Michael Furtman


Michigan waterfowlers have a lot of options right now as all three of the state's hunting zones are open.

In the Upper Peninsula (North Zone), the St. Marys River corridor remains a hotspot in terms of waterfowl numbers, but hunters have been plagued by warm, placid conditions that have made decoying birds difficult.

The northern Lower Peninsula has also been subject to the same problem, and while large inland lakes in this area are notorious strongholds for diving ducks, puddle ducks appear to have largely pushed through the region or have yet to arrive.

Impressive number of diving ducks often move quickly through the UP and the northern Lower Peninsula on their way to Saginaw Bay and Lake St. Clair. This includes sea ducks that pile into the Great Lakes to feed on plentiful invasive zebra and quagga mussels.

“Divers are showing up on Lake Michigan, including a few longtails and scoters, and large numbers of ringnecks and buffleheads are moving in on larger bodies of water inland,” says Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife Technician Mike Richardson, who is based at Allegan State Game Area (SGA) in the southwest portion of the state.

“Last week, a strong cold front pushed some new birds into the area. While goose numbers have increased, duck numbers remain lower than average. However, there are still good numbers of teal, pintails, gadwalls, and wigeon mixed in with increasing numbers of mallards and black ducks,” Richardson explains.

On the other side of the state, Saginaw Bay is a veritable waterfowl magnet, and judging by waterfowl numbers and harvest reports from numerous public properties, this season has been no exception. Shiawassee SGA in the southern terminus of the bay and powerhouse Fish Point State Wildlife Area located on the western shore of Michigan’s Thumb are posting impressive numbers, with a diverse cast of species in the bag.

Saginaw Bay shoreline marsh hunters have been doing well on a variety of species, while out on the open waters of the bay, divers such as ring-necked ducks, scaup, redheads, and canvasbacks are becoming more plentiful.

Just down the road, Lake St. Clair is a significant stopping point for an astounding number of waterfowl during migration. While diving duck numbers are excellent, puddle duck numbers on the Michigan side of the lake have been below average.

“The migration hit in force starting on October 28, leading to a great week of hunting following that,” reports John Darling, Michigan DNR wildlife technician at St Clair Flats Wildlife Area. “Our total harvest is at or a little below average for this time of year so far. However, our refuge counts are very low, less than half of what they should be at this time of year. Ducks are coming in from the Canadian side daily to feed, so we assume the birds are roosting over there due to lower hunting pressure.”

Darling reports habitat is very good on the Harsens Islands unit, with a fantastic corn crop and excellent water conditions. He also notes that declining water levels in Lake St. Clair are improving the puddle duck hunting in the marshes as well.

On the open waters of Lake St. Clair and nearby Lake Huron, Jeremy Ullman, owner of MI Guide Service, has been cycling hunters through dual layout boat setups daily.

“There are not a lot of birds, but the ones that are here are decoying good. Today we did well on bluebills and buffleheads,” says Ullman. “We also have lots of longtails. When we have the right wind, redheads and cans are around too, but with all the fishing boat traffic, they usually head to the middle of the lake most days.”

Pointe Mouillee SGA is located where the Detroit River flows into far western Lake Erie. Michigan DNR’s Joe Robison says hunting was very slow last weekend despite good duck numbers.

“We picked up a good push of divers on Lake Erie and in the marshes, and we have seen an increase in mallards, pintails, and green-winged teal. Some black ducks are starting to show up as well,” Robison adds.

Based on the above reports, plenty of opportunities exist for waterfowlers willing to make the most of them. With more favorable weather in the forecast, Michigan waterfowlers will hopefully see the best hunting of the year as the season enters the home stretch.

Sign up for Migration Alerts

Stay up to date with the latest migration information.

We never share your email or mobile number, and you can unsubscribe anytime.