How To

November Fowlin’: Your Last-minute Guide to Michigan Waterfowl Hunting

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November usually brings Michigan its first real taste of winter, and along with it, a final push of ducks and geese. Image by Derrek Sigler.

November usually brings Michigan its first real taste of winter, and along with it, a final push of ducks and geese. Image by Derrek Sigler.

For those of us who would rather hunt ducks and geese than deer, November is just as special of a time for us as it is for those chasing whitetails around. Sure, we Michigan sportsmen and women have been able to hunt birds since the beginning of September, but the next-to-the-last month of the year is cold. Winter is just around the corner and the North Country is already frozen, meaning the big push is upon us.

We all know about the gales of November. This time of year brings unpredictable weather patterns and the first real snow of the year. It also brings huge flocks of geese and the hearty ducks that are the last to venture south. It’s not uncommon to see massive flocks of Canada geese or mallards funneling down into a cut corn field, or even an alfalfa field. Diver duck hunters know that the really big flocks of birds come this time of year, too, and the bigger bodies of water can be a wing shooter’s paradise.

Earlier in the season, mallards don’t usually hit fields very well. But in November, it is much easier to bring in a flock or two. Photo by Scott Roduner.

Earlier in the season, mallards don’t usually hit fields very well. But in November, it is much easier to bring in a flock or two. Image by Scott Roduner.

Do the unexpected

Tactics for November waterfowl hunting are a little different from the warmer times of the year. In early October, I can run smaller decoy spreads for Canadas. Come November, it’s a different story. I run as many decoys as I can get out that look good. I leave big holes for the incoming birds to land in, as the flocks are usually much larger than earlier in the season. I can often get away without using a layout blind in the earlier parts of the year, but in November, I have to be as invisible as possible. When the snow comes, a good snow cover is worth its weight in gold. I also use a lot of that fake Christmas tree spray snow to touch up things. A word of advice: go out the day after Christmas and stock up on that stuff. Just don’t come to my town. I’m going to be there bright and early to score what I can.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is that November is the time for bonus birds. I started noticing some Ross and snow geese showing up in the flocks of Canadas, something that has never really happened before. I went out and got a few snow goose decoys to put into the spread. I don’t usually target ducks in the field, as they don’t really show up until this time of year and never really hit my field strong, but the last few years, I’ve been seeing more of them. So I’ve added full-body mallard decoys, too. Mojo decoys work well for bringing in the ducks, but they don’t do well with geese, so I either run them on remote, or I don’t use them. Often I’ll leave the Mojos off until after we’ve limited on geese.

Stay on them

If you want to have good waterfowl hunts in November, the key is to stay on the birds. This means that scouting and being mobile is more important than ever. If you get on the birds one day, the chances of getting on them again in the same spot the next are slim, especially if it’s cold. The birds are migrating and will keep pushing south.

When the ponds and lakes start freezing up, look to the larger bodies of water and the rivers and streams as places to hold birds. My favorite place to find ducks in November is in rivers, especially bigger rivers. I’ve even had great luck hitting smaller creeks and rivers that are not much wider than a truck. Hunting the smaller rivers is hard work, but worth it and a lot of fun.

Those first snows that stick usually hit the Great Lake State in November, along with some mighty chilly temps. Dressing in layers and staying warm will reward hunters with more enjoyable hunts. Image by Scott Roduner.

Those first snows that stick usually hit the Great Lake State in November, along with some mighty chilly temps. Dressing in layers and staying warm will reward hunters with more enjoyable hunts. Image by Scott Roduner.

You have to be prepared to drive to find birds. I have some farms in the southern part of the state that I’ll hit late in the season. In fact, I’ve already made calls to see what’s showing up as the weather has pushed a lot of the Canada geese off my fields already.

If you’re looking for good places to go, look no further than Michigan’s Managed Waterfowl Hunting Areas. The Managed Hunt Areas not only hold birds, they are ideally located for this time of year, being on the southern end of the state and in key migration areas.

What you need

Weather data is crucial this time of year. Much like deer hunters often play the wind, so do waterfowlers. Big storms to the north can lead to epic days shortly thereafter. I’ve been using an app on my iPhone, Huntstand Lite, that combines weather data with Google Earth maps to show which way the wind will play out over the land I’m hunting during the day. Plus you need to be keenly aware of the weather if you’re planning to hunt on the water for ducks and geese this time of year. Unexpected storms happen and every year, some hunter gets into a bad situation—or worse.

A key element to a successful November Michigan waterfowl hunt is staying warm, too. Good base layers followed by fleece and then waterproof, insulated bibs and parkas are a must for field hunting. If you’re in the water, heavy-duty neoprene with plenty of insulation is the way to go. Don’t forget your dog, too. Neoprene dog vests and blinds and platforms that get your hunting buddy up and off the frozen ground or freezing water are a necessity.

This is also not the time of year to hunt with a dirty gun. I know some of us don’t always want to take the time to clean our shotguns, but all that gunk, dirt, and stuff can build up in a shotgun and then, as the temperature drops, things expand, causing failures. I’ve more than once seen a shotgun seize up at the wrong time, leaving the hunter with a bad day.

Yes, as much as deer hunters look forward to November what with firearm season and the rut in full swing, waterfowlers look for the cold weather push of ducks and geese to bring us that last good opportunity to shoot birds here in Michigan. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go get ready to hunt tonight.

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