Some of the best goose and duck hunting comes during the late season and for many Michigan hunters going outdoors is a unique way to celebrate the New Year. Southern Michigan has a late duck and goose hunt on December 27 and 28. Most duck species have migrated south but there are still plenty of mallards available to those willing to brave the elements. You can harvest two geese per day, four mallards per day and this year two can be hens. Then, come 2015 there is a goose hunt in southern Michigan that begins January 17 and runs through February 14. The winter hunt is only for geese and you can harvest five per day and have 15 in possession. A base license is required along with a state and federal waterfowl stamp. The license you used during fall are legal for the winter season. Consult the Michigan Waterfowl Digest for shooting dates, hours, possession limits and more.

Christmas passed and New Year ‘s Eve was coming when I turned on the Mojo motion decoys, carefully scanning the horizon for early morning flights. When they appeared like a dream come true, the sight of many birds made the scene overpowering. No matter which way I turned, there were formations of giant Canada geese escorted by fast moving squadrons of mallards. They crisscrossed the sky in ribbon-like lines, circled the decoys, then cupped wings and swooshed 30 yards away. My Benelli Super Black Eagle II broke the morning silence followed by the thump of a bird crashing to solid ground. In twenty minutes I had my limit of flight mallards. But rather than packing we turned off the rotating duck decoys and set out full body Big Foot goose decoys. A squadron of giant Canada geese circled close and we remained motionless until they cupped wings turned slowly into the wind and glided into the realistic decoy spread. Two more shots and I limited out with a combination of large drake mallards and giant Canada geese that would tip the scales at around 12 pounds each. What a hunt!

Now, isn’t it about time you sampled Michigan’s superb late-season waterfowling. Try it and I guarantee you will be hooked for life. Seems the fast-paced shooting fun is addictive. Many outings are highlighted by early morning gunning action that is top-notch wonderful.

Late season hunting is not always easy. In fact, it rarely is; unless you follow some guidelines that lead to success. We all know the negatives of late season hunting: bitter cold, freezing rain, mud filled fields, ice-covered water, fewer birds, no hunters to move birds, birds that are skittish from hunting pressure, and waterfowl that hole up on sanctuaries where you cannot hunt them. But don’t overlook the pluses to this hunt as well: rain and snow concentrate birds, fewer hunters are out so birds revert to normal feeding patterns, throughout southern Michigan birds are available, the birds you harvest will be the largest of the entire year offering an opportunity to take huge geese and drake mallards highlighted by double curl tail feathers and beautifully colored green heads.

Late-season duck and goose hunting is different than any other waterfowl adventure, though. Special tactics are required to outwit wary birds. Here are some strategies that have worked for me.

Find birds and get on them. Never make the common mistake of going hunting without doing your homework first. In order to cash in on hot late season gunning action you need to follow the golden rule: scout and continue to scout. This requires you spend time afield or in your vehicle following local flocks to determine their daily flying pattern. Most hunters prefer to locate a stubble corn field where birds are landing. Now, it is a matter of setting up decoys before daylight and waiting for incoming birds at their dinner table. Other hunters like to ambush birds along open water flyways.

Place decoys where you scouted feeding birds and stay away from fence rows, trees or woodlots. Use harvested birds as decoys by tucking their heads under their wings. Kenny Darwin photos

Michigan hosts a variety of streams, rivers, lakes and ponds offering open water for late-season birds. If weather is cold you can find birds on larger rivers, but a January thaw can open water on lakes and ponds. These areas offer excellent gunning when birds flee the pressure of opening day and head for roosting hotspots. The most important element in this endeavor is to scout thoroughly and set an ambush for birds that you have located and identified their movement patterns.

I’m amazed at the number of sanctuaries available for ducks and geese. Just take a look at ponds along the expressways and inner-city parks found in Flint, Pontiac, Detroit, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Lansing, Ann Arbor and more, which offer protection from hunters, open water for roosting and availability of green grass. The other important element that can dictate numbers of birds in your area is weather. A cold winter blast highlighted by deep snow and sub-zero temperatures can send birds scurrying south. On the other hand, warming trends highlighted by balmy south winds can bring migrating birds back overnight.

