DNR Releases Early Results for Chronic Wasting Disease, Hunter Numbers 2021 Deer Season

Even though the 2021 deer hunting season in Michigan ended late January, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is continuing to accept feedback from hunters about their experience.

A hunter harvest survey has been sent out to a random sample of the state’s deer hunters, but hunters can also take a brief online survey.

Though the final results are not out yet, initial data from Michigan’s 2021 deer hunting season was presented at the Michigan National Resources Commission meeting Thursday. The highlight of the meeting includes chronic wasting disease (CWD) testing results and surveillance efforts, along with deer license sales information.

During the meeting, the DNR confirmed that the chronic wasting disease surveillance efforts have been finalized for 2021 with just over 7,200 deer tested.

“We want to thank hunters for their cooperation in helping us meet our CWD surveillance goals,” said DNR Director Dan Eichinger. “Strategic testing for chronic wasting disease is of primary importance for the department, and we couldn’t meet these goals without the committed assistance of deer hunters.”

Out of the 7,200 deer that were tested, the DNR found only 25 CWD-positive cases in deer in 2021. Three of these cases were found in Isabella County, which marks it as the newest county where the disease has been found.

“It was not unexpected to find positive cases in Isabella County, as these detections were fairly close to where we’ve identified cases in Montcalm and northern Gratiot County,” said DNR deer and elk specialist Chad Stewart. “Our main areas of infection remain in parts of Montcalm and northeast Kent counties, as well as southern Jackson County, where we knew CWD existed going into the 2021 hunting season.”

Despite only finding 25 positive cases in deer, Stewart says it’s best to not conclude there is no problem just by comparing the low number of positives with the high number of deer tested.

“The distribution of our samples greatly affects the number of positives we expect to find. Intensive collection of samples in known CWD locations like Montcalm and Kent counties would certainly lead to a high number of positives being detected,” he said. “Our goal this year was to begin to understand what CWD looks like in areas that are historically under-sampled, and we made a lot of strides on that front.”

According to Stewart, chronic wasting disease is going to be a problem for parts of Michigan’s deer herd in the future.

The DNR also talked about what surveillance was going to look like moving forward. The 2021 deer season, the DNR started a multiyear process of strategic, focused CWD surveillance in regions around the state. It started in the three tiers of counties near the Ohio border, but in the next few years the DNR is hoping to expand the testing to the remainder of the state to determine if CWD is present in other areas.

Hunter number was also a highlighted segment in the meeting. The DNR said that participation in deer season is declining in Michigan. This isn’t a new trend, and it isn’t only happening in Michigan. But states across the country are facing reduced hunter numbers and a new financial pressure since sales of hunting licenses are a big portion of the funding for critical conservation work.

“Nationwide, hunting has seen a gradual decline over the last several decades,” said Eichinger. “The trend is likely due to a combination of factors including generations of hunters who are aging out of the sport, and younger generations that are less likely to participate in hunting due to societal changes and more competition for their attention.”

In 20221, the deer hunter numbers were down nearly 4% over the previous year with close to 600,000 hunters purchasing a deer license.

To learn more about deer management, CWD and deer hunting in Michigan and access to the 2021 deer harvest survey, click here.

The full harvest survey results will be presented later this summer.