DNR's new system for reporting deer harvests a 'huge' step forward for tracking diseases

ALLAGASH, ME - FEBRUARY 9: A white-tailed deer is caught off guard by the presence of a human being while munching on bird seed in a backyard in Allagash Tuesday, February 9, 2016. Hunting is rooted in Allagash tradition. Deer seem to know when to po

Michigan's new online reporting system for hunters is launching the industry and the Department of Natural Resources into a new era.

A data collection system that previously took months to complete and cost tens of thousands of dollars in survey costs will now be done almost immediately. And thanks to the new rule that requires hunters report deer kills and other harvest data, the information is expected to be more accurate as well.

"The main thing with harvest data is it's a pulse on hunters over the entire state," said Dustin Isenhoff, a research specialist with the DNR. 

Back when the DNR sent out surveys to hunters, it had an 80% response rate - a good figure for understanding the trends of deer, deer hunters, and the population dynamics that play out during hunting season.

But the response rate had fallen so far it became harder for wildlife managers to understand annual harvests.

The new online system requires hunters to report their kills within three days. The immediacy of the incoming data is "huge," Isenhoff said.

"With a paper survey, we'd have to wait for all hunting seasons to close, so it would be January before the first survey was mailed out," he said. "And it's summer by the time we had clue."

Already 162,281 entries have been reported on the DNR's Harvest website as of Nov. 18 - three days after firearm season began in Michigan. The chart shows the number of antlered and anterless deer harvested by county.

The reporting system will also enable the DNR to get a more specific idea of where deer are being hunted - though only county-level data will be publicly available. 

Another benefit is the improved disease surveillance, which will give the DNR a better idea of where it needs to be tracking bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease. While major changes among deer populations don't happen quickly, Isenhoff said the new system will allow the DNR to react quicker and plan accordingly.

Michigan was among the few states that hadn't made the transition to online reporting.

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Some hunters were skeptical about the change and had concerns over privacy since they were punching in specific location data about their hunts. However, the DNR said the majority of the residents it sells licenses to are pleased with the update.

Hunters can report their harvest data on the DNR's website or through the department's app, which is available for iPhones and Androids.

Failing to report your kill is a 90-day misdemeanor that carries fines ranging from $50 to $500. However, hunters will not be cited this year if they fail to report their deer.

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Hunters with questions about the new requirement can check the FAQ page here

To see a breakdown of the online data, go to the DNR's harvest summary here.