Michigan's Opening Day for the 2022 whitetail deer firearm season is this Tuesday, November 15th! As a core component of your deer camp preparation, here are five essential checklist items for you to cross-off before heading into the woods next week.
Hunters, get ready: It's the most wonderful time of the year!
My wife is what I refer to as a "Thanksgiving Denier" - the moment that Halloween turns into November 1st, the pumpkins are gone, the holiday decor awakes from hibernation, and 100.3 Christmas radio is hardwired into her car's radio. While all of that cumulates into a mild annoyance for me - an ardent "Thanksgiving Believer" - I must admit that hearing Andy Williams' classic rendition of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" gets me in the spirit for one other special holiday. My favorite holiday. The official-unofficial State Holiday of Michigan:
Opening Day for Whitetail Deer Firearm Season.
As generations of Michigan hunters will attest, there's just something uniquely timeless and special about November 15th. Similar to the Tigers' Opening Day each Spring, there's a palpable sentiment of hope that permeates through the woods. Regardless of your success during the first leg of bow season - the shut-outs, busts, misses, or glorious harvests - your record is wiped as clean as a fresh blanket of snow. Everything can change in a moment, and with so many hunters shuffling around in the woods on one glorious day, the only thing to expect is the unexpected.
Although I'm sure that you can feel my excitement resonating from these words, the checklist presented here is a core component of my pre-deer camp annual rituals. Each of these actions are intended not only as material preparations for Opening Day, but to recalibrate a hunter's mindset towards the most important aspects of an ethical hunt.
1. PURCHASE YOUR HUNTING LICENSE
This shouldn't come as a surprise, but we at Expedition Detroit highly frown upon poaching - especially when it comes at the expense of the DNR. Whitetail hunting licenses are readily available for purchase at most large shopping centers, gun stores, or online. This map maintained by the DNR pins every location where hunting licenses are sold.
You MUST carry your hunting license and government-issued identification used to purchase the license EVERY TIME that you enter the field. A DNR conservation officer, a tribal conservation officer, or any law enforcement officer has the right to demand that you present your hunting license upon request. In my professional opinion as an attorney, I strongly advise that you do not find yourself in a situation where your license is not readily-available upon such a request.
2. REVIEW YOUR LOCAL HUNTING REGULATIONS
Now that you have the licensed right to hunt, the next step is determining how you can exercise that right. Fortunately for all of us - yes, I re-read my earlier articles too for helpful information - we at Expedition Detroit already got a jump on this step in our "Michigan Hunting Cheatsheet" article from earlier this fall. Our article includes a direct link to the DNR's Hunting Digest - a hunter's Bible for any and all regulations or instructive information that could come into play this season.
For whitetail deer, the key regulation to note for us in the Detroit region is that we are in the "limited firearm zone." Limited Firearms include a shotgun, a handgun that is .35-caliber or larger with straight-walled cartridges, a .35-caliber or larger rifle with straight-walled cartridges with a minimum case length of 1.16 inches and a maximum case length of 1.80 inches, and a .35-caliber or larger air rifle or pistol charged only from an external, high compression power source. Other regulations to review include legal hunting hours, firearm safety zones, tagging and mandatory reporting, and clothing requirements (spoiler alert: wear hunter orange as your outermost garments, like your vest and hat, that are visible from all sides).
3. PREPARE FOR YOUR HUNTING LOCATION
Alright, you're crushing it: you have your license and you're all read-up on the applicable regulations. The next crucial item in your pre-opener checklist is to drill down the details surrounding your hunting location and set-up. This item will vary in complexity depending on the specifics of your hunt - heading out to your property's cushy box-blind is a far cry from trekking half a mile into public land with a climbing stand strapped to your back.
The two main considerations for this step are (1) securing access rights and (2) your safety in the stand. Access rights obviously aren't as a significant of a factor if you are hunting your own land or a friend's private land, but you should be familiar with the boundaries of the property that you are hunting. If the deer that you're tracking wanders onto another's private land, then you will need to obtain that land owner's permission before continuing to track your deer.
For safety, certain hunting setups will require additional equipment. If you are planning on sitting on a bucket on top of a ridge, congratulations - you are all set. If you are planning on hunting from a ladder, climber, or any other elevated setup, then we strongly advise you to purchase a harness for your safety in the stand. The vast majority of hunting accidents requiring an emergency room visit result from falling from tree stands. Also, never carry a loaded firearm with you while entering an elevated stand. There are plenty of cheap market "tow ropes" for your firearm that you should carry with you into the field, attach one end to your firearm's sling and the other to either your harness or stand, and then tow your unloaded firearm up to your location once you are safely in your elevated hunting setup.
