Public land hunting is a Love/Hate and everything in between relationship with most Michigan hunters. A good portion hate it and for good reason. Hunting pressure, equipment being violated and running into inconsiderate hunters can definitely be frustrating. A good portion of Michigan hunters hunt it out of necessity. With no access to private properties or sufficient funds to get their own, public land is all that is left for them.
And there are some out there, maybe more than I think who love hunting public land. I have public land on my love list! Yes it is challenging. Yes it can be frustrating. But if you’re willing to do your homework, get boots on the ground, study maps, scout year round not only deer but other hunter activity the tens of thousands of acres available offer incredible opportunities for anyone who taps into this resource.
And you know what? APR’s can enhance that experience even further!
One of the statement I hear about APR's and public land is "I don't want APR's because I hunt state land and I only see spikes and forkies". This is the exact reason: a public land hunter should want APR's! APR's will help protect those younger bucks and allow them to get to their 2nd and even 3rd year. As those bucks advance in age, they become smarter making them harder to kill and helping them advance further. But before you let that scare you, the best part is the balance of a more mature age class is now becoming a higher percentage of the population, giving every hunter more opportunity to still take their buck every year. But it's going to be a more mature buck, more meat, and maybe a nice set of antlers to display on your wall.
Michigan has a tradition engrained in their hunters of "Gotta get my buck". For a good number that means pulling the trigger on the first legal buck they see. This trend is changing nationwide and in Michigan as that mentality is changing and hunters are looking for more quality over quantity. Especially in the NW12 as demonstrated by the chart below.
I began hunting APR territory in 2015 after learning about what was going on in the NW13. We chose public land in Lake County. Arguably known as the spike capital of Michigan as near as 6 years ago. In 2015 and 2016, I witnessed more deer activity and enhanced rut activity in Lake County than I had seen in the several years combined hunting in southern Michigan on private and state land. 2015 we were seeing buck to doe ratios of 2:1. 2016 we seen 1:1. And while a good majority of those bucks were APR legal shooters, a good portion of those were not just barely legal, but ones you’d want to drive around town and brag about!
I put our observations from the 2016 season together for an NRC meeting in spring of 2017. My home is in southern Michigan so the majority of my hunting is around home, but I still make the trek to Lake County and you can see why below.
In half the time hunting, we seen double the amount of deer, 75% more bucks, and 90% more bucks with 3 or more on a side. Even better, out of the 15 bucks we seen 12 of them were not just small basket sixes, but 80% of the bucks we seen were either plaque, euro mount or shoulder mount worthy. The best one we seen was actually the last day of gun season, a massively wide and high 3.5+ 8 point that likely would have pushed 140+.
I don’t know any hunter that would rather hunt twice as much to see half the deer and less quality. Even Joe Lunchbucket who goes out a couple weekends a year or only opening day would rather have the one experience over the other.
If you’re in a Love relationship with public land, APR’s will only cause you to become more enamored. If you’re in a Hate relationship with public land, APR’s could likely change your mind and your own personal experiences for the better. No matter where you fall in the spectrum, public land is where APR’s are needed most, and will make the most impact for making Michigan a great state to hunt deer! APR’s Statewide!
**All bucks pictured are 2017 state land bucks