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Fennville Farm Unit at Allegan State Game Area

Fennville Farm Unit at Allegan State Game Area
Phone:

269-561-2258

dnr-wildlife@michigan.gov

Hours of Operation

Open at no charge to the public.

This hunting location conducts daily drawings for free hunting zone permits throughout the open waterfowl season.

Description of the area

Allegan State Game Area's Fennville Farm Unit is a 4,100-acre paradise for Canada goose hunting was purchased by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources 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 hunters 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 the Canada goose, 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 including upland sandpipers, golden eagles, and dickcissels, white-tailed deer, ring-necked pheasants, and wild turkey.

PDF map of area

Hunting Information

  • Morning hunts: Wed., Sat., and Sun. from Dec. 18 – Feb. 13.
  • Drawing at 5:30 a.m. Permits valid until 4:00 p.m.
  • Afternoon hunts: No afternoon draws.
  • Closed: Closed for goose hunting Sept. 1-30.
  • No drawings on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from Dec. 18 – Feb. 13.
  • Self-registration available for goose hunting outside of drawing dates from Nov. 6-13, and Nov. 25 – Dec.5 at the Fennville Farm Unit office.
  • Self-registration available for duck hunting outside of drawing dates at the Fennville Farm Unit office.
  • Duck hunting is open during entire South Zone duck season by self-registration or through drawing.

Activities

  • Wildlife viewing
  • Birding
  • Nature trail hiking
Coming soon.

Weekly waterfowl count dashboards

Weekly waterfowl counts are conducted annually, September through January. Use these interactive dashboards to view waterfowl counts across the Wetland Wonders for current and previous years. When the dashboard loads, you will have a total count of the Michigan DNR's Managed Waterfowl Hunt Areas (MWHA) for which counts are provided. The pie charts will show distribution across the areas during the currently selected week (week ending date can be changed using the date selector). Select a specific managed area at the top by clicking/tapping on it to see the numbers for that area. Use the navigation at the bottom of the dashboard to view further breakdowns of area waterfowl numbers.

2022 waterfowl counts

2021 waterfowl counts

2020 waterfowl counts

2019 waterfowl counts

2018 waterfowl counts

2017 waterfowl counts

2016 waterfowl counts

Table of contents

2021 annual report

General introduction

This report includes information for the Allegan Managed Waterfowl Area (MWA), focusing on the four Managed Waterfowl Units (Fennville Farm Unit, Highbanks Unit, Bravo Unit, and Ottawa Marsh), and for the reporting period from February 15, 2021 through February 13, 2022.

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Area goals and management emphasis

The primary goals of the Managed Waterfowl Units are providing habitat and safe harbor for migrating and over wintering waterfowl and for waterfowl production, with an emphasis on both Canada geese and dabbling ducks; providing hunting opportunities for waterfowl and other species; and providing wildlife viewing opportunities and other non-hunting recreation as compatible with primary goals.

Management emphasis on the Area is primarily directed toward providing food and habitat for migrating and over-wintering waterfowl in the form of row-crop fields (Farm Unit), grass fields (Farm Unit), and wetlands (Highbanks, Ottawa Marsh, and Bravo, and Farm Units).

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Wildlife production and use estimates

Waterfowl production is largely limited to wood ducks, hooded mergansers, mallards and Canada geese. A variety of furbearers have been noted in the Managed Waterfowl Area including river otters, beavers, mink, muskrat, red fox, coyote, and raccoon. Other resident wildlife common to the MWA include deer, turkeys, pheasants, crows, squirrels and rabbits. Coyote numbers are sufficient to provide hunting and trapping opportunities however very few red foxes have been seen in recent years. The Farm Unit is well known for its grassland birds (bobolink, horned larks, grasshopper sparrows, and Henslow’s sparrows) and wintering raptors (bald eagles, golden eagles, rough-legged hawks, northern harriers, short-eared owls) and other species of greatest conservation need.

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Significant habitat management

The most intensively managed of the Units is the Farm Unit which includes over 4,100 acres. Approximately 1,700 acres are maintained in agricultural crops largely through contract arrangement with sharecrop farmers. Water level management on all Units, including draw downs and flooding of impounded Units, is used to enhance and maintain desirable plant communities. Forest management and forest opening maintenance are practiced throughout all 4 managed waterfowl units.

The Fennville Farm Unit is designated as a Pheasant Restoration Initiative Core Area giving greater attention to the quality grassland habitats that have been created on the Unit. 119 acres of grassland were burned under our prescribed burn program to enhanced grasslands on the Farm Unit by reducing invasive species and brush.

Additionally, approximately 50 acres of grassland was either mowed to remove brush or sprayed to remove invasive species. 11 acres of grass were replanted due to a failed planting from the previous year.

