A hunter calls to ducks overhead at the Shiawassee River State Game Area

 


 

The childhood game of "Duck, Duck, Goose" is simple. The grown-up, Great Lakes Bay version is delightfully more complex: deciding which form of fowl — duck or goose — to pursue, in one of Michigan's richest waterfowling regions.

 


 

Duck hunting on the open waters of Saginaw Bay; duck (or goose) hunting at two blue-ribbon, DNR Managed Waterfowl Hunt Areas; or goose hunting on one of hundreds of fields where they regularly rest and feed — these are just the "big three" of splendid waterfowling available in the Great Lakes Bay Region.

Michigan's native peoples and its earliest European explorers alike found the Saginaw Bay and its watershed a generous provider of ducks and geese; the region's residents and, especially, visitors, marvel still.

 

Planning A Well-Managed Hunt

In many ways, the easiest-to-plan waterfowling adventures here in the Great Lakes Bay are managed-area hunts.

Two of the Michigan DNR's seven Managed Waterfowl Hunt Areas — rightly referred to as their "Wetland Wonders" — are in the Great Lakes Bay Region: Shiawassee River State Game Area at St. Charles in Saginaw County and Nayanquing Point Wildlife Area near Pinconning in Bay County.

These areas feature fall-flooded farmlands that provide food and resting spots for ducks (and prime hunting spots for the people who frequent them). Hunting areas are divided into zones, each featuring a central area where camouflaged hunters hide, almost always after deploying a flock of decoys in the water in front of them.

The managed areas have historically hosted two hunts per day, each preceded by a drawing to determine the blind-picking order. Draws for the morning hunts are typically between 5 and 6 a.m., depending on the area, while afternoon draws are held at 11 a.m. or so.

Hunts and drawings may be conducted a bit differently this year, reflecting safety, staffing and funding changes brought by COVID-19. Check the 2020 Michigan Waterfowl Digest, with updates posted regularly online, for the latest information.

 

Duck hunters Launching their boat blind at Shiawassee River State Game Area

 

Set Up for Success

Once you've selected or been assigned a blind, it's off to the parking lot that serves it, to load decoys into boat or canoe (a few spots offer wader-clad, walk-in hunting), and head for the blind you've chosen. Set your decoys, remembering that ducks take off and land into the wind, most often settling into a pocket in the center of a U-shaped or hook-shaped spread. Place the furthest decoy at the limit of your range, 40 yards or so; any duck closer than that is fair game.

Calling is part of the fun of duck hunting, but, beware: birds at managed areas quickly learn to be suspicious of human "accents" in duck language. Give calling a try, but remember that, on many days, the best action comes when the silent decoys do the 'talking' for you.

 

A hunter enclosed in a coffin-style ground blind in a Midland County cornfield blows on a goose call, hoping to entice a Canada goose within shotgun range

 

Mind Your Manners

When hunting a managed area, it always looks like someone else is shooting at birds way too far away, and it never looks like you are. ‘Sky-busting' just scares birds off, and spoils the hunt for everyone. So, resist the urge to stretch the range of your shotgun; 40 yards is plenty. You'll tumble more ducks that just need retrieving, not chasing. And, your neighbors will be less likely to discuss your shooting style in not-so-hushed voices.

 

A Flood Of Questions

Which portions of the Managed Waterfowl Hunt Areas are the ducks using this year? What are the conditions for access and hiding in wait? For up-to-the-minute reports on the condition of the managed areas mentioned here (along with bird use and hunting conditions), check back often to Michigan's Wetland Wonders.

You can also follow our local Shiawassee Flats Citizens and Hunters Association as the season approaches; you'll find them an endless source of information on fields and flights so you can make better choices for your own hunts!

 

A Special Shiawassee Hunt

Another grade-A managed area for waterfowl hunting comes at the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge (SNWR) in Saginaw; details can be found in the 2020 SNWR Waterfowl Hunt Info Sheet.

This year's hunt at SNWR will take place Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays during regular waterfowl season for Michigan's southern zone (October 10 - December 16, 2020, with a few exclusions). Unlike the usual, in-person draw, access to this year's hunt is by self-registered lottery (and more on hunting at Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge can always be found here).

