Migration Alert: Great Lakes Waterfowl Hunting Update

Dec. 6, 2019 – Mississippi Flyway – Great Lakes Region

© Michael Furtman

Waterfowl hunters in the Great Lakes region usually have to contend with a variety of weather conditions during the season, and this year was certainly no exception. The big news this fall was an unusually potent cold front that plunged deep into the central United States in November. The winter-like conditions that followed were a mixed blessing for waterfowlers.

Fred Zink, who hunts the coastal marshes and agricultural lands near Sandusky, Ohio, reports, “The hunting in this region has probably been as good as it’s been in many years. The one thing that hurt us was the big freeze-up in November. Currently there aren’t many birds sitting north of us. With the exception of divers, that untimely freeze really moved the ducks through this area quickly.”

Perhaps no state was impacted more by the unusually cold weather than Michigan, where shallow marshes froze up tight, essentially bringing the season to a close on many popular hunting areas. A bright spot has been the tremendous number and variety of diving ducks that have been providing excellent hunting opportunities on the big water.

“The diver hunting has been excellent on Lake St. Clair,” reports MI Guide Service owner and guide Jeremy Ullman. “Our clients have been bagging lots of bluebills, redheads, and cans, and over the last few days we’ve been taking trophy longtails on Lake Huron to close out the season.”

While Canada goose numbers remain excellent in northern Indiana, duck numbers have been spotty post freeze-up. As in northern Ohio, waterfowlers in northern Indiana enjoyed an impressive mallard migration and good shooting before wetlands froze up.

Further south in the Hoosier State, Travis Stoelting, property manager at Goose Pond, Hillenbrand, and Fairbanks Landing Fish and Wildlife Areas (FWA), details how the cold snap impacted waterfowl numbers. “On December 4 we counted just over 1,600 mallards on our survey route and about 600 gadwalls. The week prior we had comparable numbers. Just before the central zone duck season reopened we had very good numbers of most species on our survey, including over 4,000 mallards and a couple thousand gadwalls,” Stoelting explains. “That said, geese are now showing up in good numbers consistently at Goose Pond. We have seen greater white-fronted geese, Canada geese, and now snow geese using several marshes and flooded fields. Hunters coming to Goose Pond should expect to see water throughout the property and fairly good hunting until we start to freeze up, which is just around the corner.”

In the Illinois and Mississippi River valleys, duck numbers are currently below the 10-year average, according to recent surveys. However, Aaron Yetter, of the Forbes Biological Research Station in Havana, Illinois, says there appears to have been an influx of new birds recently.

“Reports from the Confluence region of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers indicate new ducks arrived on Thanksgiving and continued to arrive through Monday,” Yetter says. Weekly aerial survey results and Yetter’s popular blog can be viewed on the Forbes website.

In southern Illinois, Sean Herrick, owner of Willow Creek Waterfowl, reports that large numbers of snow geese have started to show up in recent days, but Canada goose hunting has been slow and specklebellies have yet to arrive in significant numbers.

“Most folks are looking forward to a freeze early next week to shake things up a little,” Herrick says.

All of this begs the question: Are there any birds left in the pipeline for Great Lakes waterfowlers before seasons end? In Minnesota and Wisconsin, hunters are still reporting large numbers of Canada geese and mallards in certain areas. With another powerful cold front in the forecast for next week, hunters can only hope those hardy geese and mallards will tire of the ice and snow and take a little ride south.