By Jay Anglin, WF360 Great Lakes Migration Editor
Waterfowl hunters across the Great Lakes region are keeping their eyes to the sky as a series of major weather systems push through the Canadian prairies and Great Plains states. These storms are producing strong north winds, which will hopefully deliver fresh flights of waterfowl from the north. The latest cold front is bringing subfreezing temperatures and some snow to Manitoba, North Dakota, and Minnesota.
Heavy rains associated with these weather systems have filled many shallow wetland basins over a large portion of the Great Lakes region. The additional water will not only allow ducks and geese to exploit new food sources, but also enable hunters to access prime habitat.
Reports from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan indicate that migrating waterfowl are indeed on the move. Ducks Unlimited volunteer Dave Heath hunts on bays and islands along the Lake Michigan coast in northeast Wisconsin. “We had 30 to 40 mile per hour winds with gusts to 55 and rain all day on Oct. 24. That brought the first major bird movements of the season,” Heath says.
In Minnesota, large numbers of divers have been pushing through the state over the past two weeks. Many of these ducks make a beeline for the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge hosts an incredible number of canvasbacks that usually begin arriving during the third week of October and peak in abundance during early November.
“The divers showed up right on time, with a big influx of birds this past weekend,” reports Brenda Kelly, a biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “Most of the birds, including canvasbacks, are on Pools 7, 8, and 9. We have unseasonably high water for this time of year, and a lot of traditional waterfowl hunting spots are underwater, which changes the dynamic a bit.”
Reports from across Michigan indicate that hunting success has been good overall this season. Adam Carpenter, the host of Adam Carpenter’s Outdoor Show, says if you catch the wind right, migrating waterfowl are moving through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “Hunting is weather dependent and the conditions have been so mild for October that many days have been slow, especially for puddle ducks. That said I enjoyed one of my better hunts in recent years last week, on a great migration day.
“The winds have been really strong with these fronts, and I believe a lot of birds are blowing right past us. Earlier this week, sustained winds approached 80 miles per hour on Lake Superior and wave heights rose to nearly 30 feet, which is extraordinary from a historical standpoint.”
Lower Peninsula hunters have noticed an uptick in bird numbers, especially mallards, black ducks, and scaup. Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) staff report solid bird numbers and good hunting at state wildlife areas located in the prime migration corridors of Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, and Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay.
MDNR wildlife technician Brandy Dybas-Berger says, “Duck numbers are looking very good, with increasing numbers of mallards and black ducks. Significant numbers of wigeon and gadwalls remain, while teal and wood duck numbers have decreased slightly.”
Full-time guide Jeremy Ullmann, owner/operator of Mi Guide Service, has been enjoying good scaup hunting on Lake St. Clair. “I’m definitely seeing new birds, and the birds that have been here are decoying great due to a lack of hunting pressure,” Ullmann reports. “Bagging a limit of bluebills is no problem right now. I saw a raft the other day that must have been four miles long. This week we started to shoot a few redheads and canvasbacks, and their numbers will only increase.”
Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio hunters report good early-season success and fresh birds arriving with the passing fronts. White-fronted geese took advantage of the prevailing winds, pushing all the way into the central Mississippi Flyway, but plenty of them stopped in southern Indiana and Illinois according to local reports.
Northwest Indiana DU volunteer Jeff Dunifon explains that it’s been one of the best starts in years. “We’ve been doing great since the opener. Things have slowed down this week as birds settled in, but these weather changes really get them moving and, of course, push new birds in,” Dunifon says. “We are seeing the most Canada geese we’ve ever had in this area and even a few specks. Overall, it’s been fantastic.”
With noticeable improvements in habitat and increasing duck and goose numbers, waterfowl hunters in the Great Lakes states have a lot to be excited about heading into the weekend.
Jay Anglin is an avid hunter, fisherman, and guide from LaPorte, Indiana. A veteran writer, Anglin, holds a biology degree from Northern Michigan University. He will be providing migration updates from the Great Lakes Region throughout the 2017-2018 waterfowl season.