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Firearm deer season ends; Michigan license sales for 2020 buck downward trend

Poor weather conditions on opening day may result in a decline in the number of deer taken during the 16-day regular firearm season.
Credit: Michigan DNR
Michigan's regular firearm deer season got underway Nov. 15 and ended Monday, Nov. 30.

LANSING, Mich. — License sales for the 2020 deer season are up over last year, although that doesn’t necessarily mean greater hunter success during the 16-day regular firearm season, which ended Monday.

“Activity at the deer check stations was way down,’’ said Chad Stewart, a wildlife biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“The license data shows us one thing, but when you go out to the check stations, it seems to indicate there is not as much participation,’’ Stewart said.

Deer hunters in Michigan this year topped 611,000, a spike of more than 5% over 2019. Most of the licenses sold are used during the regular firearm deer season, which runs Nov. 15-30. 

It will take several months for the state to compile final deer harvest numbers for 2020, which includes archery, firearm and muzzleloader seasons. Last year, about 364,000 deer were taken.

Anecdotally, Stewart says it appears as though the number of deer taken during the 2020 archery season may be up, while numbers for the firearm deer season may be down.

Two factors play into the anticipated decline in the regular firearm season harvest: poor weather conditions on opening day and the Nov. 15th opener falling on a Sunday.

“It was just a monster storm and it was universal across the state,’’ Stewart said. “That coupled with it being a Sunday opener. It was not the best.''

When Nov. 15 falls on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday, there are typically more hunters out for opening day, he said.

"The first few days of the season are the best,'' Stewart said. "If you have miserable weather, the harvest is likely going to be down.''

But Stewart and others are encouraged by the overall increase in licenses sold this year, notably first-time hunters, women and youth.

State officials say the coronavirus pandemic is helping to drive the increase. The trend got underway with the spring turkey hunt. License sales were up more than 27%, said Dustin Isenhoff, a DNR marketing and outreach specialist.

“The foreshadowing came with spring turkey season; we expected it would be up, but it was up significantly,’’ Isenhoff said. “We really hope to sustain these numbers going forward.’’

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