Approximately 35 acres of corn (hunter concealment strips) were planted on the Farm Unit by DNR personnel. In addition, 57 acres of food plots consisting of buckwheat, corn, sunflowers, millet, and sorghum were planted.

Similar to past years, the Farm Unit Impoundment was drawn down in late winter to promote wetland plant growth and there was a good crop of mainly beggars tick with some smartweed, sawgrass, and marsh milkweed as well. Summer conditions provided adequate growth of wetland plants in the impoundment. The impoundment was filled during fall through capture of surface water runoff and through pumping efforts using 2 small 3” trash pumps due to lack of rain in the area.

The upper and lower pools in the Highbanks Unit were not drawn down in 2021 in an effort to drown out some of the woody vegetation increasing in those units. Both the upper and lower pools produced a good crop of smartweed and other moist soil plants.

Hay fields in the decoy areas around the refuge border in the entire northeast quadrant of the farm unit (Zone 2 and Zone 8 H-J) were planted to row crop again in 2021. Corn was planted in these fields in 2021 in hopes of providing a more desirable feeding area for ducks and geese. The plan worked to attract more ducks during duck season however once covered with snow, it didn’t impact the later goose season. We plan to continue using row crop methods in these decoy areas with the potential of expanding these techniques in decoy areas in other parts of the Farm Unit.

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Species management

In 2021 the Fennville Farm Unit staff banded 243 geese. Due to time constraints and staff shortages, Farm Unit staff were not able to complete any duck banding in 2021.

Mute swan removal, especially at the Highbanks Unit, is a continuing project. No swans were removed in 2021 by Farm Unit staff as no mute swans used the Highbanks refuge in 2021. Efforts have proven successful despite the difficulty in accessing the swans. Trumpeter Swans continually, yet slowly increase in numbers with continued Mute Swan removals in the wetlands managed by Farm Unit staff.

The MWA has a continuing goal to contain deer populations at levels that are compatible with other MWA goals. Antlerless deer hunts were held on the Farm from 2005 through 2007, but they were suspended in 2008 due to low deer concentrations in the refuge. Deer numbers have risen in recent years in the area. This may become an issue in the future and may require special management but nothing is planned for the 2022 season at this time.

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Land acquisition

No purchases.

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Area maintenance

Several hunter access trails were rototilled and compacted in 2021 and the southern half of the zone 5 hunter access trail was resurfaced with new gravel to fill in low areas and provide a stable base. Additionally, the zone 2 parking area was resurfaced with new gravel as well. Approximately 40 acres of grasses and all the trails were mowed on the Farm Unit. The Highbanks dikes were mowed twice during the summer. Staff continue to clean drains across the Farm Unit as they become silted in or overgrown with brush. The Highbanks dikes were cleared of brush mid-summer through a contracted company and the Bravo Refuge dikes were cleared of brush by local staff.

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Equipment

No equipment purchases were made in 2021.

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Special projects

In 2021, a $415,000 wetland enhancement project involving the rebuilding of the refuge portion of the dikes around the Zone 7 impoundment on the south side of the Farm Unit was mostly finished. Final grade was not reached in 2021, so the contractor will be back in spring/summer of 2022 to finish top grade work on the dike.

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Recreational and educational activities

Recreational pastimes for which the Units within the MWA are utilized include wildlife viewing, fishing, hiking, boating, wild food collecting, and sightseeing in addition to hunting and trapping.

A few privately guided visits to the Farm Unit to watch birds took place in 2021 despite Covid19 restrictions still ongoing. The Christmas Bird Count took place on the game area over the holidays. Staff were not involved in any of these activities in 2021.

The MWA contributed opportunities for Youth hunting throughout the period. The federal youth hunting weekend outlined in the 2021 waterfowl digest occurred September 18 and 19. On December 18, 2021 and January 1, 2022 youth hunts through the Managed Waterfowl Hunt were held. Respectively, 13 and 8 youths took part in the two hunts contributing to the overall youth hunter trips. Youth hunters decreased in 2021. We will continue the youth preference style drawing on these days in the future to help promote more youth entering the fields.

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Hunting season report: 10/02/2021 through 11/28/2021

Introduction

Conditions for the goose hunt in 2021 were poor. In 2021 goose hunters could hunt through the drawing procedures on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays from Dec. 18-Feb. 13. In season segments prior to Dec. 18, area hunters could self register to goose hunt the area 7 days/week. Hunting was closed on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from Dec. 18-Feb. 13. All draws were morning draws with the draw starting at 5:30 am. There was no reissue of leftover zones in 2021. Hunter

numbers were again lower than the previous year. Despite lower hunter numbers, more birds were harvested in 2021. Duck hunting across the area was good with increased hunter trips for ducks and higher harvest

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Weather and habitat conditions

The weather during the hunt in 2021 started out mild but began to become colder and snowier around the new year. While rainfall earlier in the year and approaching the duck season made filling impoundments difficult, the area did receive some much needed rain in the first week of season and regularly after that. Significant snowfall occurred later into the goose season and temperatures were average to below average from mid-December through the end of the season. This more typical winter weather meant most of the water on the Farm Unit was frozen except for a couple small pockets of water in the main drain and a couple ditches. Birds first concentrated into these small open water pockets and then began to move off the area to roost. Geese used the Ottawa Marsh for a portion of the late season this year, unlike last year where the marsh remained mostly unused by geese.