If you plan on hunting public land, be sure to check out the DNR's "MI-HUNT" interactive map to identify public lands that are open to hunting. We also recommend scouting public land prior to entering the woods on Opening Day, but this is more of a strong suggestion than a necessity. As always, be extremely courteous to and mindful of other hunters as you enter and exit public land - try to limit your movement to outside of peak hunting hours (roughly 7AM - 10AM and 2PM - 6PM).
4. SIGHT IN YOUR FIREARM
After poaching, the next worse sin that any ethical hunter could commit is venturing out into the woods with an inaccurate firearm. Beyond the eternal regret of missing a trophy buck that generously provides a perfect broad-side shot in the your shooting lane, maiming a deer with a poorly-placed shot will guarantee that (1) you do not recover the animal and (2) the deer will suffer immensely and unnecessarily before expiring. We owe it to the animals that we hunt to deliver quick, well-placed, and ethical shots.
Fortunately, the cost of zeroing-in your firearm usually only requires a handful of rounds at a gun range - typically no more than 30 minutes to an hour of your time. If you don't already have a go-to gun range, the DNR maintains several throughout the Detroit region (the range at Island Lake Recreation Area is my favorite outdoor range). Shooting until you have a consistent and accurate shot-placement grouping from 100 yards is the recommended distance.
5. PREPARE TO BE PRESENT
In Season 9 of Netflix's hit show "MeatEater," host (and fellow Michigander) Steven Rinella asks legendary Alaskan wilderness guide Buck Bowden a simple question:
"So what makes a good hunter in your mind?"
Buck's response made an impression on me that I have packed into every hunt since I first watched the episode:
"One that has a positive attitude every day, that when he's out there hunting, he's happy and just having a great time. Not stressed out thinking, 'I've gotta have this animal' or 'When's it gonna happen?'"
That response resonated strongly with me, largely because I had sabotaged several hunts in my early hunting years through unmet expectations. Hunters young and old love to tell stories of the glory days; the moments when a 12-point buck came storming out at first light, providing an idyllic shot with hardly any blood-trailing. Hunters often skirt by the misses, lost deer, or unfathomable number of hours spent in a deer stand with hardly a squirrel-sighting to show for it. Social media feeds showcasing only once-in-a-lifetime deer with every scroll have only poured gasoline on the fire of clinically unmet expectations. And for me, as a young hunter, I left the woods several times frustrated, angry, and cursing the day that my interest in hunting first spawned.
The God's honest truth is that deer hunting is largely a sport of failure. Any honest, seasoned hunter will absolutely stand by this statement.
But here's the thing - that's what makes hunting beautiful. The hours, days, and sometimes seasons spent without any clear sign of success will only amplify that eventual rewarding, ethical harvest.
However, as Buck clearly pointed out, the harvest is only the icing on the cake for a complete and satiating hunting experience. As you prepare to head into the woods on Tuesday morning, please don't forget to focus on the intangible bounties from a hunt that don't involve the taking of wild game. Being completely present in the moment. Finding solitude in the woods. Ample time to tune out the constant noise of modern life. Wildlife viewing and explorative land scouting. Fresh, crisp air. Outdoor exercise. Camaraderie with family and friends. Gratitude for every facet of the experience.
If you were to apply those descriptors to any other outdoor recreation activity, no one would doubt the success of your outing. Hunting shouldn't be any different, regardless of whether you're able to fire a shot. Focusing on these aspects of the hunt will also inherently calm your spirit and nerves - trust me, you will be immensely thankful for this once that elusive deer finally wanders your way.
This article is not intended to be a complete checklist of every article of clothing or piece of gear that you should acquire prior to your Opening Day morning sit. Warm clothing (don't forget insulated boots and thick socks), a sharp hunting knife, and other common hunting gear are obvious prerequisites for any hunt. You should also make sure that you are familiar with how to properly field dress a deer - especially if you will be hunting with only novice hunters.
The Expedition Detroit team wishes you nothing but success, good times, and safe hunts as you venture into the woods on Opening Day. Please feel free to leave any comments below regarding other helpful firearm tips that hunters new and old would appreciate reading.
We can't wait to see you out there.