When I was a kid we would head out as a family on summer nights in our van. Excitement was in the air as my stepfather would drive us up to a field somewhere. He would then pull out a giant spotlight that he had to plug into the cigarette lighter and begin throwing the beam around a field. Seeing deer was always a plus, but whether or not we found any we all had fun going out to shine anyways.
Currently, there exists a lot of myth and misinformation about shining for deer in Michigan. Many people will tell you flat out that it is illegal, but this ignores the actual wording available from the DNR. The Michigan DNR has stated in its regulations that it IS legal to shine for wildlife with artificial light, with several exceptions:
- You may not shine during November unless it is strictly on private land that you own or have permission on.
- It is unlawful to shine for animals with artificial light between the hours of 11:00 pm and 6:00 am.
- You may not shine for animals if you have in your possession a crossbow, muzzleloader, rifle, pistol, or other hunting weapons. This does not apply to anyone possessing a CPL license and carrying a legal pistol under the authority of that CPL.
Hopefully, that clears the occasionally murky issue up. Now let’s talk about how shining can be an effective tool to help you scout for deer this fall.
Shining As A Scouting Tool
One of the largest challenges of scouting public land is that it requires a large time commitment. We are very lucky in our state that we have public land open to hunting in every county, but that abundance of opportunity means that it would take a lifetime to walk all of it. Now you can, of course, be strategic and bike or move quickly down some trails while looking for sign to narrow in on. You may also choose to set up some trail cameras on public land spots, but this can have varied effectiveness. Cameras are expensive, susceptible to theft on public (and even some private) land, and normally require you hiking to them and checking cards. Cameras and getting boots on the ground are both effective strategies of scouting but are only pieces of the puzzle. They are both also narrow strategies that focus your effort on a small target area.
The great thing about shining for deer is that it allows you to utilize your car to traverse a ton of ground quickly and try to get an idea of what bucks are in what areas. Start looking at maps on google earth or OnX and figure out what field edges, clearings, and transition zones are close to the roads on public land. Once you have a list of places to investigate arm yourself with a high power flashlight (at least 1000 lumens) and start driving around after dark. Keep in mind that mature bucks will not be spending much time close to roads or trails until well after dark. At 8:30 pm it is unlikely you will spot a 5-year-old 10 point anywhere near a road or public area. They don’t get to that age by being stupid and getting too close to people too early in the day. However, if you hit those spots around 10:00 pm you may start to see some action. Just remember to have that light turned off by 11:00 pm sharp.
Sum It Up
Shining for deer is legal in Michigan with some exceptions. The great thing about the method is that it allows you to quickly and easily cover a ton of ground and start to get an idea of what deer are where. If you find a particular piece of public land where you keep spotting some nice bucks while shining then you will want to narrow your focus. Get boots on the ground in that spot during daylight and start looking for sign. Hang a camera or two. Keep in mind that if you shine the same deer too often they may spook and move to another area. However, as an initial step in scouting a new area shining can be a valuable tool and a great way to have some good old fashioned fun with the whole family while you’re at it.