Growing up in Saginaw was the ideal situation if you liked to hunt waterfowl. Saginaw was smack dab in the middle of what Michigan waterfowlers referred to as the Golden Triangle. Saginaw
is perched strategically between Fish Point Wildlife Management Area,
Nayanquing Point State Game Area, Crow Island State Game Area and Shiawassee State Game Area and the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. Living in Saginaw meant you were within an hour's drive of all the state's best waterfowl management areas, with a bounty of freelance opportunities on Saginaw Bay.
When we hunted Fish Point back in the early 1970s, you could just go out and hunt in many of the cornfields surrounding the WMA without going through the draw or securing a permit. My dad, brothers and I spent many a day in the cut cornfields near Fish Point.
I remember one day when flock after flock of mallards streamed over the pit we were hiding in, but my dad claimed they were too high to shoot. I told him I thought they were in range. He said, "Go ahead and shoot if you think they're in range."
As the next flock approached, I stood, swung ahead of the lead duck and pulled the trigger. Two greenheads came spiraling down out of the flock. "I told you they weren't too high!" I said incredulously to my dad. It was one of the few times he never said a word.
A lot has changed since those days, but Michigan's Wetland Wonders still provide some of the best waterfowling opportunities in the state. Michigan's Wetland Wonders (michigan.gov) are the seven premier Managed Waterfowl Hunt Areas (MWHAs) in the state.
They include Nayanquing Point, Fish Point, Shiawassee River, Harsens Island, Pointe Mouillee, Muskegon County Wastewater, and the Fennville Farm Unit. Those areas, scattered across the southern Lower Peninsula, were created in the 1960s to provide exceptional waterfowl hunting opportunities, and are still managed today to provide waterfowl habitat for nesting and migration and for the benefit of other wetland wildlife.
Since the beginning, hunting license fees and area use fees have funded them, but they are open for anyone to visit, use and enjoy most of the year.
Barbara Avers, Waterfowl and Wetlands Specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said that although a lot has changed over the years at the MWHAs, many things are still the same.
"Dealing with water levels is one thing that never seems to change," joked Avers. "Water levels are always fluctuating and it always seems there's a fine line between having too much water for planting in the spring and not enough water to flood hunting areas in the fall, but in recent years we've been able to get a handle on it.
"In the last 10 years, the MDNR has made investments in aging pumps and water control structures that have helped us keep ahead of it. This year looks good so far. Barring any heavy spring rains, it looks like we'll be able to get the crops in. In recent years, water levels have been relatively high so flooding in the fall hasn't been an issue.
"In the last 20 years, usage on the managed waterfowl areas has declined," said Avers, "but since the MDNR started the Wetland Wonders program, usage has stabilized or gone up slightly. It's been estimated that 20 percent of the waterfowlers in Michigan utilized the managed waterfowl areas at least once during the season."
In spite of liberal hunting seasons and record-high waterfowl numbers in recent years, refuge counts have gone down at the MWHAs, with the exception of Fish Point, and waterfowl harvest has declined from what it was 20 years ago, but has stabilized over the past 10 years.
In the past, a daily fee has been charged to hunt the managed waterfowl areas. Today, there are no fees. A portion of the state waterfowl license fee goes toward managing the areas.
Hunters should consult the current Michigan Waterfowl Hunting Digest for specific rules. The Michigan DNR Web site (michigan.gov/dnr) provides weekly information on waterfowl counts and success, special regulations, buying a license, and more.
Consisting of 3,500 acres of agriculture habitat, Muskegon County Wastewater Managed Waterfowl Hunt Area produces opportunities to harvest both ducks and geese. Along with the hunting opportunities that exist at the Muskegon County Wastewater MWHA you also can tour the area to view wildlife, including many different species of migratory birds.
The lagoons on the MWHA attract a wide variety of waterfowl species, including up to 12,000 ruddy ducks and more than 5,000 northern shovelers. Both counts are among the highest recorded for those species in Michigan.
Contact Information: 7600 E. Messinger Rd., Twin Lake, MI 49457, 231-788-5055.
FENNVILLE FARM UNIT
The Fennville Farm Unit is part of the Allegan State Game Area. This 4,100-acre paradise for Canada goose hunting was purchased by the Michigan DNR from the A.M. Todd Company of Kalamazoo in 1949. The property was originally used to grow peppermint, but has since turned into a waterfowl hunter's dream.
Although it is primarily field hunting, some areas of shallow-water wetlands have been developed in recent years to help with roosting for waterfowl as well as serve as hunting zones. The main species harvested at the Farm Unit is Canada geese, but a healthy duck population exists.
Not only does the Fennville Farm Unit have waterfowl migrating through, but it also houses many other wildlife species. Contact Information: 6013 118th Avenue. Fennville, MI 49408, 269-561-2258.
