Small game hunting season begins Sept. 1 with the opening of the early Canada goose season and continues until rabbit and hare season ends on March 31. Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists across the state say hunters should find conditions similar to last year — with a couple of improved opportunities — in Michigan’s wood lots, farm fields and wetlands.
Season: Cottontail rabbits and varying (or snowshoe) hare can be hunted from Sept. 15 – March 31, statewide. The daily bag limit is five in combination with a possession limit of 10.
Outlook: Roughly 83,000 hunters pursue rabbits and hares in Michigan. Cottontail populations, as always, are good throughout their range over much of the state. Look for thick cover, such as briar patches and brush piles, often adjoining agricultural fields. Snowshoe hare populations, which are cyclical, are down somewhat because of declining habitat. Look for early-successional forests (such as aspen stands), and low-lying swamps with blow-downs and brush piles in the northern two-thirds of the state.
Season: Sept. 15 – March 1. Hunters may bag five per day with 10 in possession.
Outlook: Both fox and gray squirrels are at moderate to high levels across much of the state. Look for areas that had good acorn or nut production last year or in wood lots adjoining corn fields. Take advantage of post deer-season hunting in January and February. About 83,000 hunters pursue squirrels each year.
Season: Sept. 15 – Nov. 14 and Dec. 1 – Jan. 1, statewide. The bag limit is five per day/10 in possession in the northern two-thirds of the state, three per day/six in possession in Zone 3 (southern Michigan).
Outlook: Grouse populations are cyclical, typically rising and falling over a 10-year period, and indications are that we are at or near a peak. Grouse are denizens of early-successional forests — young to moderate-aged aspen stands (with trees of a diameter ranging from a cue stick to a baseball bat) and tag alder thickets. Look for good berry and wild fruit production, too. Grouse are most numerous in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula but hunters may find local populations in areas with good habitat in southern Michigan as well. Grouse and woodcock hunters are asked to assist the DNR in monitoring populations by reporting their results. Cooperator forms can be found on the DNR web site at www.michigan.gov/ hunting — select Upland Game Birds and then Ruffed Grouse.
Season: Sept. 24 – Nov. 7, statewide. The daily bag is three with a possession limit of six.
Outlook: Although woodcock populations are in long-term decline because of decreasing habitat quality, hunters can expect about the same results they enjoyed last year, when roughly 38,000 hunters said they pursued woodcock. Found in all parts of Michigan, woodcock are migratory and they are commonly associated with grouse hunting. Although their population densities are higher in the northern two-thirds of the state, they often can be found in good numbers in southern Michigan later in the season as the birds head south. The best woodcock habitat is in young cover along streams and on swamp edges; the long-beaked birds feed by probing the earth for worms and other invertebrates that are adapted to moist soils. Peak migration occurs in mid-October in the northern portions of the state. Hunters are reminded that they must have a Harvest Information Program (HIP) endorsement printed on their small game licenses to legally take woodcock. See the 2011 Michigan Hunting and Trapping Guide for details.
Season: Oct. 10-31 in the eastern Upper Peninsula, east of M-129 and east of I-75 north of M-48. The limit is two daily, with four in possession; six per season.
Outlook: Back on the roster after nearly a decade of closed season, sharptails are birds that use grasslands and associated shrubby habitat. Think pheasant habitat. Sharp-tailed grouse feed on upland seeds and berries. They are often found in small flocks and can be difficult to approach; be prepared for relatively long-range shooting compared to ruffed grouse. Sharptail hunters are required to have a (free) sharp-tailed grouse endorsement on their hunting licenses.
Season: Oct. 10-31 in the Upper Peninsula, Oct. 20 – Nov. 14 in the Lower Peninsula and Dec. 1 – Jan. 1 in selected areas of Zone 3. The limit is two cocks daily, with four in possession.
Outlook: Pheasant populations have been in decline for a number of years, primarily because of changes in agricultural practices and urban sprawl, and there’s no reason to assume they will improve dramatically this year. Typically, the best habitat is on private lands that have been managed for pheasants, especially those that are enrolled in farm set-aside programs. Generally speaking, hunters who enjoyed success last year should find similar hunting conditions in the same areas, though a cold wet spring may have affected this year’s hatch. The best counties for pheasant hunting occur in south-central to mid-Michigan and into the Thumb, though locally abundant populations can be found almost anywhere. Look for warm-season grasses, especially idled farm fields. Late-season hunters can have success in cattail and shrub lands adjoining picked agricultural fields. An estimated 46,000 hunters pursue pheasants in Michigan.
