Although the overall number of hunters in Michigan has been on a slight decline, the Department of Natural Resources reports that a recent deer hunter survey shows growth in one method of deer hunting – crossbows.
In the past, only hunters with disabilities had the option to hunt with a crossbow. Beginning in 2009, crossbows were allowed in most areas of Michigan during the archery deer season in an attempt to expand hunting opportunities, retain existing hunters and recruit new hunters. Crossbow hunters were required to obtain a free crossbow stamp to determine the number of hunters who took advantage of the new method.
In 2009, the opportunity to use a crossbow was extended only to hunters 50 years of age or older in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula, while hunters of any age could use crossbows in the southern Lower Peninsula. In 2010 the age restriction was eliminated statewide.
The archery deer season runs statewide on public and private land and is divided into early and late season segments (Oct. 1 through Nov. 14 and Dec. 1 through Jan. 1). In the Upper Peninsula, crossbows are only allowed to be used in the early archery season.
"We have discovered that in 2011, 25 percent of the crossbow users had not hunted in the archery season in previous years," said DNR Deer and Elk Program Leader Brent Rudolph. "These hunters were newly recruited or drawn back to the sport of archery hunting."
The opinion survey also revealed that hunting with a crossbow met most or all of the archers' expectations, and nearly all crossbow hunters planned to use crossbows again in the future.
The number of hunters who obtained the free crossbow stamp by year is:
2009 - 45,692
2010 - 64,340
2011 - 74,120
2012 - 88,565
Although the expanded opportunity increased the number of archery hunters, the amount of deer harvested overall during the archery season did not increase each year. Harvest of deer over all seasons combined declined or was similar to previous years.
"With close to 800,000 hunters in Michigan annually, we know deer hunting is a strong tradition held by many," said DNR Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason. "The expanded crossbow regulations met all the expectations we hoped for. Our primary goal is to do a good job managing the deer herd, and if new hunting opportunities can also be made, that's a good thing."
To view the entire Crossbow Deer Hunter Survey report, go to www.michigan.gov/hunting and click on Wildlife Surveys and Reports in the left-hand navigation bar.
Hunters are reminded to fill out their 2012 deer harvest survey by going online to secure1.state.mi.us/deersurvey/.