Duck, Duck, Goose: Waterfowl Hunting Options Abound in Michigan
Derrek Sigler 09.26.14
When you think of waterfowl hunting meccas, places like Stuttgart, North Platte, Eastern Shore, and the Dakotas get thrown around. Sure, those places have a rich tradition of amazing waterfowl hunting, but what do they have that Michigan doesn’t? The answer is simple—nothing! In fact, there are not many places that can stack up to the Great Lake State when it comes to waterfowl hunting. Looking for puddle ducks? Got ‘em! Want the ultimate diver duck hunt? No sweat! Want the skies to turn black with migrating Canada geese? Here you go! Oh, and did I mention sea ducks? Good luck finding all of that elsewhere, with tons of public access to boot.
Michigan has some outstanding hunting action for puddle ducks. This year marked the first time in decades that an early teal season was held and it was a smashing success. Mallards, black ducks, wigeon, pintails, and gadwalls are just a few of the ducks you’ll find. Wood ducks are doing well here, too.
Some of my favorite places to find woodies are in the many small ponds that circle some of the larger lakes. I have found that the wood ducks skirt the edges of the bigger lakes, and then head toward the smaller pothole-type ponds tucked back into the woods. I have had great luck targeting these areas. I usually pick up a few mallards and some bonus divers like buffleheads too. Some of my friends from Southern states have woodies and bufflehead on their bucket list. To many Michigan hunters, they are part of the normal bag.
Black ducks are here all year, but really show up in late fall. One of my favorite tactics has been targeting small streams and creeks just after freeze-up of the ponds and lakes, if the season is still open of course. With the way the weather has been, that shouldn’t be an issue. Remember that black ducks look a lot like a hen mallard, so be careful when you shoot.
Looking for gadwalls or pintails? Perhaps some wigeon? The eastern side of the state has some phenomenal hunting, especially at the state’s Managed Waterfowl Hunting Areas. If you’re in the Lower Peninsula, you’re never more than just a short drive from a great public hunting area.
For the ever-popular mallard, I have some favorite techniques for taking on this most populous bird. A few years ago, while hunting geese in a corn field near my Northern Lower Peninsula home, I saw a huge flock of mallards “vortex” into the field near my spread. I had seen this before, while hunting near the Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin. The difference here was that this was on my own turf and these birds were easier to hunt. Since then, I was hooked on duck hunting over a cut field. Another great location for mallards (and other ducks for that matter) is along the south side of the Upper Peninsula (U.P.). I cut my duck hunting teeth in the U.P. while in college. I came up with the theory that the small ponds and bays along the south side of the U.P. were the perfect layover spot for migrating ducks that just crossed Lake Superior.
If diver ducks are more your thing, like my good friend and occasional hunting buddy Paul Wait, the editor for Delta Waterfowl Magazine, Michigan should be on your list of dream hunts. Aside from the ample opportunities of the Great Lakes, there are lots of great places for epic hunts.
Want to hunt a big inland lake? Houghton Lake in Roscommon County in the central part of the Lower Peninsula is a big body of water that has become famous for not only great fishing, but layout boat hunts for divers. There are quite a few guide services, like Flight Control, that can get you set up on Houghton Lake.
I would be remise if I didn’t talk about Saginaw Bay. Shawn Stahl of RNT Calls, a Michigan native, said that Saginaw Bay in particular is at the forefront of diver duck hunting across the country. Blue bills, redheads, canvasbacks and more abound with close shooting action. Then there are the sea ducks—the Great Lakes are home to a sizable population of sea ducks that overwinter. Mostly old squaw and scoters, hunters willing and able to travel off-shore can get into some amazing hunting action for ducks normally reserved for saltwater hunters.
Want to see some erratic driving on my part? Fly a big flock of Canadas over my truck as I’m driving along. I get all excited and try to find where they are going. I can’t help myself.
I had the opportunity to hunt Nebraska’s famed North Platte River a few years ago. This is an area where massive flocks of Canada geese will turn the sky black and deafen you with their honking. My guide thought I was insane when I said that I have seen more geese on a little farm in Northern Michigan. I explained how I’ve had flock after flock funnel into small fields, covering the ground with gray and black honkers. And it isn’t a rare event—I see it just about every year. Michigan is a big agricultural state and there are plenty of corn and alfalfa fields that attract birds.
As a bonus, I’ve started seeing small flocks of ross and snow geese mixed in here and there. Michigan isn’t known for being a place to hunt white geese, but they are starting to show up. I’ve added a few snow dekes from Final Approach to my spread, starting about mid-season.
Follow the rules
Michigan has three different waterfowl hunting zones, each with their own for waterfowl regulations. The North covers all of the U.P., the Middle covers the northern half of the Lower Peninsula, and the South Zone covers the southern half as well as the thumb area and Saginaw Bay. The first regular season opens in the North Zone on September 27 (tomorrow!), and the last late season closes in the South Zone on February 15, 2015. What that means for Michigan waterfowlers is that there’s a lot of hunting to do!
Make sure you have the new base license, as well as the state and federal waterfowl stamp requirements and the HIP survey. Follow the three-shell, plugged-firearm laws as well as the non-toxic shot requirements. Nothing can ruin a hunt faster than a ticket for a rules violation. Remember that waterfowl is a federally regulated game bird, so the fines are stiffer and the law has much less leeway when it comes to enforcement. It are these rules and regulations that have brought waterfowl back from being endangered and now a thriving part of Michigan’s hunting heritage. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got more decoys to prep!
This article was produced in partnership with Pure Michigan.