Barry Pratt has seen managed-area duck hunting from both sides of the check-station counter. The Flushing resident was a temporary DNR employee at the Shiawassee River State Game Area for seven seasons, and has hunted ducks there and beyond for 43 years.
He knows not only how to ‘manage’ at managed duck hunting areas, but how to thrive.
Five of Michigan’s seven managed waterfowl hunting areas focus mainly on ducks: Nayanquing Point and Fish Point on Saginaw Bay, Shiawassee near Saginaw, Harsens Island on Lake St. Clair’s Flats, and Pointe Mouillee on Lake Erie.
At managed areas, blinds are established, but gathering knowledge is up to you. “Do your homework ahead of time,” advises Pratt. “Learn the managed areas as well as you can. Scout the ducks, the way a deer hunter scouts bucks, and learn where they’re hanging out.”
Watch from parking lots the morning or evening before your hunt to learn which areas are currently favored by birds. Talk to hunters returning from the field, too.
Next, “Learn where the pull-overs are (for field access), the access points, the compartments, marshes, crops. That helps you avoid wandering around lost and losing the first two hours of hunting.”
Get to check stations early or stick around after the drawing to quiz staffers on flooding, food-source and other critical info.
Morning or evening hunt, you’re going to your blind or returning at day’s end in the dark. “Double- check with the staff – tell them, ‘I plan to use this rig, go in this way, this access point, are there log jams, or posts, or control structures I should know about?
Have a day or two available before your hunt? Pattern your gun. “Set up a paper target,” said Pratt, “and try shooting with different loads, different choke tubes, different distances. Are holes in your pattern at different distances, different loads?” Patterning helps you pick the best combination.
All that better prepares you for when your number comes up near the top for selecting a blind. You’ll be glad you noted the wind direction, since ducks land flying into it. Fresh info on flooded fields and crop conditions help guide your choice, too.
Pratt uses other tricks to boost his odds. After setting up his decoys, he stashes his boat away from where he’ll post, where it will neither betray his location nor interfere with other hunters.
Knowing that corn strips can be skimpy or become bedraggled as the season unfolds, Pratt erects curtain-like grassy mats to keep him out of ducks’ sight. Homemade, post-mounted shotgun holders keep his gun at ready.
Scout like a deer hunter, Pratt advises a managed area waterfowler. Pattern your shotgun like a turkey hunter. “And when it comes to the drawing (for blind selection), have the luck of a casino winner.”
Michigan’s DNR, proud of its managed areas, has launched a Wetlands Wonders Challenge to show them off. When you register for a drawing (daily cost $4, annual permit $13) at one of the seven areas (those above, plus goose hunting spots at Fenville and Muskegon Wastewater), get your Wetland Wonders passport punched. Pick up a commemorative waterfowl leg band, too. Once you’ve visited four areas, you’re in a prize drawing for what the DNR calls an ‘ultimate’ waterfowl hunting package.
For more information on waterfowl hunting, managed waterfowl hunting areas, and the Wetland Wonders program, visit www.michigan.gov/dnr and click ‘hunting’ and then ‘waterfowl.’
Image courtesy Steven Griffin