Want to start a hot discussion, maybe an argument or even a fight? Bring up deer herd management to a group of farmers just about anywhere in Michigan, but particularly in deer high-density areas. Crop losses to wildlife can be hard to measure, and estimates by farmers under the same wildlife pressure can range widely.
Some farmers are thoroughly perplexed by what seems to be an unsolvable problem of crop loss due to deer and other wildlife including sandhill cranes and bears. Others have “taken lemons and made lemonade,” making considerable income by providing paid access to private land and rental bunkhouses. Most farmers are in the middle somewhere. Most hunters are respectful of private property and never scheme to violate farmers’ or other landowners’ rights. Nevertheless, emotions run high when hunting season, especially deer season, commences.
One Upper Peninsula farmer related a tale of a city-bred deer hunter who accidentally shot one of the farmer’s young steers out in a field in November. The hunter did the right thing. He looked up the farmer, tearfully confessed his error, offered to pay the farmer $1,000, which was accepted, and didn’t want the dead steer. The farmer remarked to me that at that price, he wished the guy would shoot all the rest.
A few additional points for farmers to consider:
- Farmers can exclude anyone they don’t like from hunting on their land.
- Plenty of local folks will gladly hunt your property. How to find them? Word of mouth or friends of friends. These are often better quality hunters. These arrangements are usually free, but remember that the hunters are providing the farmer a service. You can ask that does be taken, legally of course.
- You can schedule who hunts when. That way there is less chance of a conflict.
- Make sure your hunters know where property lines are and any particular places that require special consideration.
- Know what your liability insurance includes.
The dynamics between farmers and deer hunters have been impacted over recent decades by issues like bovine tuberculosis in Michigan’s deer herd , chronic wasting disease  and now epizootic hermorrhagic disease .
Additional resources on the agriculture/hunting dynamic in Michigan:
- Michigan Farm Bureau’s Hunting Lease Agreement  website, including a link to a sample hunting lease agreement, the Michigan law providing landowners with liability protection (part 733 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act), and the Michigan DNR’s Hunting and Trapping Guide
- Michigan Department of Natural Resources Deer/Human Conflicts website
- A Comparison of Deer Hunter and Farmer Attitudes About Crop Damage Abatement in Michigan: Messages for Hunters, Farmers and Managers : A paper by Fritzell, Minnus and Peyton given at the 1995 Seventh Eastern Wildlife Damage Conference, Lincoln, NE
- The Game of Give and Take : An article in the Boone and Crockett Club Fair Chase magazine by MSU researchers Reis, Campa, Peyton and Winterstein, fall 1999