Waterfowl hunting will never be as popular as upland small game or deer hunting. That’s a shame—if there’s one thing Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) does better than just about any agency anywhere, it’s providing excellent hunting opportunities at managed waterfowl areas. Michigan’s waterfowl areas offer the kind of hunting that sportsmen pay big bucks to join clubs for.
The DNR does it for free.
“The managed areas were really put together to provide high quality waterfowl hunts in areas that would attract and hold ducks,” said Joe Robison, a wildlife biologist who runs one of the areas (Point Mouillee, Monroe County) and helps oversee the others. “That’s what these areas were built for and that’s what we’re striving for.
“We manipulate water levels, provide balanced food sources. We have crops of corn, buckwheat, and millet, as well as good natural feed—barnyard grass, wild millet, and smartweed. You want to have a diversity of food, cover, and water, and we’ve got that.”
The DNR maintains seven managed waterfowl areas in southern Michigan—five on the east side, two on the west. The west side areas are designed largely for goose hunting. The east side areas all offer outstanding duck hunting, though several offer excellent goose hunting, too.
Area managers conduct weekly counts of birds using the refuges those are usually posted on the DNR website on Fridays. So are habitat conditions.
“We’re here to help people,” Robison said. “These are very unique places—there aren’t any many places like this anywhere. People come up from other parts of the country and are amazed at what we provide for our sportsmen and the amount of birds these areas attract and hold throughout the year.”
All of the managed areas have their own charms. Check the DNR website to see specific regulations (limits on the number of shells, maximum shot size, etc.) for each area. Hunters draw for hunting areas daily, though even the last draw can offer good hunting on the right day.
Here’s a quick rundown on all seven:
Point Mouillee is one of the largest freshwater marsh restorations in America. The actual managed hunting area at the 4,040-acre area can only accommodate 26 parties, but there’s plenty of open hunting on the surrounding marshes.
“If you don’t like your draw, there’s always somewhere to hunt here,” Robison said. “Last year hunters killed 1,090 ducks on the managed area. We get four times that many on the non-managed areas.”
Hunting at the managed areas takes place Tuesday mornings and Thursdays and Sundays, mornings and evenings.
Harsens Island (a.k.a. St. Clair Flats) is 3,600 acres on the upper end of Lake St. Clair. The managed area consists of two marsh units, lots of flooded crops, and has room for more than 80 parties.
Last year hunters killed 9,000 ducks and 128 geese. It’s open seven days a week with both morning and evening drawings.
Shiawassee River is a huge area (almost 10,000 acres), but much of it is forested and upland. The waterfowl area offers excellent diversity. It’s open seven days a week with both morning and evening draws. Last year hunters killed 7,120 ducks and almost 1,000 geese.
Shiawassee River adjoins the federal Shiawassee Refuge, a more than 9,800-acre area that allows some goose hunting, but no duck hunting, so it holds a lot of ducks.
Nayanquing Point may be the most accessible of all the areas. This 1,500-acre area on the west shore of Saginaw Bay, just north of Linwood, has plenty of areas that hunters can access on foot. It features 66 hunts units, is open seven days a week, mornings and afternoons.
The furthest north of the managed areas, Nayanquing is the most likely to lose days because of freezing weather. Last year hunters killed 2,644 ducks.
Fish Point is near Unionville in Tuscola County. Its 2,477 acres consist of 1,200 acres of diked wetland, 720 acres of marsh refuge, and 500 acres of crops.
Simply put, Fish Point draws more hunters than any of the others and offers plenty of walk-in opportunities, and always seems to hold ducks. Last year hunters killed almost 7,000 ducks and 352 geese.
Fennville Farm Unit
The Fennville Farm Unit of the Allegan State Game Area is one of Michigan’s most traditional goose hunting areas as it always held good numbers of migrating Mississippi Valley Population geese. Known to the locals locally as the Todd Farm (after the family that owned it before the DNR acquired it), the area yielded 1,159 geese to hunters last season.
The 4,100-acre area can accommodate more than 150 parties of up to six hunters, but rarely gets that kind of traffic. Hunts are held daily throughout the 91-day season in the Allegan County Goose Management Unit; mornings five days a week, afternoons on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fennville Farm allows walk-in duck hunting before the goose season begins.
Muskegon County Wastewater Goose Management Unit
The Muskegon County Wastewater Goose Management Unit “is a little different from all the others managed areas,” said wildlife biologist Nick Kalejs. “We’re hunting on county-owned property, not state owned property.”
Approximately 3,500 acres divided into 52 fields are available to hunters. Hunts are held Wednesday and Sunday mornings and Sunday afternoons.
This article was produced in partnership with Pure Michigan.
Images by Bob Gwizdz