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Duck hunting on Saginaw Bay provides a lot of variety


Sunday, December 4, 2005 By Bob Gwizdz

LINDEN -- This was all the weatherman's fault.

The forecast called for mild winds and snowfall at nightfall. But as dawn broke, it was snowing and blowing like Antarctica.

So being out of position -- flat on our backs in small pits we'd dug in a cut cornfield in the Thumb -- was precarious.

Not only would the heavy weather diminish the number of birds that visited the field -- my host, Bill St. Peter, said his partner had put several thousand mallards to bed here the night before -- but we hadn't brought any snow camouflage with us. Our brown bodies stood out in the white field like body builders at a ballerina convention.

Not that we didn't see birds; there were hundreds in the air a time. But they wouldn't give our decoy spread a glance.

"The weatherman killed us," said St. Peter, a 38-year-old flooring installer, ranking professional walleye angler and duck hunting aficionado. "This would have been a great day to be on the Bay."

The Bay being Saginaw Bay, where St. Peter usually hunts ducks.

So a little after 9 a.m., we picked up, trudged out of the field and headed for the Bay.

It was past noon by the time we arrived at a cattail-covered peninsula. It was a totally different day here -- 90 percent blue sky, and significantly less wind. St. Peter was right.

After he'd hidden the boat -- there wasn't enough depth to pull into the cattails -- we tossed five diving duck decoys on one side of the peninsula and went to the other side to toss mallard dekes. While we were setting decoys, a bluebill splashed into the diver set. I walked over and shot it as it took off.

Minutes later, an inquisitive drake mallard fell afoul of St. Peter's shotgun. Then a quintet of redheads came into the diver set and we shot two apiece.

Then a black. Then a pair of widgeons. Then three more mallards one at a time.

In two hours, we were limited out.

"I would basically call it a decent day," St. Peter said. "Definitely above average, but not great."

A great day, St. Peter said, is when the birds are decoying better (we did have to do some good shooting), all the birds are drakes (we did kill a hen redhead) and you can pick out what you want. As it was, we took about everything that came in -- except a merganser that splashed into the diver decoys -- though we could have held out for a limit of greenheads; they were really starting to work when we finished up.

Of course, the wide variety is one of the attractions of Saginaw Bay. While many of the state's managed waterfowl areas attract mostly mallards, especially late in the season, Saginaw Bay always has its share of diving ducks and a mix of puddlers, too.

The downside to the bay, St. Peter said, is the low water levels of the past few years that have made it increasingly difficult to negotiate. And high winds, depending on the direction, can exacerbate that situation.

But there's a plus side to that, too; there are places where a hunter can strap a sack of decoys on his back and walk in to some pretty good hunting (though he had better have eaten a hearty breakfast).

"I like a northeast wind because it blows the water in and you can motor wherever you want," St. Peter said. "Wind direction pretty much dictates the depth of the water."

High winds can cause big waves, but they don't bother St. Peter.

"It's going to be rough, but the ducks are going to come in tight," he said. "They want to get out of the weather, too."

St. Peter says he rarely goes out at dawn, waiting until after the early birds have set up so he can get away from the crowds. Besides, as those other hunters leave, they'll bump up ducks, just as departing deer hunters move deer.

Duck hunting on Saginaw Bay is good right through the end of the season, St. Peter said.

"It usually freezes up and you lose a day here and there, but it usually opens back up. If it gets cold for four straight days, a lot of the inner cattails will be done, but there's always the outer bay if you're willing to put a little work into it. I don't ever remember when you couldn't get out in open water and shoot ducks.

"Some of the best hunting is those two days in January. There's always some birds around and they haven't been hunted for weeks. It's like a new opening day.

"Other than the Dakotas, this is probably some of the best duck hunting there is."

Whether St. Peter is right about that is open to debate. But he was certainly right about one thing as our field hunt fizzled in the morning:

It was a great day to be on the Bay.
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