MARQUETTE - As they stand on the edge of the water, their backs to the small hunting cabin sitting in the dark beyond their vehicles, Bob Apple and his son, Bill Apple, discuss the weather, the unseasonably warm temperatures and unfavorable wind patterns. Both agree it's not an ideal day for duck hunting.
A light rain is falling and the sun hasn't come up yet, but after stepping out of his SUV, Bob almost immediately comments on the direction of the wind.
"It felt a little windy on the drive, if it's coming in from the south that's no good," he said.
Marquette resident Bob Apple looks over his duck hunting blind as the sun rises on the lake near his cabin in Marquette County. The most successful days for duck hunting are typically when the wind is blowing from the north, as mallards, bluebill and other waterfowl are migrating south from Canada across Lake Superior. (Journal photo by Amanda Monthei)
Decoys sit in formation near Apple’s duck blind. Apple, along with his sons and grandsons, has put out over 85 decoys this hunting season. They’ve put out as much as 130 in prior years. (Journal photo by Amanda Monthei)
It's 7:20 a.m., with legal hunting hours beginning in about 10 minutes, or a full half hour before sunset. Setting out in the boat, Bob makes a nonchalant mention that the day won't be very good.
"But it's fun going out in the dark and motoring around," he said. "It's just nice to be out here, isn't it?"
He has a perpetual smile on his face as he drives toward an unidentifiable black mass in the water ahead, one of four blinds that he has put up on the lake near his cabin.
As he controls the motor, he talks about the migration patterns of the ducks he's hunting for, which are primarily bluebills, mallards and buffleheads or "butterballs," as he called them.
Flying south from Canada en-route to Louisiana, Texas or any number of southern states, the ducks ride the north winds to the Upper Peninsula, where they take breaks on small inland lakes off the shore of Lake Superior.
"When the ice comes out in the spring, they migrate back north, but in the fall they're trying to beat the ice and go south," he said.
Duck season, which started back on Sept. 22 and ends on Nov. 16, with an additional weekend from Nov. 22-25, has been fairly successful this season, according to Apple and his sons.
"It's been off and on, but a fair year for sure," he said. "The weather has been nice, but earlier in the season when it was snowing and hailing, that made good hunting."
Duck hunting, much like fishing this time of year, relies almost entirely on the nastiest weather the U.P. experiences.
"All the nasty weather, yeah it's cold and chilly but it really makes it a lot of fun overcoming it all," Apple said.
Apple, who has been duck hunting on this lake since he built a cabin here nearly 40 years ago, knows almost everything about it, from the people who live there to where the ducks like to rest. And while the lake he hunts on is private, Apple said there are some great public access points nearby. Among them, Lake LeVasseur, and a number of lakes near Au Train and Seney.
He suggested that for anyone interested in trying duck hunting, the best way to start out is to find an experienced hunter who can take you out. Gun safety courses are also a good starting point and just learning how to shoot a little bit can go a long way, he said.
"Ducks are just fun to shoot at. They fly so fast when it's windy like this that they come in like an airplane, which makes them quite hard to hit," he said.
Waterfowl licenses are available through the DNR, and will cost about $30 total for resident hunters. A Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp is also necessary to hunt ducks, and is available at post offices.
Per the federal Migratory Bird Act, there are also many regulations to adhere to when duck hunting, such as that hunters are not allowed any larger than a 10-gauge shotgun, capable of holding no more than three shells while hunting waterfowl.
For complete regulation, bag limit and other waterfowl information, the waterfowl hunting page on Michigan.gov/DNR provides all details on state and federal law regarding ducks and geese.