Current State of Lower Peninsula APR
The topic of antler point restrictions (APR) in Michigan deer hunting is a deeply contentious one. Currently, many counties in the lower peninsula do have an APR on the second tag of your Michigan combo license. This second tag is referred to as a “restricted tag” specifically because it has historically been restricted to bucks with at least 4 points on one side of their antlers. 17 counties in the lower peninsula currently have some antler point restriction on the regular tag of the combo license as well. In the 14 counties in the upper North West of the lower peninsula, the regular tag must be used on a buck with at least 3 points on one side. Also, 3 counties (Mecosta, Montcalm, and Ionia) in the lower peninsula are currently undergoing an APR study for the next several seasons to measure the effect of APR on the spread and management of CWD. For these counties, the regular tag may only be used on a buck of at least 4 points on one side. Any of the combo license tags may be used on antlerless deer, but the APRs come into play in the respective counties when taking a buck.
Antler point restrictions are a more modern restriction to hunting that has been added to many states. The theory is that if hunters are forced to pass on younger bucks then eventually the herd will be comprised of older bucks with larger racks. This is both good for the herd and theoretically good for hunters who want to take mature deer. By killing older deer, likely, the genetics of that deer have already been passed on multiple times over several years. A 1.5-year-old 3 point that is killed has not had a chance to pass on its genetics much, if at all.
Furthermore, as APRs take effect in a state, in theory, the population of whitetails will have more large antlered mature bucks. This can make a state an attractive hunting destination for local and out of state hunters. In turn, this can bring revenue to the state and its conservation program. States such as Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Missouri have become “big buck destinations” bringing millions of dollars into the states each year from out of state hunters.
Many hunters see APRs as one more restriction placed on them in a world where a list of the season’s hunting regulations now take up 60-page books. For hunters who may only have a couple days to hunt each year, it can mean eating tag soup. Finding deer with four points on a side is not nearly as simple as finding a spike. While ostensibly good for the genetics of a whitetail population, if hunters become disenfranchised with the rules it can mean fewer sales of hunting licenses and in turn less money to manage the population of deer each year.
Furthermore, with the desperate need to increase hunter numbers through 3R programs (recruitment, retention, and reactivation), APRs can be tough on new hunters. Michigan currently does not have any APRs for hunters 16 years and younger, but this does nothing to help the more modern phenomenon of adult-onset hunters. Becoming a deer hunter takes time, money, and access to mentors and property. Retaining these new hunters often becomes a function of them being able to have some success in the field. Going the first few years without being able to harvest a legal buck due to APRs can discourage these new hunters from returning to the sport the following season.
Finding A Middle Ground
With any issue like APRs that can stir such public controversy, it is very important to try and find a solution that appeases people on both sides. If Michigan wants to become a state with larger bucks then there should be some exceptions for first-time hunters (who have not killed their first buck yet) and property owners. Perhaps instituting a system where property owners get several free antlerless deer licenses every year (like several western states do) would help to appease those who are just trying to fill the freezer while still growing the size of the bucks. Also, while it is important to bring in out of state revenue to add to out conservation budget, preference must be given to instate residents who support DNR programs year after year.
If you own or hunt property where you can have control over what deer are killed and want to see more mature deer you can take steps to “let em grow” and target older deer. I am sure that most hunters in Michigan would love to have larger bucks to hunt, but the process of getting to that point needs to be done in a way that does not disenfranchise the people who have built the hunting culture of this great lakes state for the past 100 years. I will be very interested to see the results from the APR study zone over the next several seasons.