Antler Point Restrictions: Are We Being Honest?

By Tony Hansen writes Brow Tines and Backstrap

Big deer are old deer.

Let's cut to the quick here.

If you are interested enough in hunting deer to buy a license and head to the woods with any level of excitement or anticipation, you are not just a "meat" hunter. So stop saying that you are.

Hunters love antlers. And every hunter in the woods on opening day is hoping to see a big buck. Many may be completely and totally content to take the first deer that walks by. But if that first deer that walks by happens to sway under the weight of giant antlers, not a single one of those "meat hunters" will pass on the shot and wait for a younger, more tender cut of meat to make an appearance. And I'd make a hefty wager on that.

Having written about and followed all manner of deer hunting topics and conversations over the years, it's fairly easy to predict how certain debates will play out -- especially when the focus is on herd management.

There will be a group of hunters who want to see bigger bucks. They will be convinced that the reason they aren't seeing them is because "other hunters" are shooting all of them before they have a chance to "mature." Thus they are in favor of regulations that will protect more young bucks in the hopes that this will create a population that features more "mature" bucks. The fact that they don't see bigger deer simply can not mean they aren't doing things right. It obviously means that they don't exist . . .

The response to this will be a group of hunters that feel it is their God-given right to kill any deer they see, the moment they see it. And they shouldn't pay more than, say, $3.50 for a tag to do so. They aren't "horn hunters." They are but humble and pure "meat hunters" and any attempt to regulate such activity is not only a slight against their personal freedoms but a movement towards fascism and a certain path towards the immediate cessation of the hunting heritage. Because, after all, there is no kid in the world who is going to sit in the woods and continue our hunting traditions if he's not allowed to kill a spike-horned buck.

All of this, in my opinion, is a bunch of selfish, me-first garbage.

There is a controversy brewing in my home state of Michigan over deer regulations. This is not a surprise. There has been a controversy brewing in my home state of Michigan over deer regulations since the day the state first became my home. Which was the day that I was born.

Michigan has somewhere around one million deer hunters. Put that many hunters in a state and agreement will cease to exist.

But this particular controversy is a bit different than prior issues. This one seems like it may just result in fairly substantial changes in state deer hunting regulations.
Currently, Michigan deer hunters can kill two bucks a year. You can kill those two bucks in any combination of seasons -- gun, bow or muzzleloader. One of those bucks need have only one legal antler point two inches in length. Spikes, fork-horns, busted-up bucks with a single two-inch stump: All legal. The second buck must have at least four antler points on a side.

As the Quality Deer Management movement has gained traction and with the proliferation of outdoors media showing all manner of big-antlered bucks being tagged by hunters in other states, a segment of Michigan's hunting population has been clamoring for regulations that will increase the number of big-antlered bucks available in the state.

A few years ago, regulations in the Upper Peninsula were amended to create a "Hunter's Choice" system. That system gives you two options: You can tag one buck per season of your choice. No antler point restrictions. Or you can kill two bucks -- but both need to have at least four antler points on a side.

The idea was that too many hunters were tagging the first legal buck that walked by before holding off for a bigger buck.

Michigan does indeed kill an alarming percentage of its yearling bucks each year. I've seen data that indicates nearly 90 percent of all bucks born in Michigan each year are tagged by hunters before they see their second set of antlers.

Big-antlered bucks aren't really freaks of nature as some might claim. Sure, 300-inch monsters are indeed genetic anomalies. But 130-, 140-, 150-inch bucks? They aren't weird. They're older. I've seen enough 3-year-old bucks in my area of southern Michigan to believe that most bucks reaching that age will be "big." Thus it certainly makes sense to believe that allowing bucks to reach an older age will create a population with more big-antlered bucks.

But, to me, that's where all of this unravels. And it's also where we can stop talking about Michigan. This is not a Michigan conversation. This is a deer hunting conversation. Michigan simply provides a good example due to the current debate going on there.

The Michigan DNR recently approved an antler point restriction package in portions of the northern Lower Peninsula that mimics those in place in the Upper Peninsula. And there is a group in southern Michigan pushing for the same regulations to be installed there.

The arguments are almost always the same: "We can have the same quality of hunting that our neighbors in Ohio and Wisconsin have. We can be just like Illinois and Iowa."

Trouble is, most of the people making those claims have never hunted any of those states. They don't realize just how vastly different the geography is, how different the soil makeup is or, most notably, how many fewer hunters there are and how vast the deer-hiding area is.

In other words, there can be no apples-to-apples comparison because there isn't one to make. Michigan isn't Ohio and Ohio isn't Iowa.

But here's something else that few people realize either.

Deer hunters in those states also complain about their season dates, their license fees, their regulations. Guys that aren't killing big bucks every year insist it's because "other hunters" are shooting all the young bucks. To which the "meat hunters" say . . . yeah, you know the drill.

Am I opposed to regulations that protect younger bucks? Of course not. I've been passing on immature bucks long before it was cool to do so.

But am I in favor of regulations that protect yearling bucks and place all of the hunting pressure on 2-year-old bucks? I guess I don't know that I see much sense in that either.

Truth is there is no "perfect" system. There is no magical formula for creating a deer herd that suits all. Sure, that can be done on a limited basis and behind a high fence. But not in the wild. Not in the land of the free.

Debating regulations, pushing for change and improved management is a good thing. Just be honest about the situation while doing so. Understand the true limiting factors involved.

And we'll all be better off for it.