Crop production was far below average on the farm in 2021. Planting conditions were fair in 2021 but the growing season was a battle. In mid-June, we received 15 inches of rain in 6 days which flooded many acres of crops. Trenching was done and pumps were ran to help evacuate some of the water but the damage was already done. Corn was very short in most of the hunter strips. Refuge areas were not affected as harshly by the floods. After the flooding, the area entered a major drought, further damaging the crops. Black Tar Spot was very prevalent in the corn in 2021 as well, further adding to the complications of an already difficult growing year. Barley was planted as a cover crop on some fields in the refuge and birds used these fields regularly throughout the waterfowl season before they were buried in snow.

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Migration and waterfowl numbers

Canada goose numbers on the Goose Management Unit increased slowly but steadily from around 425 geese on September 18 to around 2,500 by the end of October. Goose numbers remained below 4,000 geese through mid-December before beginning to climb some. By the end of December, the Farm Unit had around 6,000 geese using the area. We saw a big jump in goose counts in January and February to around 12,500 geese. Estimates in September, October, November, December, January, and February averaged approximately 460, 1,700, 3,125, 4,050, 7,425, and 11,500, respectively. The greatest increase in goose numbers occurred in late January and early February.

Mallard numbers in the WMA rose steadily from September through the beginning of December with a peak of around 6,500 estimated. Non-mallard dabblers were most prevalent in October and November. Wood duck numbers peaked around the 2nd week of October (650 estimated). Ring-necked ducks were less abundant in the Highbanks Unit this year than in previous years.

Cold and snowy conditions tend to concentrate waterfowl on the Farm Unit where birds are easier to locate, but obtaining an accurate estimate is difficult. Conversely, wet, and warm weather prompts birds to disperse from the Farm Unit making surveys difficult.

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Season dates and area regulations

To eliminate the need for hunters to enter the building, drawings during the 2021-22 waterfowl season were conducted as a drive-up system similar to the 2020-21 season. Each party would pick up a registration card at a drive-up window with plexiglass shield on the front of the building as they entered the Farm Unit parking lot. Each party was then instructed to remain in their vehicle for the draw and to tune their car stereo to 106.1 FM. At starting time for the draw each day, an FM transmitter was used to relay announcements for rules and regulations of the hunt, daily shooting times, and any other pertinent information. When a party’s number was called, they would drive into a lane created along the back of the building where we converted 2 overhead doors into draw windows using wood and plexiglass shields. At the first window, the party leader only would exit the vehicle, walk up to the window and select a hunting zone off the board. Behind the second window was a table where bingo balls were drawn for draw order and announcements were made. This system has been used for 2 seasons and is very popular among hunters. Drawings were increased from 2 to 3 days per week and were conducted on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays from Dec. 18 through Feb. 13. Goose season segments prior to Dec. 18 were hunted by self-registration 7 days per week except for early goose season in September. Early goose season in September is closed on the Fennville Farm Unit.

Goose season regulations in the Allegan County Goose Management Unit are determined from multiple variables. These regulations must fit within a set of parameters put forth by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Factors used in determining the season regulations on any given year within the frameworks provided by USFWS include the use of waterfowl abundance surveys conducted from September through mid-February, survey data provided by hunters who participate in the managed waterfowl hunt at the Farm Unit, input from hunter conversations, concerns and suggestions from throughout the GMU, and hunter data gathered throughout the managed hunt. The survey data combined with the consideration of social and economic impacts help to provide sound scientific management in the setting of season regulations to allow the most opportunity possible in the timeframe of when the most geese are present within the GMU.

The Duck Season on the GMU ran concurrent with the rest of southern Michigan (South Zone: October 9th through December 5th, 2021 and January 1st and 2nd, 2022). The GMU Goose Season included 107 days (September 1-30, November 6-13, Nov. 25 – Dec. 5, and Dec. 18, 2021 – Feb. 13, 2022. The Farm Unit is closed for early goose season in September, but the remainder of the Allegan GMU is open on public and private land. As in previous seasons, there was no quota assigned to the Allegan GMU.

