Profile Q&A with Chad Stewart, Michigan DNR

Chad Stewart is the deer, elk, and moose management specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). He works out of the DNR’s Lansing customer service center. He works closely with field, support, wildlife health, and management information staff. Stewart says, “It’s never just a one or two person show, “ with deer being as big as they are in Michigan. 
Chad Stewart is the deer, elk, and moose management specialist for the Michigan DNR.
Opening Day for the firearm deer season is on Tuesday, November 15, but deer hunting started in mid-September for youth hunters and hunters with a 100% disability rating. The archery season opened on October 1st and then it will continue with muzzleloading and the later antlerless season through December. 

Stewart’s originally from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. He earned a bachelor’s in wildlife and fisheries science from Penn State and a master’s in natural resources and environmental science from the University of Illinois. He’s worked in the field for over 20 years including the past eight with the DNR.  Prior to his current role, Stewart was the statewide deer biologist for the Indiana DNR. He was also a federal contractor for the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia, in deer research.   

Q: Just what is the economic impact of hunting in Michigan? 

A: It’s a big one. There was a study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over a decade ago. The economic impact of hunting is great in Michigan, over $2.3 billion dollars, billion with a “B.” We know over eighty percent of all hunters are deer hunters. So a strong majority of that $2.3B is linked to deer hunting alone. Another study funded by the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) done a couple of years ago, their estimate was $8.9 billion dollars. Regardless of which study you look at, hunting and deer hunting are a major economic driver. 

Nationally, Michigan ranks second (as a state)  in total deer harvest, only behind Texas. We rank second in whitetail deer harvest and fifth in the number of deer hunters. We harvest close to 400,000 deer annually in Michigan. 
The DNR has a youth season, dedicated to hunters, ages 16 and under.
Q: Last year, we reported that the hunting population is down about 40 percent compared to the late 1990s. What steps is the DNR taking to grow the number of hunters? 

A:  We definitely are doing more things to try to draw in new hunters or retain existing hunters who may have left. One of things is we have a youth season, dedicated to youth hunters, 16 and under with no minimum age. That’s held during the first deer season in September. The idea is to get kids out early in the season so hopefully they’ll be a little more successful and stick with it as they get older.

We track license buyers. We send out reminders and focused emails reminding them the season is coming up and that licenses are for sale. We notice if their licenses have lapsed over the past couple of years.

We just recently developed a mobile app that goes on the smartphone, Michigan DNR Hunt/Fish. It’s available where you can get your apps. On that app, you can also sign up for an automatic renewal of your license. 

We work with other organizations. For example, the Field to Table program, which appeals to older, non-hunters through the culinary results of hunting game. We have them try different recipes. That program takes them through the processing of the animal and then preparing it for consumption, how to prepare certain game meat. We want to invigorate them to become hunters.  

Q: What’s different with this year’s check-in process for hunters? 

A: We’ve got a new requirement to report their harvest through the new harvest reporting system. It’s found online and through our new mobile app.  It’s already active. We have had 65,000 deer harvests reported so far. It’s the first time ever in Michigan where we’ll be able to have current real time harvest numbers, in season.
Hunters are asked to report their deer harvest within 72 hours of tagging their animal.
Deer check stations are being reimagined. A few still are in existence, mostly for disease surveillance, CWD (chronic wasting disease) and bovine tuberculosis. For bovine TB, we’re looking for that mostly in the northeastern part of the lower peninsula. For CWD, we’re concentrating surveillance in mostly southern Michigan. We’re also looking for it in the south-central part of the U.P., Menominee and Dickinson Counties.

Hunters are asked to report their deer harvest within 72 hours of tagging their animal. This year, our conservation officers are taking an education over enforcement approach. We realize this is a big change for every hunter and it’s going to take time to get that message out. 

Q: What’s the outlook for this season?

A:  So much of the season, from my standpoint, is about where you hunt and how much you prepare. From a county wide and regional perspective, I expect southern Michigan to have  a great season. We have a lot of deer that are very accessible, providing you have access to the land. Most of it is private down here. 

If you’re in the Midland and Saginaw county areas, that’s sort of lumped in with southern Michigan. There are good numbers. Preparation, stand set-up, and practicing scent control can contribute to your hunting success. It’s very individualized. Some people take it seriously and prepare quite a bit. Those people can be rewarded while others who don't do the same, don’t do the scouting, they might not have the same success. It’s keyed on location, on where to go. The deer numbers are generally not the problem. 
Wear hunter’s orange so you can be easily identified out in the field.
Q-Final points?

A: Safety is a good place to end. Be careful. Know your target and what’s beyond your target when you take your shot. Wearing hunter’s orange so you can be easily identified out in the field. If you’re going up in a tree or are elevated in any way, make sure you have some kind of harness so if an accident does happen, you’re protected from a catastrophic fall.

Try to enjoy the time out in the field. Reflect on the community that you’re a part of. Over 400,000 people will be out in the woods on November 15. The traditions and culture of deer hunting in the state are unparalleled. You can still be focused on the deer harvest, but take a moment to reflect on being part of something bigger. 

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Read more articles by Ron Beacom.

Ron Beacom has served as the managing editor of Catalyst Midland since October 2020. He's also a freelance writer for the Midland Daily News and the producer/host of "Second Act: Life at 50 Plus" for WDCQ-Delta College Public Media (PBS). He's the co-producer of two WDCQ documentaries about the Tittabawassee River Disaster in 2020, "Breached! and Breached!2-The Recovery."