Migration Alert: Weather Shift Should Improve Michigan Waterfowling

Nov. 12, 2020 – Mississippi Flyway – Michigan

© Michael Furtman

During the month of October, Michigan hunters were elated as waves of migrating ducks and geese were pushed into the state by unseasonably cold weather to the north and west. In contrast, over the past couple weeks, unseasonably warm weather has settled in, putting the brakes on what was quickly becoming one of the best seasons in recent memory.

Thankfully, cooler temperatures are on the way, and Michigan waterfowl hunters are primed to finish the season strong.

“The midseason stale is about to give way,” says World Goose Calling Champion Shawn Stahl, of Rich-N-Tone Calls. “Last week’s high temperatures and moon made birds hard to pattern. Falling temperatures should make the local birds active again and bring some fresh birds down from the north.”

While downstate Michigan hunters were enjoying good success rates, reports from the Upper Peninsula indicate some frustration as the big cold fronts of October pushed many ducks and geese farther south.

The exception is the major migration corridor along the St. Mary’s River straddling the Michigan/Ontario border, where mile after mile of marsh and open water offer migrating waterfowl plenty of food and rest.

“The hunting was difficult in the warmer weather,” explains veteran UP waterfowler Nick Santoro. “Diver numbers have been pretty good along the St. Mary’s. There are plenty of buffleheads, goldeneyes, and longtails, and bluebills and redheads are rafted up on some of the bays. Early-season puddlers and geese have left, so we are seeing mostly mallards now.”

While the UP (North Zone) and the northern Lower Peninsula (Middle Zone) are in the homestretch of the season, the South Zone (which encompasses the southern half of the Lower Peninsula) is just getting into prime time. And despite warm temperatures, reports from many state and federally managed properties indicate a net increase of waterfowl.

In western Michigan, both the Fennville Farm Unit at Allegan State Game Area and the Muskegon Wastewater Managed Waterfowl Hunt Area are reporting daily increases in Canada goose and mallard numbers.

In the eastern portion of the state, Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay, Lake St. Clair and Michigan’s northwest slice of Lake Erie draw millions of migrating waterfowl annually. State and federal wildlife areas in the region provide excellent waterfowl hunting opportunities in marsh, moist-soil, and flooded crop units. Two managed properties that often stand out each year are Fish Point State Wildlife Area located on the east side of Saginaw Bay, and the Harsens Island Unit of St. Clair Flats Wildlife Area, located in the northern portion of Lake St. Clair.

Fish Point is nearing the 5,000 mark for duck harvest this season, and reports indicate waterfowl numbers are building daily, including good numbers of mallards, green-winged teal, pintails, and redheads. The Harsens Island refuge is holding around 23,000 ducks, mostly mallards. Hunters have bagged more than 4,000 ducks at Harsens Island thus far this season. Both properties are also reporting consistent goose hunting success.

Due to the global pandemic, state properties have implemented special daily draw procedures. For more specifics as well as weekly manager’s updates and waterfowl counts, click here.

While diving duck hunters are reporting great success overall in Michigan this season, summer-like conditions have stifled the action to a degree over the past 10 days. 

“There were a lot of birds that showed up prior to the warm spell. We had some goldeneyes down here already and quite a few cans,” says MI Guide Service owner Jeremy Ullmann, who specializes in guiding hunters for divers.

Ullman notes a lack of movement from scaup, redheads and canvasbacks on recent warm, windless days, but says sea duck species have been moving well.

“There are a bunch of sea ducks around, especially on Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay. Hunting for longtails and scoters is really good right now.”

Like many hunters around the Great Lakes Region, Michigan waterfowlers have been patiently waiting for more seasonable weather conditions. All indications are that as the temperatures moderate this week, there will be plenty of ducks and geese to keep hunters busy for the foreseeable future.