Annual Youth Hunt

Each year I offer to guide some young hunters on a duck hunt during Michigan’s two day youth hunt.  This hunt is a great opportunity to teach the next generation of duck hunters how to ethically and successfully harvest waterfowl.  I take the kids to a nearby state game area that is managed for waterfowl.

Last year I had two of my cousins’ kids on the youth hunt.  Both kids were excited to have the opportunity at one of the premier waterfowl management areas in Michigan.  We started the day by attending the pre-hunt draw to choose our hunting zones.  After drawing third to last, we headed out to our zone.  The zone we chose was in a scramble area without delineated hunting areas – the first one to a spot gets the spot.  Since we were drawn so late, we were limited on where we could hunt since most of the good spots were already taken.

The adults unloaded the boats and loaded the gear while the kids got dressed and we were all ready to head into the marsh at the same time.  With limited space, we found a place to set up that was over 100 yards away from the nearest hunting party.  As we built a temporary blind and set the decoys we talked about some general ground rules for the hunt to maintain safety for everyone.  The main points we covered are listed below and a good idea to layout before any hunt:

  • When setting up, try to allow at least 100 yards between you and the next party.  The greater the distance the less influence you will have on each others birds when they are working.
  • Don’t shoot until hunting time has been called by the hunt leader.
  • Respect your shooting lanes when the hunt begins.  Don’t shoot at a bird that would cause you to be shooting over someone’s head.  Don’t shoot behind you because that is where the adults will be standing.
  • Only shoot healthy birds in the air.  They are more exposed and offer a more vulnerable target.
  • If a crippled bird is on the water, don’t shoot if the dog is near.  Wait until all dogs and hunters are clear before finishing off a cripple.
  • Wait for the hunt leader to call the shots.  Shooting too early can be frustrating for yourself and for other hunters.
  • Try to identify the ducks before you take your shot.  The hunt leader will call out the species when he calls the shot.  Identification is key to staying within the legal daily bag limit.

The kids were excited and understood the rules of the hunt as shooting time was quickly approaching.  The morning started off with a bang as the first bird came in and was dispatched with one shot.  The youngster had just shot his first ringneck.  He was as excited as I’ve ever seen him.  The following hour included about 20 shots between the two kids and no birds to show for them.  The other youth decided to set up in a different spot and try to get some birds that were working a different area.  This was a good decision as it yielded a large black duck.  By ten in the morning, both kids had expended their 25 shell allotment and each had one duck to show for it.  They had a great hunt even though they didn’t shoot well.

At the end of the hunt, I took the group to a nearby wetland restoration completed by Ducks Unlimited in coordination with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.  When we arrived at the site, I explained the importance of continuing to restore wetlands and create more wetland habitat for waterfowl.  By creating waterfowl habitat, we are taking steps to ensure that future generations can recreationally enjoy the wildlife that use these habitats.  When we arrived at the two year old site, we were greeted with over 150 mallards and more than 50 geese on a 26 acre impoundment.


On the way home, the kids asked me politely if I would take them out again in 2009.  When I agreed to put it on my calendar, they asked to hunt the DU project for the next hunt.  I smiled and responded with a resounding “absolutely!”

Family Traditions

The state of Michigan has multiple opening days each year.  Sometimes we are lucky enough to have three opening days, but sometimes we have only two.  This gives motivated hunters an opportunity to experience the best puddle duck hunting in Michigan over the course of multiple weekends.  What better way to start the duck season than to hunt for two or three consecutive weekends and the birds are just as dumb each time you go out?

My uncle has a cabin in the heart of a national forest in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (UP).  The UP always has a different opening day than the southern lower peninsula, which is where I reside.  A few years ago, my uncle invited some of us “trolls” up for the UP opener.  Ecstatic, my cousin and I drove up on a Thursday, hunted grouse on Friday and then ducks for opening morning.  This trip has become a tradition for my family and it has been permanently placed on our calendars for the foreseeable future.  Not only do we enjoy the phenomenal duck hunting opening morning, but we experience unequalled grouse hunting with around 40 flushes per full day of hunting.

Our family motto is “The family that hunts together, stays together!”  It would take a life changing event to prevent our family members from reconvening each fall to share the woods and the blind with our extended family.  This year my mom, two uncles and one cousin all made the trip to the UP for the opener.


The weekend started with disappointment when we found out that the road that led to our 4 best grouse spots was closed by the forest service.  We spent more time driving and less time hunting than normal on Friday, but still produced six grouse and two woodcock – which are better numbers than we traditionally have done.  After a big dinner, we scouted for the evening flight of ducks and laid out the plan for the following morning.

We arrived at our spot and were setup with a few minutes to spare.  Low hanging cloud cover provided minimal visibility.  The ducks didn’t start flying until 15 minutes after shooting time.  The next ten minutes were a flurry of activity that resulted in ten birds in the bag.  By the time 10:00 am hit, we had 22 ducks in the bag for the five of us.  My cousin and I each had limited out and the old people picked up the other ten birds.  The morning hunt provided a mixed bag of greenwing teal, bluewing teal, wood ducks, mallards, black ducks, and wigeon.  We called it a day and chased grouse and woodcock for the rest of the day.

We setup Sunday for the second day shoot and picked up four more mallards and a canada goose before packing it up to head back to the south for two more weeks of work before our zone opened up.

