Fewer Michigan hunters leading to higher deer population. The impact could be drastic.

Posted at 10:50 AM, Nov 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-15 06:03:26-05

(WXYZ) — Firearm deer hunting season kicks off Tuesday, but there are fewer and fewer hunters every year, which could be causing a problem for the state.

Chad Stewart, a deer, elk and moose management specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said white-tailed deer can birth two to three fawns a year, and unlike other mammals, don't go through menopause.

“A deer population can grow very very quickly, and if deer populations grow that quickly, you tend to start seeing increases in things like deer-vehicle collisions, you start to get more reports like crop damage, so deer going into the agricultural fields, eating soybeans, eating corn," Stewart said.

That also affects farmers' profits. Also, Stewart said deer can disrupt forest habitats, throwing off the ecosystem.

The increase in deer, he said, is largely attributed to a decline in hunter numbers. Stewart said in the year 2000, there were over 800,000 hunters in Michigan.

Twenty years later, he said there are fewer than 600,000 hunters, and the DNR anticipates losing another 100,000 hunters over the next 10 years.

Really what’s happening is that the older generation that is currently in their 50s, 60s, even 70s, they were adopting or getting into hunting a lot sooner throughout their life and maintained that throughout the course of their life and we’re not seeing that same level of interest in their teens, twenties, and thirties now," he said.

One possible reason, he said, is more things are competing for a person's time.

For example, in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, people had fewer options and there was a slight increase in hunting nationwide. But, that dropped again in 2021.

What's the long-term solution or the short-term solution if the deer population continues to go up? Stewart said it's difficult to answer right now.

"I can see continued changes in regulations to try to promote, not only try to get people involved with hunting but try to get them to be more successful when they do go out with hunting," he said.