NAYANQUING POINT STATE WILDLIFE AREA
Nayanquing Point State Wildlife Area is located three miles north of Linwood. Situated on the western shore of Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay, it consists of 1,505 acres. Nayanquing Point is unique in that the harvest of dabbling and diving ducks along with Canada geese is possible. Nayanquing Point's viewing tower provides premier opportunities to witness numerous bird species during their migration.
Despite its small size, tens of thousands of ducks, swans, geese, wading birds, shorebirds, raptors and songbirds migrate through Nayanquing Point each fall and spring.
Contact Information: 1570 Tower Beach Road, Pinconning, MI 48650, 989-697-5101.
FISH POINT STATE GAME AREA
Fish Point State Wildlife Area is located on the Saginaw Bay of Lake Huron. Consisting of 2,477 acres of exceptional waterfowl habitat, Fish Point offers many types of waterfowl hunting such as marsh areas, flooded cornfields, and dry agriculture fields. Open-water hunting on Saginaw Bay is only a short boat ride away.
Often referred to as the "Chesapeake of the Midwest" an abundance of waterfowl in numbers and species call the SGA home. Ducks make up the majority of the harvested waterfowl, but Canada geese are present and harvested annually.
All hunting zones are accessible with some zones having bridges for access. Excellent late-season pheasant hunting exists after the close of the waterfowl season.
Along with the hunting opportunities that exist at Fish Point, it also is possible to see many migrating birds. One of the unique sightings is the presence of several snowy owls that spend the winter at Fish Point.
INFO: 7750 Ringle Road, Unionville, MI 48767, 989-674-2511.
SHIAWASSEE RIVER STATE GAME AREA
The Shiawassee River State Game Area consists of nearly 10,000 acres of managed waterfowl habitat. It is the largest managed waterfowl hunt area the state of Michigan has to offer. With a multitude of hunting opportunities, every type of waterfowl hunter will find enjoyment hunting at the Shiawassee River MWHA.
Its dikes and access roads can be used to view an array of wildlife species that are present throughout the year. Mass concentrations of wetland species are found throughout the area and provide exceptional wildlife viewing opportunities.
INFO: 225 East Spruce Street, St. Charles, MI 48655, 989-865-6211.
A short car ferry ride takes you to Harsens Island, located on the historic waterfowling shores of the St. Clair Flats. The 3,355 acres of strictly managed waterfowl habitat at Harsens Island is part of the largest freshwater delta in the United States.
Mallards are the most prevalent species harvested on the managed area, but black ducks, pintails, wood ducks and Canada geese and several other species are taken each year. Harsens Island offers many different hunting opportunities for the waterfowler — flooded agriculture, marsh areas, and open water to name a few.
The use of spinning-wing decoys is prohibited.
INFO: 3857 Columbine Road, Harsens Island, MI 48028, 810-748-9504.
POINTE MOUILLEE STATE GAME AREA
Pointe Mouillee State Game Area is one of the most heralded waterfowl locations in Michigan. Consisting of 4,040 acres, it is one of the largest freshwater marsh restoration projects in the world.
Along with exceptional waterfowl hunting, its numerous bird species and habitat diversity make it an important birding site in the Midwest. Pointe Mouillee also has an annual waterfowl festival in September and is celebrating its 66th anniversary this year.
Managed Hunting Units include the Nelson, Long Pond, and Walpatich units. The Vermet, Humphries, and Bad Creek units account for 1,900 acres of waterfowl hunting without the need for a permit
INFO: 37205 Mouillee Road, Route 2, Rockwood, MI 48137, 734-379-9692.
CROW ISLAND STATE GAME AREA
Crow Island State Game Area, while not included as one of the Wetland Wonders, is an important stopover for migrating waterfowl and lies near Nayanquing, Fish Point, and Shiawassee SGA.
Consisting of East and West Units totaling 3,489 acres and bisected by the Saginaw River, Crow Island State Game Area sees an inordinate number of ducks and geese that trade between Saginaw Bay and other managed areas.
The area is open to hunting without a permit. In the past, reservations had been required in advance to hunt on opening weekend.
For more information, go to the state Web site at michigandnr.com/publications/pdfs/huntingwildlifehabitat/sga/Crow_Island_SGA_map.pdf.
If you plan on hunting the managed areas, mark this date on your calendar: Oct. 20. Although many hunters will recognize it as the opening day of Michigan's pheasant season, waterfowlers should take note. Almost without fail, Michigan will see a big influx of ducks a couple of days either side of that date. It has nothing to do with the moon phase or weather usually.
It's just time. You won't see a bunch of red-legged mallards. It takes some nasty weather to force them south. But you will see an uptick in the number of birds arriving around that time. Widgeon, gadwall, green-winged teal and pintails as well as redheads and bluebills show up then like clockwork.
Ducks that don't know the confines of the refuge or the fact that the cornstalks hide hunters are much easier to add to the bird strap.