Season: Oct. 20 – Nov. 14. Quail can be hunted only in Branch, Calhoun, Clinton, Eaton, Genesee, Gratiot, Hillsdale, Huron, Ingham, Ionia, Jackson, Kent, Lapeer, Lenawee, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Montcalm, Oakland, Saginaw, St. Clair, St. Joseph, Sanilac, Shiawassee, Tuscola, Washtenaw and Wayne counties. The bag limit is five per day/10 in possession.
Outlook: Quail hunting often is associated with pheasant hunting in Michigan and bird populations are patchy at best. Fewer than 2,000 hunters report pursuing quail.
Season: Sept. 15 – Nov. 14 in eight management units including the entire Upper Peninsula (except Isle Royale) and all counties to the south of and including Oceana, Newaygo, Mecosta, Isabella, Midland, Bay and Huron (except Wayne and Monroe). A total of 50,050 licenses are available — 3,350 general licenses that may be used on public or private land and 46,700 licenses for private-land only. Licenses are issued by lottery, though leftover licenses are available over the counter on a first-come, first-served basis until management unit quotas are met. The limit is one bird of either sex per license.
Outlook: Fall turkey seasons are only held in areas where populations are stable to increasing, so prospects are very good. Roughly 16,000 hunters pursue wild turkeys in the fall hunt, many of them during the archery deer season.
Seasons: Sept. 24 – Nov. 18 and Nov. 24-27 in the North Zone (Upper Peninsula); Oct. 1 – Nov. 27 and Dec. 3-4 in the Middle Zone; and Oct. 8 – Dec. 4 and Dec. 10-11 in the South Zone. The bag limit for ducks is six per day with no more than four mallards (no more than one hen), three wood ducks, two scaup (bluebill), two redheads, two pintail, one canvasback and one black duck. Five additional mergansers (no more than two may be hooded mergansers) may be taken. Possession limit is two days’ daily bag limit.
Outlook: Hunting prospects for Michigan’s 40,000 duck hunters are good as continental populations are at or above long-term averages for most species. However, Michigan experienced decreased production this spring and local mallards figure prominently in the bag. Water conditions are very good, with high water levels providing additional marsh habitat. Good opportunities for puddle ducks, especially wood ducks, exist in beaver ponds and small inland floodings. Diving ducks, which generally begin arriving in good numbers around mid-October, should be plentiful on the Great Lakes, though bluebills populations remain below the long-term average.
Seasons: The early season is Sept 1-15 except in the Upper Peninsula and Saginaw, Huron and Tuscola counties, where the season is Sept. 1-10. The daily bag limit is five.
The regular goose seasons are Sept. 17 – Oct. 31 in the North Zone; Oct. 1 – Nov. 8, Nov. 24-27 and Dec. 3-4 the Middle Zone; and Oct. 8 – Nov. 10 and Nov. 24 – Dec. 4 in the South Zone, except in designated goose management units (GMUs). The daily bag limit is two. In the Saginaw County and Tuscola/Huron GMUs, the season is Oct. 8 – Nov. 10, Nov. 24 – Dec. 4 and Dec. 31 – Jan. 29. The daily bag limit is two. In the Allegan County GMU, the season is Nov. 12-30, Dec. 10-20 and Dec. 31 – Jan. 14. The daily bag limit is two. In the Muskegon Wastewater GMU, the season is Oct. 11 – Nov. 13 and Dec. 1-11. The bag limit is two.
The late goose season in southern Michigan (outside of GMUs) is Dec. 31 – Jan. 29. The bag limit is five.
Hunters may harvest other species of geese during the regular and late seasons. The bag limit is 20 snow, blue or Ross’ geese in combination, and one white-fronted goose or one brant.
Outlook: Resident Canada goose populations, which account for more than 70 percent of the state’s total harvest, are within population goals, but are down about 40 percent from last year, so hunters may find fewer geese in some areas. Wildlife officials predict good early- and late-season hunts and good regular-season hunts in some areas. However, breeding conditions in northern Canada were difficult for the Mississippi Valley Population, which migrates through the western portion of the state. Roughly 35,000 hunters pursue geese in Michigan.
For more information on Michigan hunting visit www.michigan.gov/hunting