Anticipating Michigan’s annual firearm deer season

Opening day of Michigan’s firearm deer season on Nov. 15, without question, is one of the most popular days in Michigan for a whole lot of folks from all walks of life. I’m pretty sure it is a top date for people to take as a vacation day, and I personally believe it is so popular that it should be an official state holiday.

The fact is, some schools even close for the opening day, which is reminiscent of schools closing for the opener during the pheasant season heyday way back when.

In 1925, it was determined that Nov. 15-30 was the best timeframe to have a Michigan firearm deer season, and it has pretty much remained the same except for some failed experiments from 1962 to 1967 with Saturday openers and even split seasons.

Having an annual Saturday opening day, as opposed to the fixed date of Nov. 15, is still frequently brought up, but recent hunter surveys performed by the Michigan DNR have always determined that a supermajority of deer hunters prefer that Nov. 15 as opening day remain in place. The date has obviously become a tradition for most Michigan deer hunters, myself included, which is etched in stone. And yep, folks, I am now in the countdown mode for Nov. 15 to hurry up and finally get here!

My first ever deer season opening morning occurred on Nov. 15, 1963, and I never slept a wink the night before due to my intense anticipation. The fact is, that has remained the case for me ever since and I typically don’t even try go to bed. If that annual intense anticipation ever ends for me, it will most likely mean that I’m on the wrong side of the grass!

I can remember when my wife, Ginny, was making our wedding plans and suggested Nov. 14 as the wedding date. Oh my! Being the agreeable sort, I let her know that was fine, but she would need some “hunter orange” and warm clothes for our honeymoon. Yep, the suggested wedding date took an abrupt change!

I’ve also had opportunities to deer hunt elsewhere in other, out-of-state places, but if the dates conflicted with the Michigan deer season, it was an automatic no-go, because I do thoroughly appreciate and enjoy hunting for local, close-to-home whitetails.

Not all that long ago, my two sisters discovered a bargain 17-day cruise going from California down the Pacific coast all the way to Chile, featuring some great South American port stops, and they invited Ginny and me to come along. It sounded great to me, until I found out the cruise dates, which not only entailed Nov. 15, but practically the entire deer season as well.

All I can say, folks, is Ginny had a fine time on the cruise with my sisters, and in my own way, I had a really fine time, too! Since our home serves as deer camp and base of operations for our family, I didn’t have to worry about tracking any mud on a regular basis into the house, and the dining room was a great place to stack and store hunting gear, and also dry out any wet clothes and boots at night. Yep, it was a genuine, if not rustic, deer camp for a fact. However, I sure was in a sheer panic picking up and cleaning matters the day before I knew Ginny was coming home!

My primary deer hunting area is, and has always been, close to home in the Thumb area, which was in what was known, until recently, as the southern Michigan “shotgun zone”. I can remember at the time I began deer hunting during the mid 1960s when there were way fewer deer than we have now, and also when .22 rimfire rifles were banned for deer hunting in 1968.

Then there was the first antlerless deer season held in the Thumb in 1970, which had a number of local deer hunters upset and holding “doe-tag burning parties”. This was an attitude which was created by the 1921 “buck only” rule in order to produce more deer, causing the doe to then become the “sacred cow of the woodlands,” an attitude which still persists with some hunters to this day, despite the fact that the habitat now has almost too many deer. The sad fact is, only about 40% of Michigan deer hunters ever purchase an antlerless deer tag these days.

Personally, my family enjoys dining on venison, and I have never hesitated to put a farm-fed, plump doe in the freezer. To each their own.

I can also remember when any antlered buck was considered to be a trophy, but today, it seems with some hunters there is an ongoing fad that if antler proportions, and thus age-class, aren’t just so, well, it just isn’t worth mentioning. In my opinion, a trophy lies in the eyes of the beholder who legally and ethically obtains it, big or little.

There was also the first opening morning, over three decades ago, which allowed repeating handguns for deer hunting in the shotgun zone, and I managed to bag a dandy eight-point using a Ruger Black Hawk revolver and firing my favorite .45 Colt “customized” round. Handgun hunting for whitetails has been a passion for me ever since.

During the early 1970s, a rifled tube was designed to attach to the end of a shotgun barrel for added accuracy, but the state authorities at the time determined it turned a smoothbore shotgun into a rifle, and it was banned. However, 20 years later, common sense prevailed and rifled shotgun barrels were eventually allowed, along with sabot slugs, and became highly popular for Michigan’s shotgun zone deer hunters.

In 2014, the entire complexion of deer hunting would change when the “Shotgun Zone” became the “Limited Firearms Zone.” This is a well written law that is actually quite brilliant in that it is very knowledgeable in regards to ballistics as well as the public perception of such ballistics. Only straight-wall cartridges, .35 caliber or larger, can be used. Case length must be at least 1.16 inches, with a maximum case length of 1.80 inches. Needless to say, folks, it was immediately accepted by avid deer hunters, myself included.

This offers a number of rounds which are very accurate and effective on deer, and in many instances, the rifles are more compact, lighter in weight and offer less recoil than most shotguns, which is great for smaller-framed individuals such as ladies and kids. (Personally, I don’t mind those aspects for myself these days, either!) A good example is my granddaughter McKenna, who as a light-framed girl didn’t want anything to do with a 20-gauge after firing one, but came avidly into the game using an H&R .44 Magnum single-shot and has been putting deer down for the count each year ever since. To her, the .44 Magnum round is perfect for deer hunting.

The .44 Magnum is no slouch for downing whitetails at a bit over 100 yards or less, a range at which most whitetails are taken, and it is a favorite round of mine I’ve used on a number of deer since 2014. Probably the most popular round today is the .450 Bush Master, which is a real “deer thumper.” I have used it for a couple deer thus far and am quite impressed by its performance (it will be my chosen caliber for my next black bear hunt). It is fully capable of making some very accurate and effective hits out to 300 yards, and its recoil isn’t all that bad, similar to the recoil of a 20-gauge shotgun.

A new round that came out in early 2019 is the Winchester .350 Legend, and all the folks I’ve talked to who have successfully used it, really think it is a great deer round out to 200 yards or so. I’m actually quite curious about this particular round, and my newly acquired Savage bolt-action rifle in .350 Legend has proven to be a tack driver on my shooting range. The “proof is in the pudding,” as they say, especially for a field-tester like me, and it will be my chosen firearm for the fast approaching 2021 opening morning.

I just wish the clock would tick a little faster! 

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