By Howard Meyerson
Spring rains may have wreaked havoc on the Michigan landscape this year, but they likely made things better for waterfowl hunters. More ponds and marshes are holding water meaning waterfowl hunters will have more places to hunt, easier access and possibly more ducks and geese.
Michigan’s early Canada goose hunting season kicked off September 1. Goose hunters have an unusually long 107-day season ahead. Goose numbers are down slightly, according to state wildlife officials, but Michigan’s resident population remains well over target. An early season count by wildlife officials shows the Michigan breeding population at 265,000 Canada geese.
“Our goal is a range between 175,000 to 225,000 Canada geese,” said Barb Avers, the waterfowl specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “Last year we were looking at a very liberal 92-day season. Now we will have 107-day season, the absolute maximum allowed under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.”
Michigan goose hunters killed approximately 144,700 geese in 2012 according to a recent report on migratory bird harvests by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Michigan has approximately 31,900 “active” goose hunters.
Duck hunting this season should also be good. Michigan hunters killed 320,200 ducks during the 2012 season, an 11.3 percent increase over 2011. There is more water on the landscape and hunters will have more opportunities to find ducks.
“Our wetland estimates are up by 32 percent due to a wet spring,” Avers said. “And Great Lakes water levels are up and that helped us flood managed areas. Last year the birds were more concentrated in areas. This year they will be more dispersed.”
More water in marshes typically means more duck and goose nesting, but Avers was cautious about saying more were produced. Spring floods may have washed out some of the early nests.
The Michigan mallard population remains about 20 percent below the long-term
average. DNR spring breeding counts found approximately 290,000 mallards on the landscape. Michigan hunters killed an estimated 127,535 mallards in 2012.
Wood ducks are holding up, but those estimates are variable, according to Avers.
Woodies nest in forest edges and are tougher to find, but they are expected to be as plentiful as in 2012 when hunters took an estimated 59,394.
Hunters also killed 16,476 green-winged teal and 7,933 blue-winged teal last year according to the FWS report which found continental populations had declined by 12 percent and 16 percent respectively, but remained 51 percent and 60 percent higher than the long-term average.
Good teal hunting ahead
Teal hunting is expected to be good this year, especially in the Upper Peninsula where the northern duck season opener falls on September 2, early enough that U.P. hunters are likely to have an opportunity to see some before they migrate south.
Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa all are planning to propose an experimental teal season in 2014. It’s been discussed for years and Avers said the time is right. The Fish and Wildlife Service just finished its teal harvest assessment for last year which showed that they could withstand more harvest.
Scaup, or bluebills as they are commonly known, are another story. Breeding surveys conducted by the US and Canadian wildlife service’s found North American scaup populations declined by 20 percent from 2012. As a result the daily limit was reduced for this year.
“The scaup harvest last year was very high in the Mississippi Flyway states,” Avers said. “You could take four per day. This year it’s three per day.”
Limits on Canvasback ducks were raised this season from one to two per day. Those populations increased by four percent over 2012 and remain 37 percent above the long-term average.
Six duck per day limits
Hunters will be able to shoot six ducks per day during the season in Michigan. That includes no more than 4 mallards, only one of which can be a female, three wood ducks, two redheads, three scaup, two pintails, ne black duck, and two canvasbacks.
Other changes for the season include:
• Hunters can now have three-days limits in possession, up from two days.
• Spinning winged decoys are now prohibited at Harsens Island managed hunts as they have been at Shiawassee River State Game Area.
• The Youth Waterfowl Hunting Weekend is scheduled for September 14-15.
In all, it looks like a good season ahead: water in the marshes and good numbers of ducks and geese distributed widely. It doesn’t get a whole lot better. Be careful out there and enjoy the hunt.
Waterfowl Season Hunting Calendar
September 21 to November 10 and November 23 to December 1
October 5 to December 1 and December 14-15
October 12 to December 8 and December 28-29
Remainder of State (except Saginaw, Tuscola, and Huron counties)
Saginaw, Tuscola, and Huron Counties
September 11 to December 11
September 21-29 and October 5 to December 26
South Zone (Excluding GMUs)
September 21-23; October 12 to December 8; and December 28-29
Late Season (South Zone Only)
January 18 to February 15, 2014
Goose Management Units (GMU)
Saginaw County GMU
September 21-23; October 12 to December 8; and December 28 to January 27, 2014
September 21-27; October 12 to December 8; and December 28 to January 23, 2014
Allegan County GMU
November 2 to January 31, 2014
Muskegon Waste Water GMU
October 16 to November 13 and December 1-22
This story appears on: MLive Outdoors