Bone-chilling cold, lake-effect snow and favorable migration winds will have a major impact on waterfowl hunting in the coming days across Michigan. While this unusually cold November weather pattern will likely lock up many bodies of water in the northern tier of the state, hunters in the southern half may see the biggest waterfowl migration of the season.
Upper Peninsula hunters are already dealing with ice on smaller waters along with heavy lake-effect snow. While this scenario will force many birds to continue migrating south, the open water and bays of Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron, as well as the large rivers associated with them, will remain open for the foreseeable future, allowing hardy, late-season species to remain.
Dan Miller, of Superior Decoys, has noticed a shift in the migration from puddle ducks to divers in recent days. “We are getting big pushes of bluebills, buffleheads and scoters through the U.P. Most of our puddle ducks have left as the smaller water is freezing or has frozen,” Miller reports. “Canada geese were still piling in earlier this week but will likely be gone by the weekend. Goldeneyes are moving in too, but not in late-season numbers yet.”
Northern Lower Peninsula hunters will be faced with increasing ice coverage and snow in the coming days as well. Besides the open waters of Lakes Michigan and Huron, portions of larger inland lakes are likely to remain open through next week. Reports suggest most puddle ducks are moving through quickly, while divers are taking their place.
Forming the gap between the fingers and thumb of Michigan’s “Mitten” is Lake Huron’s massive Saginaw Bay. The surrounding fish and wildlife areas and refuges are traditional migration stopovers for incredible numbers of ducks and geese as they migrate down the flyway.
DU volunteer Dean Noble spends more time than most hunting the open waters of the bay. “We had a good push of birds last week. There are quite a few redheads around,” Noble says. “It’s been a mixed bag on the bay. They are getting a bit shy, but with some work you can still pick up birds.”
State properties in the area are reporting good hunting opportunities overall. Nayanquing Point State Wildlife Area on the west side of Saginaw Bay reports over 3,500 ducks have been harvested on the property so far this season.
“Waterfowl numbers decreased a bit, with refuge numbers declining to 8,000 birds,” explains Michigan DNR wildlife technician Brandy M. Dybas-Berger. “Ice is coming unfortunately.”
South southeast of Saginaw Bay, in the Detroit Metro area, Lake St. Clair is holding impressive numbers of various diver species, and reports indicate more birds continue to show up daily. “It’s been really good. Most days my clients have shot their limits by 9 o’clock or so,” reports MIguideservice owner and guide Jeremy Ullmann. “We’ve been getting into a variety of different species. Lots of bluebills—mostly greaters—but also a lot of redheads. With the cold weather coming, it’s only going to get better out on the lake.”
During peak migration, it’s not unusual for Lake St. Clair to hold well over 100,000 ducks. In the northwest corner of the lake, the St. Clair Flats and adjacent Harsens Island Managed Waterfowl Hunt Area host impressive numbers of birds. Hunters have harvested more than 4,500 ducks at Harsens Island so far this season.
“We gained a good bunch of birds last week, bringing our refuge count up to around 24,000 birds. We had an inch and a half of rain Thursday alone. The rainfall, combined with adding water via gates to a few zones, has us at full pool,” says Michigan DNR wildlife technician John Darling. “With colder weather on the way, afternoon hunts will likely start to be much better than mornings, especially if we start having skim ice.”
Farther south, Pointe Mouillee State Game Area is ideally located where the Detroit River flows into to the northwest corner of Lake Erie. “Duck numbers have increased significantly over the past two weeks,” says Michigan DNR wildlife technician Adam Shook. “The harvest is well above last season at this point, with mallards, gadwalls, scaup, buffleheads, and shovelers being the most abundant species in the count. A large raft of nearly 2,000 divers were spotted on Lake Erie near the property, so the diving duck harvest should rise in the coming weeks.”
Hunting reports throughout the southern tier of lower Michigan indicate outstanding Canada goose hunting on private and public land. With plenty of harvested corn, water, and a lack of deep snow, geese should be present in good numbers for the foreseeable future.
All in all, Michigan waterfowlers shouldn’t hang up their lanyards yet, but with much colder weather in the forecast, hunters should make the most of their opportunities before this season is a memory.