The past few years I’ve incorporated motion decoys to my duck spread. This tactic is deadly for mallards. My choice is a pair of Mojo magnum mallards used on stakes above full body mallard decoys. They are hooked up to remote control and the spinning wings resemble the action of a duck landing. Mojo’s realism is unsurpassed and the results have been impressive. Some conservationists feel spinning wing decoys should be banned because they are too effective. Well, it is my opinion that these critics do not know what they are talking about. Like any other tactic, there are some tricks you need to learn in order to make Mojo the ultimate duck slayer. Besides, any sportsman is certainly in favor of limiting his kill, not just killing his limit. Bag limits are set by state and federal agencies to protect duck populations. If zillions of hunters go over the bag limit there is cause for concern, if not, the impact of rotating wing decoys is minimal. I invite any outdoorsman to come hunt with me in a blizzard, freezing rain or ear piercing howling wind, and then let’s talk about not using tactics that draw ducks. Fact is, any rotating wing decoy will help to draw ducks, some will dive into easy range but far more will ignore the spinning decoy and land in an area that is far from harm’s way. The trick with motion decoys is to use fully charged 6-volt batteries that will keep the wings turning the entire hunt on a cold day. Savvy hunters use several rotating wing decoys along with a large spread of decoys.

If I’m hunting ducks on open water I use motion decoys to bring life to the deks and suck birds from the sky like a duck tornado. My strategy is simple; I use very few decoys, less than a dozen and most are moving. I want them swimming, diving, splashing and the activity draws birds like no other. I’m finished with large stationary decoy spreads. I’ve sold my stationary duck decoys on eBay. Today I use Mojo Mama Jama and Mojo Flyway Feeders. The feeders are duck butts with a water pump that mimic feeding ducks. The Mama Jama is a spinning wing decoy with unique keel that creates the V pattern like a swimming duck. The idea is to make decoys come alive with motion and send ripples across the water surface to draw ducks from long distances.

After years of experimentation I’ve hit on a decoy spread that will out produce any other. I use Mojo Super mallards, Mojo Flyway Feeders and Mama Jama all at the same time. Of course I’ll toss in a few stationary magnum mallards with flocked feathers. My goal is to create a duck feeding frenzy that wild birds cannot resist. The trick is to set the decoys close together and imitate a flock of birds going nuts over food. I affectionately refer to my modern decoy spread as the “No fly zone” because I decoy ducks so close they are easy to shoot and few fly away.

Like all hunting endeavors, it pays to spend time outdoors when the conditions work to your advantage. Any wise water fowler will tell you that the best time to be in the field is during a storm. This is certainly true for winter duck and goose hunting. And if I were to pick a day for hot gunning it would be the morning of low hanging slate gray clouds spitting rain, sleet or snow. Birds are not crazy about flying in an all-out blizzard, but they seem to like to use snow squalls to cover their raids on local fields. Days that are highlighted by dark skies hanging low to the horizon are perfect for success. I’ve learned to sleep in if the sky is clear, temperatures have plummeted during the night and there is a light north wind following a high- pressure weather front. These conditions cause birds to huddle tight in an effort to keep watery roosting sites from freezing solid.

Pinpointing food sources is the key to hunting success. The rest can be relatively easy. Use white camo in snow. Set out as many decoys as possible when field hunting and place a string of decoys downwind from the bulk of your spread. Incoming birds will swing upwind and follow the decoys to the main spread. Wary geese having seen a lot of hunting pressure can be difficult to decoy into shotgun range. Some savvy hunters lay 40 yards downwind from the blocks to intercept geese that swing out of gun range from the spread. Deadly concealment is achieved by using a layout blind. For winter hunts blinds are very warm and comfortable, waterproof and the adjustable back support is worth a million bucks when you want to take a nap. Use calls, but not too loudly or aggressively. Some winter hunters stop calling when birds are 400 yards from the decoys. More often than not, morning hunts are the most productive and when you overshoot or “burn up” a field, refocus your energies on scouting a new hunting hot spot.

Positioning decoys to attract smart birds is an art. Some field layouts draw birds like a magnet, while other spreads seem to cause birds to be alarmed and they flare when they get a good look at the decoys. Try to place stand-up heads on the outside of the spread facing toward the center, as if they are walking to the center to join the feeding spree. Don’t make the common mistake of setting decoys too close together. Try placing several close together, giving a few yards spacing, and then stringing a couple decoys between each flock, to imitate family groups. Full body goose decoys are expensive to buy but they will often cure your problems with birds that are decoy shy.

Last winter I joined a group of hunters on the Grand River near Lansing. We bagged plenty of ducks and some geese to boot. The secret to our success was simple. Our guide found birds resting where the river forms a side channel swamp, highlighted by a shallow sand bar. Birds preferred to rest along the sand bar. We placed several floating decoys in the side current and put sleeper shells and resting full body decoys on the sand bar. The spread looked like relaxed birds, resting between meals. We used no stand up decoys, period. Ducks swarmed the spread at dawn, cupping wings and landing in our floaters. Come noon geese returning from nearby fields would circle overhead, swing downwind, drop landing gear and drop into decoys set near shore. We had an exciting hunt, perhaps the best of the year…. the kind of action that you would not want to miss, especially if you want to celebrate the coming of a new year.