So, you chose Michigan to call home, and you want to be a HUNTER? Well, no matter the horror stories you may have heard, allow me to assure you that it can be done. From beautiful whitetail deer, furred up coyotes and red or grey fox, to the smallest squirrels and rabbits, Michigan has what you are looking for. It might take extra effort in a lot of ways, but that is what makes it so rewarding.
The first thing you will have to determine, is what animal you want to target. If you are a deer hunter, like myself, you know that deer need food, and they need cover. These things can be found anywhere in the state, but you need to dig a bit deeper. Are you going to be one of the state land hunters, or will you be finding a piece of private land? Stand land can be found in basically every county in the state, and with a little bit of work you can find some tremendous hunting sanctuaries. You need to get away from the beaten path, and believe you me, there are literally beaten paths throughout most of the public hunting grounds in Michigan. So many hunters choose the easy way, to walk from their vehicle into the woods, only a few hundred yards and then plopping down against a tree. Can they be successful? Absolutely. The old saying, “Even a blind squirrel will find a nut eventually,” holds true in this situation. With the state land that I target, there are always gun hunters, dressed in full orange suits and hats, walking the woods doing deer drives. This can help the hunter I mentioned above, as deer will need to find a way out. Their only way out might be to cross this hunter, sitting against a tree. And maybe that is all you are looking for. But do you want it to be this easy? Or are you willing to, quite possibly, go the extra mile? Go deeper into the woods than most will, scout harder for that tell tale sign of a good mature deer, and determine exactly what you need to do to harvest the majestic beast?
Nine times out of ten, you will not find a mature buck laying right off the roadway, watching cars drive by and hunters walk past. They will seek out cover that is as far away as they think they need to get, and you will need to find this. Mature deer DO exist in this great state, no matter the stories you have heard. Each and every season there are new deer being added to the record books, but it is seldom done by the hundred yard from the truck tree sitter. It is achieved only by the hunter that is willing to put in the work, sweat during the hot summer months while scouting, and pay attention to mother nature.
Private land, although my favorite to hunt, is growing harder and harder to access. Landowners live in fear of someone having an accident on their land, and coming after them in court for it. Although they were kind enough to give a hunter permission, this is all too common. Unfortunately many landowners will not allow hunters to access their land due to liability fears. There is a great way to solve this. I, as well as a few others I know, carry Liability Release Forms. Legally binding, this form states that you cannot hold liable a landowner in the event of an accident. Pretty simple way to relieve the fear of a landowner, and it works.
Secondly, many landowners have been bitten by the bad hunter bug a time or two in their life. They allow a hunter to access, and that hunter assumes they are allowed back forever. This is not always the case. Sometimes they may want you there only for one season. The only way to be sure is to ask, year after year. It can be hard to hear that you are not welcome a second or third year, but it needs to be respected. The landowner pays all of the taxes and other fees that come with owning the land, and they should not be taken for granted.
One thing I always do to maintain permission on a piece of property is to make sure I am always willing to give a hand. Landowners understand the value of hard work, and they understand the importance of family. Most the time they will understand if you have prior commitments that do not allow you to come out and help when they need it, but you need to be sure you do what you can, when you can. The landowner where I hunt is perfectly happy when I come for a visit, weather it be to do some farm work, hang some stands, or whatever reason. I always make sure to sit and talk with him about anything that may arise, from family to work or hunting. They don’t want you to only show up when it’s time to hunt. They appreciate when you offer to help bail hay, or cut fire wood. Long story short, do not use them for what they have, do not abuse their land, but show your appreciation. This is all it will take to maintain permission for years to come.
Now that you have located where you would like to hunt, it is time to figure out how you are going to hunt it. Our best friend, in my opinion, is the trail camera. Hang it once and leave it alone for a week, month, or few months if need be. When you go back to check it, pictures, or lack thereof, will tell you if your gut instinct was right. I am fortunate enough to hunt land where the landowner allows me to till up part of his hayfield to plant a small, yet effective, food plot. One of our Primos cameras hangs over this plot the entire year. It tells us when the deer are using the field, time of day, temperature, and moon phase. All these things can be used to create the plan. Honestly, if you see that deer are using a certain location only in the evening, are you going to hunt it during the morning, or do you use that information to locate a stand location for morning hunts?
Now that you have the proof you need to start hunting, it is time to enjoy what Michigan has to offer. Hang your stand, I prefer months before season opening, where you feel would be the best spot to intercept the deer you are after. The deer above managed to elude us the entire season, however that can be blamed on my lack of patience. With a growing family at home, choices are made to wait for a specific animal, or take what you can, when you can. This buck showed up almost daily on camera, and was always closer and closer to being in daylight hours. However, I chose to fill my tags on different deer, in order to be able to spend more time with family. But, if you want it, you have to hold out.
Watch the weather. Mother Nature can make you or break you. She will throw you a curve ball when you are hoping for a slow pitch. But eventually, that west wind you have waited for since October 1 will come, and you can climb into that stand. The woods are beautiful during a Michigan fall. Leaves change colors, and even the smell of the woods change. The crunching of dry leaves will get your’ blood pumping if you are truly a sportsman. The weather will change, from warm afternoons in a treestand, to frigid temperatures that nearly require a heating blanket and a wood stove. But that, is Michigan. There is nothing more gorgeous than watching the sun come up over a frost blanketed field, or watching a fawn nurse on its mother as the sun sets over a beautiful green field.
If you want to hunt in Michigan, you need to be mentally, and physically prepared. From scouting in the preseason on land you have decided to hunt, to climbing down from your perch on the final night of deer season. It wont take but a single season to figure out that this aint no walk in the woods, but it is absolutely worth it in the end.
Good luck this season. Have fun with your friends and family. Get kids involved so that we may always have sportsman running the woods of Michigan. And always remember that, in the end, it is the memories that count.
“Go afield with a good attitude, with respect for the wildlife you hunt and for the forest and fields in which you walk. Immerse yourself in the outdoor experience. It will cleanse your soul and make you a better person.” - Fred Bear