Somehow the words wastewater and paradise don’t seem to jive, and while hunting ducks and geese at the Muskegon Wastewater Management Area (MWWMA) isn’t always paradise, with some scouting and basic waterfowling skills, the action can be pretty darn good.
I accompanied my fishing and hunting buddy Kevin Essenburg, who lives near Holland, on my first hunt at West Michigan’s Muskegon Wastewater Management Area one Thursday morning five years ago, when my golden retriever Gabe was just a pup, about nine months old.
It marked my first time to the area, and Gabe’s first-ever waterfowl hunt. The area is one of seven large pieces of land in Michigan offering public hunting for ducks and geese. I’d not yet started to accumulate the piles of decoys I now have–I didn’t even have a layout blind. Kevin, although he was born the year I graduated high school, has been a serious waterfowler for much longer than I and had all the decoys. He didn’t think my lack of a blind would matter—he gave me a couple of ripped burlap bags to cover myself and the mutt as best I could.
After we checked in at the office, which all hunters here must do, and received our draw, Kevin selected the area he’d scouted the previous evening and we drove a mile or two to set up.
I had to question the overall sanity of the operation as we walked across what seemed to be a huge mudflat—not sticky gumbo mud, but mud that retained our footprints and had a clammy feel—and set up plastic ducks and geese well before the sun peered over the horizon. That particular zone offered nothing to hide in; just mud, which Kevin smeared on his layout blind. We all hunkered down, too, and about 20 minutes into legal shooting time, a mallard worked the decoys and Kevin sat up and dropped it with his first shot. Gabe had a pretty good idea of what to do—he’d already retrieved game farm quail and some wild woodcock—and sprinted over to the bird, picked it up and did a nice victory lap with it around the decoy spread. I’m not one to punish a puppy’s zeal and enthusiasm unless it gets totally out of hand, so I praised him when he brought the bird to me near the end of his second lap.
Not long after, two Canada Geese appeared right over the decoys with no advance warning, circled as Kevin called, and when they were in front of us, he yelled “Take ‘em!” So we did, each of us dropping one.
Gabe blasted out to the closest, which was still kicking enough to raise its head, weaving like a snake charmer’s cobra. The pup apparently hadn’t realized just how big the object of this retrieve was going to be, let alone that he would be face-to-face with a hissing goose head. He tucked his tail and scampered back to me, whimpering and glancing back over his shoulder lest this monster should pursue.
“It’s OK buddy, let’s go have a look,” I chuckled, grunting to my feet and walking back with the dog at heel. By this time the goose had expired, and Gabe quickly regained his enthusiasm. We worked a bit on the best way for his young jaws to hold this eight-pound quarry, but he soon had the literal hang of it and trotted back proud as ever. When I sent him after the second bird, he had no problem picking it up, starting another victory lap, then bringing the heavy bird back to me instead.
That was our last action of the morning, but for Gabe and I, it was the start of a string of hunts every year on the property. Some great, very few birdless, and all very memorable.
The MWWMA opened Tuesday, October 8, and will host hunters Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays for the rest of the season. Morning hunts take place Tuesdays and Thursdays, and morning and afternoon hunts happen on Saturdays and Sundays. Be at the Muskegon State Game Area Headquarters by 5:30 a.m. for the morning hunts and by 11:00 a.m. for afternoon hunts. Parties of two to four hunters are allowed, and each hunter can take only 15 shells afield.
For more information, call the Muskegon State Game Area Headquarters at 231-788-5055. Check out www.michigan.gov/dnr for more information about the MWWMA and other managed waterfowl areas in Michigan.
Photos by Dave Mull