Because if you want to experience this bucket-list hunt come November, now’s a great time to check out Big Water Outdoors’ operation and talk to the guys about getting your dates lined up for this fall! They get busy when things get prime on the Wisconsin shore!
Frankly, I didn’t realize this hunting opportunity even existed until just a few years ago. I grew up very near the Big Lake, but had no idea the number of coastal marine ducks that migrate through and to the open water of Lake Michigan.
Sea ducks like Old Squaws (P.C. name: long-tailed ducks) and scoters are “bucket list” birds for many dedicated waterfowl hunters. Common thought is you must go to the seashore and offshore to add these birds to your collection. Well, as far as Old Squaws, I can tell you for a fact the hunting out of numerous ports on Lake Michigan will rival any you’ll find anywhere on the continent!
Big Water Outdoors owners Mike Thun and Dean Crom pioneered layout boat hunting on Lake Michigan as well as the waters of Green Bay. They are now joined by guide and captain Matt Thayer and hit it hard during the entire month of November on both the Big Lake and on Green Bay (which is pretty big water, too). They utilize a custom-built big, deep rig as their transport and tender boat, and a two-man Revolution layout boat from Bankes Boats.
I’ve been blessed to gun from layout boats on the East Coast, Lake Erie, in Canada, and on the Great Salt Lake. All were great experiences, but I have to say that in the kind of water we faced on Lake Michigan—up to three-foot swells—this was the only layout boat I’ve encountered in which I would have felt truly safe and confident.
Big Water Outdoors’ operation is highly mobile. They scout intensively and will select hunting locations based on information they’ve gathered in the last 24 hours leading up to the hunt as well as the weather forecast. SOP is for out-of-town hunters to base from a hotel in a central lakeshore location, then BWO will contact you in the evening to let you know where along the shore to meet them the next morning. The drive might take an hour or more, but especially when hunting the lake, there’s no rush. The sea ducks generally move later in the morning.
Even at that, layout boat shooting on Lake Michigan with Big Water Outdoors is truly dictated by the weather. Thun keeps track, and in a really good year they’re only able to get out on Lake Michigan about 27 percent of the days they have booked. Otherwise, it’s just too rough for safety, let alone comfortable shooting.
However, that doesn’t mean the trips are cancelled. Plan B is the slightly more sheltered waters of Green Bay that hosts tens of thousands of diving ducks through the course of the season. Scaup—more commonly known as “bluebills” or simply “bills”—are in greatest abundance; that’s a rare thing to find these days. However, during the season there is also great hunting for redheads, canvasbacks, buffleheads, goldeneyes, and more. When I hunted with Big Water in late October on the Bay, at times there were clouds of divers out over the main channel, but Mike and Matt agreed it was only a fraction of the ducks they’d be seeing in another two to three weeks when the migration really kicked in.
You’ll find their facebook page full of evidence of the great hunting that is practically sitting in the shadow of Lambeau Stadium.
These insights brought to you by Federal Premium Ammunition, Camp Chef, and the Quebec Outfitters Federation.