TALLMADGE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Opening day for archery deer season arrives Thursday, Oct. 1 across the state. It will be met with new changes for hunters eager to embrace the outdoors. 

Despite the pandemic, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources expects a larger turnout of hunters this year. 

Typically, the DNR reports a decline in licenses sold around 2% annually. What could be an anomaly, DNR Deer Biologist Chad Stewart says the department has reported an increase in licenses sold by nearly 20% this year. 

“We do anticipate there being more hunters this year. As of the end of August, our deer license sales were up 20% compared to this same time last year,” Stewart said. “We know a lot of our campgrounds were filled throughout the summer, when they could be. We saw spikes in fishing licenses as well as spring turkey participation. We think there’s a real opportunity for people to reconnect with nature given some of the stresses of our day-to-day life from what we’re all going through.”

Despite the apparent spike this year in hunting interest, DNR officials say declining revenue is to blame for a host of changes facing hunters this year. 

Deer check stations have been slashed statewide. On a typical year, nearly 150 stations or drop boxes open but this year there will only be around fifty. 

The DNR says their growth and amount of testing for diseases like chronic wasting disease and bovine tuberculosis were unsustainable. In the last two years alone, the department has tested more than 50,000 deer for CWD, Stewart says, with Michigan near the top in testing nationwide. 

The department says these changes are likely here to stay.

“We are going to be pulling back a little bit for the foreseeable future. We do anticipate more long-term declines in revenue because of our declining hunter base,” Steward said. “We had to make some cutbacks and had to scale back a little bit because our previous pace was essentially unsustainable.

All their previous work is not lost. It’s helped the department identify where the deer with the disease congregate most. It’s helped them create a list of counties that will still test for CWD and TB this year. 

Deer harvested from Kent, Ionia, Montcalm and Jackson counties will be tested for chronic wasting disease. Deer taken from Kalamazoo and Barry counties will be tested from bovine tuberculosis. 

Meaning deer hunted from Muskegon, Ottawa and Newaygo counties, according to Stewart, will not be eligible for testing. 

“It’s going to be a lot harder to get your deer checked at a check station this year unfortunately,” Stewart said. “There’s going to be limited testing capabilities from our agency standpoint throughout the entirety of the year.”

There is a catch however, hunters who take deer during the archery season are asked to preserve the heads of their hunt and bring them to an eligible check station when they open over a month from now on Nov. 15. 

“To expedite the process, we are asking hunters to remove their deer’s head before arrival and to also have a good understanding of where the deer was harvested from,” Stewart said. “Specifically, they need to know the town, range and section of where the animal was harvested. It’ll make things go so much faster and prevent us from looking at a map.”

When hunters arrive to a check station with their kill, the DNR asks hunters to remain in their vehicles. A staff member will approach the vehicle when it gets to the front of the line, at that point staff asks all occupants to wear masks and gloves, while the deer is tested.

This is the only way to secure a successful deer hunter patch this year as well, though Stewart says the DNR will be a bit more judicious handing out patches given the circumstances. 

Deer from areas that are not eligible for testing can still be tested at the hunter’s expense, independently. For more information visit the DNR’s website