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Bucking the trend: Firearm deer season should start before Nov. 15, lawmaker says

A state lawmaker wants to lengthen Michigan’s 16-day firearm deer season by moving opening day to Nov. 5 and extending the hunt through Dec. 1.
Credit: WZZM
An estimated 600,000 hunters are expected to participate in Michigan’s Nov. 15-30 firearm deer season.

LANSING, Mich. — It would be bucking tradition, but an earlier start to Michigan’s firearm deer season might actually help attract hunters to a declining sport, a state lawmaker says.

“If hunters can’t bait deer, I’d like to see us extend the season to improve the odds they’ll get one,’’ Rep. Gary Eisen says. “Too many people have given up hunting as it is.’’

Eisen, R-St. Clair Township, introduced a bill this week that would change the dates of Michigan’s regular firearm deer season to Nov. 5 through Dec. 1.

It would be a jolt to traditionalists. The current firearm deer season opens on Nov. 15 and runs through Nov. 30. It’s been that way for more than 50 years.

Eisen says he understands tradition. He’s 64 and has been hunting since he was 10. But giving hunters another 11 days afield seems to be a fair move in light of a statewide baiting ban, which he says will reduce the deer harvest.

“I did it because of the baiting ban,’’ he said. “If you’re going to take something away, let’s give something back. Especially for the guy with a rifle or shotgun.’’

Michigan lawmakers have advanced a bill that would lift Michigan’s ban on using bait to hunt deer, but Eisen said it does not have the support of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

“It won’t pass,’’ he said. “So, with the ban still in place, I say give us another week or so of fair chase. ‘’

RELATED: State bans deer baiting to curb chronic wasting disease

Michigan’s baiting ban was approved by the state Natural Resources Commission in 2018 to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease. 

The science supporting that decision has been questioned by many republican lawmakers, including Eisen.

The baiting ban comes amid a decline in Michigan’s hunting population. The state Department of Natural Resources says an estimated 600,000 hunters will be afield this season, which is down from as many as 1.2 million hunters back in the 1970s and 1980s.

RELATED: Deer harvest begins in Mecosta County to test for Chronic Wasting Disease

Fewer young adults are getting into deer hunting and more baby boomers are aging out. That, Eisen says, does not bode well for Michigan.

“On my drive from St. Clair County to Lansing, I see 50 to 60 deer,’’ he said. “How many of them are going to be taken by cars and not hunters? Extending the season is one way to help manage the herd.’’

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