 

Bounty on the Bay

Long before the DNR created managed waterfowl hunting areas, the Saginaw Bay drew both ducks and duck hunters every fall, and this rich tradition continues yet today.

In shallow cattail marshes ringing the Bay, puddle ducks like mallards feed and loaf. Newcomers and birds returning from inland farm fields tumble from the sky to join their brethren (or fake brethren, decoys set by hunters who deepen the deceit by calling plaintively). Meanwhile, offshore, diving ducks such as bluebills, redheads and canvasbacks are the lure.

Some big-water hunters wait in boat blinds — elaborately concealed craft that look like floating islands. Others are in "layout boats" — pumpkinseed-shaped craft in which hunters lay flat and become part of the watery landscape, ready to pop up to a sitting position and shoot when ducks come in for a landing. The layout boat and its occupants are watched by partners in larger craft near enough to help if there's trouble, but far enough away so as not to spook the ducks.

Looking for a little additional help on your Saginaw Bay waterfowl hunt? Take it straight from my friend (and acclaimed outdoor radio host) Mike Avery and set out with a top-notch crew, like Jeff Godi of The Michigan Experience out of Linwood Beach Marina.

 

Waterfowling, Famous & Fabled

Saginaw Bay's waterfowling is so fabled that it was featured in an episode of Ducks Unlimited TV, a production of the international wetlands and waterfowl conservation organization.

In the segment, Field Hudnall hunts diving ducks on Saginaw Bay. "There's a lot of waterfowl in the area. It's rich in waterfowling heritage. And it's an area that, as a waterfowl hunter, you need to come and visit at some point," said Hudnall in a news release.

 

Labrador retriever pokes its head out of a boat blind to watch decoys bob as a waterfowling day begins on Saginaw Bay

 

Oh, Canada (Goose!)

My Dad said that, in his youth, Canada geese were mysterious creatures that passed overhead late on fall evenings, their honking calls echoing off the Great Lakes Bay landscapes as the migrants from the far North made their winter trip to the South.

He told me this while we were hunkered in a cornfield blind, watching hundreds of geese in the air and hoping a few would settle into the decoys in front of us. Some did, our shotguns boomed, and we knew we'd celebrate the new abundance of Canada geese in our area at the upcoming Thanksgiving family feast.

 

The Goose News

Local production of ‘giant' Canada geese along with changes in water management and agriculture in just a few decades have multiplied the number of geese in our area and the length of time they spend here.

That's been a nuisance sometimes for cottage, park and golf course owners and managers, but a boon for hunters who now have long seasons and liberal bag limits. One can hunt geese under one framework or another from Labor Day weekend well into February, and during parts of the season, one can bag up to five geese per day!

The key to a successful field goose hunt is knowledge. The birds move from field to field as food supplies change (and as they're being hunted), and there's little as quiet as last week's hotspot.

That means a goose hunter spends plenty of non-hunting time driving through the countryside, a not unpleasant task, trying to pin down the birds' current haunts and habits. Early mornings and evenings are prime times to spot birds in flight and follow them; otherwise, binoculars or spotting scopes help you spot birds on the ground mid-day.

Then it's a matter of seeking landowner permission to stage a hunt. Plat books, available at county offices and some hardware stores, help you figure out who owns what. If the owner or a family member isn't a goose hunter, and if the hunting rights haven't been leased out, you just might get an okay.

Permission secured, get there early and set up decoys (a few dozen field, not floating, decoys to a hundred or more). Conceal yourself — either in a field-end brushy blind or, most effectively, in a coffin-shaped blind to which you add corn stalks or other cover — hiding until the birds settle in when, as in a layout boat on the open Saginaw Bay, you rise and fire.

 

A hunter with a pair of Canada geese bagged in a Midland County cornfield

 


 

Waterfowl Hunting in Michigan

Find Where to Hunt in Michigan

Managed Waterfowl Hunt Reservations

 


 

Need more help or information?
Contact our local Michigan DNR Customer Service Center:

Bay City CSC
3580 State Park Drive
Bay City, MI 48706
(989) 684-9141