The signs of fall are starting to become more prevalent. Leaves on a few trees have begun to change and in about three weeks it will be peak fall colors. Geese migrations are starting with a couple flocks heading south for the winter all ready. The weather has been mild and pleasant but there is a cool crispness to the air. For me it's a bittersweet time of year; I love the fall here in the Keweenaw, but I'll miss the summer that seemed to have rushed on by.
With fall comes hunting season for a lot of us. I particularly try to make time to get out and hunt waterfowl. Duck hunting is a complete obsession for some and a mystery to others. I fall somewhere in between but every September I get the itch. Saturday the 22nd marks the beginning of our regular duck and goose season.
If you plan to start duck or goose hunting there are a couple things you need to have and know. The first thing you need to have is the proper licensing; you will need a Michigan small game license and a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting stamp. You will also need to know the proper regulations. There are limits set on what type of birds you can shoot at and how many of each type. For example, you may have a total of four mallards but only one of which may be a hen. There are limits on what time in the morning you may start shooting. All of this information is available in the Michigan Waterfowl Hunting Digest. It is also a good idea to familiarize yourself with identifying the birds by sight and call before you begin shooting.
The equipment you need varies to what type of hunting you will do and or how carried away you want to get. A shotgun with lead free shot is required to hunt all waterfowl. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service implemented a ban on traditional leaded shot for waterfowl hunting to reduce environmental contaminants. Clothing is weather-dependent but should be either camouflage or at least earth tone in a color that will blend with your surrounding. Birds can see color and will tend to avoid you if they can see you.
I like to have at least a half-dozen decoys to spread out in front of where I plan to sit or stand. Decoys of the species you are targeting can be very affective to lure them into range; even birds of a different species may come in to investigate.
Rubber boots or waders are nice for keeping dry and for retrieving downed birds. I use a canoe for accessing hunting areas and retrieving birds. When not in use, the canoe is covered with camo burlap to help it blend in. I carry a goose call to try and lure geese my way. A variety of duck calls are also available but I don't normally use one because I haven't been able to make myself sound like a duck.
For me and probably most others, duck hunting is about more than putting meat on the table. It's about paddling across water in the pitch black hoping a beaver doesn't scare the daylights out of me with a tail slap. It's about fumbling with decoys in the dark to set up a spread. It's about settling into the reeds or bushes and waiting for morning light. But the real magic that got me hooked happens when dawn finally arrives. Watching wetlands wake up to an autumn morning is something I can't begin to explain with words.