When I told my uncles that my wife and I are expecting our first baby in February, the response was simply: “make sure you learn the spots up here so you can bring your son when he gets old enough.”  I simply smiled because I know that the opportunities provided by my relatives are because they are more proud of the success of the next generation than their own success.  My mother and uncles are almost as excited as I am to see my son take his first bird 11 years from now when he can start hunting.  It’s not about how many or how big your trophy is, it’s about enjoying natural renewable resources and passing on the family traditions that have kept your family strong through the tough times.

Thank you to my grandfathers, parents and uncles for passing on the tradition of hunting and teaching me the importance of family and the traditions that we hold.


Honey Hole Management

There is nothing better for a waterfowler than having a secret spot that produces year after year.  The kind of place that you can take an elder generation or the next generation because you know that you will experience a quality hunt.  Some hunters look hard to find a place they can rely on, other hunters have some property and they create a place that they will always have a hunt.

I hunted one of these honey holes recently when I was invited to my Uncle’s property.  When I got the call from my cousin, he told me “bring extra shells, its gonna be a fast action shoot.”  I’m not sure if he was making fun of my shooting skill or if he was just promising a good hunt.

The “duck pond” was a voluntary restoration implemented to draw area ducks and flight ducks to enjoy high quality hunts.  The pond was built to allow drawdown and to impound water for the fall migration.  The pond is drawn down in mid spring, to allow for productive plants to germinate.  The pond usually floods back up one to two weeks before the season starts.

My cousin and I have had many conversations regarding managing this pond with regards to when to flood and drawdown, hunt spacing to ensure quality hunts and what species of plants to seed during the drawdown.  The pond is never hunted two days in a row and usually has three to four days between hunts to allow the birds to accumulate.  We try not to shoot out all of the ducks when we hunt the pond.  If a few birds continue to use the honey hole, those birds will draw other birds in and create a better opportunity.

While we planned this hunt, we talked about how many days of rest the pond has had and about how many birds were using the pond.  The pond had been hunted on the Tuesday after opening day, but had been left alone until this Sunday hunt.  With four days for the ducks to forget the previous hunt, we settled into the blind 20 minutes before shooting time with great expectations.  Still 10 minutes before shooting time we had 40 mallards swimming in the decoys, only to flush shortly after landing due to the high pitch whine coming from the dogs in the blind.  Birds worked constantly until shooting time when we opened fire.  We had 13 ducks on the water in the first ten minutes, all woodies and mallards.  The morning hunt ended with 19 ducks in a little over an hour of hunting.  As we left the blind with our limit of wood ducks and a few mallards, we looked over our shoulders at another half dozen wood ducks landing in the pond.  I told my cousin to give it a couple days and they will be thick in there again.  The birds that don’t get shot will be fat, happy and ready for migration feeding on the high quality food planted in the pond.

What special place do you have to hunt that will produce a high quality hunt time and time again?  What management decisions do you make to ensure good habitat conditions for when the fall migration starts?


Using a refuge as a migration barometer

Hunting in Michigan has been hit or miss this year with the mild weather and sparse migration.  We enjoyed good hunting early in the season with a large local population

A lack of strong weather fronts midseason failed to drive the ducks into Michigan similar to past seasons.

Significant hunting effort was rewarded with few ducks through the month of November and the first weekend of December.

I use a lake near my house which receives little to no hunting pressure as a barometer for the migration.  Unfortunately this year, the lake held no more than the 20 local mallards that live in front of the houses around the lake.  In normal migration years, this lake will fill up with 400 to 500 ducks, mostly divers and mallards.  Although these numbers don’t usually lead to a fantastic hunt, the increase in numbers is representative of the migration and the increases that occur in areas that will sustain thousands of ducks during the peak of the migration.


This year the ducks didn’t show up on my “barometer lake” until two days after the main Michigan season had closed.  As I have observed this lake over the past three years, the ducks show up on this lake when the pile into the better hunting areas.

We now have ice on all of the smaller lakes and will likely be frozen shut with the exception of some rivers before we get our last chance at ducks in Michigan – the two day late season.  Although hunting in the late season usually produces a plethora of mallards, the main migration of divers and puddle ducks seems to have missed our hunting season dates this year.  This is frustrating for hunters across Michigan who hunted hard all season long only to watch the birds pass us by when the season is closed.

This lends to the question of season dates and should we put a split in the season.  Should the duck hunters solicit the Michigan department of Natural Resources for a split to let us hunt further into December.  My first thoughts are yes, of course, give us the opportunity to hunt later.  As I think to seasons past and remember only being able to hunt rivers when the season closes in early December, realize that the seasons are based on averages to allow hunters the maximum opportunity.  The MDNR has already considered hunting later in December and in more years than not, the birds have usually moved south to warmer states.  A later close to the season would most likely decrease opportunity rather an increase it.  Out of faith in the MDNR and the best available science that they employ when setting season dates, I remember that the MDNR is working hard to ensure that Michigan duck hunters have the maximum opportunity that is feasible.  Years such as this that leave the hunters frustrated will happen.  It is more important to try to take advantage of the opportunities available than to sit on a couch complaining that people who have a greater knowledge than the average duck hunter about waterfowl migration patterns have made decisions that are in our best interest.  We support our natural resource managers and they make decisions that will create the best opportunity possible in order to maintain or increase that support

One thing that no one can predict in August when the regulations are set is when the weather fronts will push the migrating ducks in our favorite honey holes.