildlife management and outdoor sporting groups, seeking both their volunteer support and financial contribution to this effort. Mr. Hank and the Tri-County Board of Directors will direct this effort for Tri-County.

Timeline and Project Dates

Tri-County agrees to follow the dates for implementation of the proposal as contained in Table 1 of the QDM regulations. Tri-County respectfully requests the DNR to consider final approval of this proposal by May 15, 2001, if this is at all possible so that Tri-County does not wait an additional year before beginning implementation, beginning implementation with the 2003 hunting season.

Tri-County and its project director plan to begin holding educational meetings on the proposal as soon as possible and would like to begin them no later than the July to November, 2001 time frame. Meetings would be held throughout the area and in cooperation and joint-sponsorship with local outdoor sporting groups where possible.

Tri-County stands ready to revise this proposal as necessary to meet the requirements of the DNR and the QDM regulation.