Q&A with Ashley Autenrieth, Michigan DNR

Ashley Autenrieth is the deer program biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). She mainly covers the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula. She’s worked for the DNR for 12 years.
Ashley Autenrieth is the deer program biologist, seen here with a sick eagle rescued from a landfill. The eagle recovered.
The DNR’s mission is to conserve Michigan’s natural resources for future generations. Autenrieth says they want to preserve Michigan’s hunting, fishing, and trapping traditions into the future. She works in the DNR’s wildlife division, which has 160 employees.

The firearm deer season begins on Nov. 15, but deer hunters have been in the woods since mid-September. The first hunters in the fall are youth hunters and hunters with a 100% disability rating. Archery season began on Oct. 1. After the firearm season ends on Nov. 30, archery, muzzleloading and the late antlerless seasons will continue through December.

Autenrieth earned her bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology from the University of California-Davis and then a master’s in forestry from Michigan Tech. She acknowledges it was a culture shock to move from California to the Keweenaw Peninsula in the U.P. but now says Copper Harbor is her favorite place.  

Q: What’s the outlook for this year’s deer season? 

A: From the signs we see, it looks like it’s going to be a great deer season. Good numbers of fawns and adult deer. We’ve had a nice growing season. The deer are great-looking, healthy, and have a nice, healthy weight. 

Weather-wise, we’ll see. The corn is down in a lot of southern Michigan. We tend to see a higher deer harvest when the corn is down. It has been a warm fall. If the temps start to drop at night and we get a snow, that will get the deer moving. But sometimes, it just comes down to luck. 

Q: What changes will hunters see when it comes to regulations? 

A: Biggest regulation change is to our antlerless license. In the past, hunters had to purchase a license for private or public land in a specific county. We now have a universal antlerless license. You can buy it over the counter. It’s not only good for, say, Midland County, but you can go down south to Jackson County or up to Menominee County in the U.P. If you’re successful, you do have to buy another license. Usually, less than 40% of hunters buy an antlerless deer license and then only 25% are successful. We want to see people continue hunting and harvesting deer. 

We have lost 40% of the hunting population since the peak of hunting in the late ‘90s. We keep losing one to two percent a year. There are a lot of reasons; it’s a national phenomenon. We are looking at an overabundance of our deer herd. For our hunters, we’re trying to maximize the opportunities to hunt and harvest the deer. The unlimited antlerless license is an example of that. The change we made last year in the lower peninsula was that a hunter with a buck license can now tag an antlerless deer with one of those licenses.  

Hunters harvested over 400,000 deer in Michigan in 2020.
Q: What’s the status of CWD (chronic wasting disease) and bovine tuberculosis in deer?

A: We discovered this back in 2015. It is established in an area of Michigan, south-central, western. First found in Ingham County. The two biggest counties for it are Kent and Montcalm. We’ve tested thousands upon thousands of deer for that. Eradication is difficult, if not impossible. This year, we’re testing certain areas of the state. We know where it is and we’re trying to figure out where it’s spreading to. This year, we’ll begin testing in the southeast part of Michigan. 

Chronic wasting disease is an always-fatal disease carried by a prion-mutated protein. A prion is not alive, but you can’t kill it. Unlike bovine tuberculosis, you can’t kill it with bleach, extreme heat or extreme cold. It essentially eats away at the brain. It slowly wastes away the animal and the functions they perform. It causes holes in the brain. It’s so easily passed through urine, feces, saliva, and blood. It gets into the soil and binds to the soil, and then what grows can carry the prion. We’re not sure yet if animals can get infected from what they eat.

For hunters, there are a couple of options. If you’re in a known CWD area, there will be free testing available from Nov. 15-18. If you’re not from one of those areas, you can submit a head for testing for a fee. If you’re in a non-CWD area and the animal seems healthy, you’re probably fine. If the animal doesn’t look healthy, you can call the DNR. While there’s no evidence a human can contract CWD, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends that hunters not consume the meat from a deer that was CWD positive. To learn more, go to www.michigan.gov/CWD

Deer check stations can be found in several locations across the state.Bovine tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that tends to impact the respiratory system. In humans, it’s treatable. We want to make sure hunters are taking precautions. In addition to testing, when you dress a deer, you should wear gloves.

Bovine tuberculosis is zoonotic, meaning humans can get it from an animal. Michigan is the only place in the world where it's established in a wild deer herd. It does impact our cattle industry. It moves from deer to cattle and cattle to deer. It is centered in Northeast Michigan. We encourage anyone who is hunting in DMU (deer management unit) #487 — which is a six-county area: Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency, Oscoda, Presque Isle, and Iosco counties — to have their deer tested. 

While it’s a small number of deer who are positive, only 40% of them show the nodules in their chest cavity. That means 60% won’t show this. If the hunter won’t know it’s positive unless they have it tested, they need to go to a deer check station. We also have drop boxes for samples in the DMU and in neighboring counties. Again, go to the DNR’s website to check for more information.

Q:  What changes have happened to the check-in process after a hunter harvests a deer?

A: We are seeing a decrease in the number of our deer test stations and the hours those stations are open. That’s somewhat due to COVID and we are moving away from physical stations and moving to an online process. It’s voluntary to register online. We’re also doing this due to staffing shortages and financial reasons. The best way to see if you have a station in your area and find out when it’s open, go to www.michigan.gov/deercheck.  

Q: Finally, what should hunters keep in mind when it comes to safety?

A: Every time you go out to hunt, let someone know where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone. Take your cell phone, a flashlight, and some water. Make sure to wear your hunter’s orange. You need to wear at least 50% of your covering in hunter’s orange.   


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."