Morning hunts were offered through the draw on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays from Dec. 18-Feb. 13. Drawings for morning hunts were held at 5:30 am. The hunt on morning draw days began at the opening of legal shooting time as outlined in the given years waterfowl digest and lasted until 4:00 pm. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays were closed from Dec. 18-Feb. 13. All segments of goose season prior to Dec. 18 were self-registration 7 days a week but goose hunting closed each day at 4:00 pm.

The early teal season was offered again this year (Sep. 1-16). The Farm Unit saw little participation in this season and no birds were harvested. This hunt was on a first-come, first-served basis by self-registration.

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Hunting season results

Participation was very low for goose hunting during self-registration but was steady during drawings with an average of 14.5 parties per day. Duck season saw more hunter trips than in any year previously recorded and success was fair. Overall, goose harvest success was consistent with our long-term average during the draw (0.24 geese/hunter trip) and duck hunting was average to above average

Harvest and hunter use

During the goose season, a combined 1,122 hunter trips from self-registration and draw hunts, resulted in 227 harvested geese (0.2 geese/hunter trip). This success rate is slightly lower than the long-term average of 0.25 geese/hunter trip.

55 ducks were taken from the Farm during the 2 days that were open to duck hunting through the drawing in the 2021 managed hunt as tallied from party registration cards. Duck hunters were required to report their kill by self-registering to hunt outside draw times. There were 542 ducks harvested as tallied from the 692 self-registration cards resulting in a 0.78 duck/hunter trip harvest rate. Duck hunters reported that success on the Farm Unit was average to above and success in the Ottawa Marsh Unit was average during the 2021 season. For days when only duck hunting was open on the Farm Unit (no goose hunting overlapping with duck hunting) 430 ducks were harvested as tallied from 411 self-registration cards resulting in a 1.05 duck/hunter trip harvest rate.

Year Managed hunt goose harvest Self-registration goose harvest Managed hunt duck harvest Self registered duck harvest Total harvest
2020 144 145 8 352 649
2021 200 27 55 542 824

Permits and harvest

A total of 362 permits were issued through the draw for the managed hunt resulting in 840 hunter trips through the draw. In addition, 692 self-registration permits were turned in for duck and goose hunting prior to the start of the draw. The Farm Unit was the primary destination for those hunting geese inside the MWA. Historically, the Highbanks Unit figured centrally in the MWA harvest but declined dramatically in the early 1990s. Thereafter, the Bravo Unit figured more centrally in the combined harvest but has shown dramatic declines since 2004. Both units have reduced importance during the open hunting season due to shifting the GMU season later in the year but are still valuable resting areas for waterfowl earlier in the year, especially during the September season, when geese in these areas are a valuable resource to private land hunters and some public land hunting areas as well. The Bravo and Highbanks Units are hunted on a first-come, first- served basis so permits are no longer issued through the managed goose hunt.

Species harvest

Canada geese have historically been the predominant waterfowl species harvested through the managed hunt, but this has shifted in recent years as many more ducks are harvested than geese. The number of harvested geese this year was 200, slightly lower than last year’s total of 289. A total of 597 ducks were harvested at the Farm Unit this season as reported from self-registration and through the drawing. Reported waterfowl harvests this year included Canada geese, mallards, wood ducks, pintails, northern shovelers, black ducks, gadwall, widgeon, green-winged teal, blue-winged teal, bufflehead, ring necks, and mergansers. The harvest is largely supported by migrant birds from the early-migrating wood ducks concentrating in the Ottawa Marsh to the late migrating and overwintering Canada geese and mallards concentrating on the Farm Unit and using local water roosts overnight.

No biological data from harvested Canada geese was recorded during the 2021-22 managed hunt. Resident (local giant Canada geese), migrant (lesser Canada geese), and Cackling geese comprise the subspecies harvested at the Farm Unit.

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Cropland, marshland and water level management

The refuge impoundment in front of Zone 7 was filled to full capacity this year resulting is about 2.5ft deeper water after dike repairs were mostly completed in the summer of 2021. The shallow water wetlands created in Zone 6, in addition to associated flooding in the refuge adjacent to Zone 6 and zone 5 supplied additional surface water for roosting. Water levels in the Ducks Unlimited flooding north of 120th Ave. remained at or near full pool with supplemental pumping most of the 2021 duck season despite low rainfall amounts. Crops on the Farm were below average in 2021.

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Recommendations 

  • Maintain the Allegan County Goose Management Unit (GMU) boundary in its current configuration while continuing to review its function in meeting population management needs, and hunter satisfaction.
  • Maintain and add permanent grasslands in the eastern portion of the Farm Unit and increase winter cover for pheasants in these areas with switchgrass plantings and native shrubs. Continue invasive species and tree removal projects.
  • Continue to monitor dikes and dams to achieve early detection of maintenance needs and comply with monitoring requirements as set down in Dam Safety Inspection Reports.
  • Continue monitoring and banding of locally bred ducks and geese.
  • Continue to reduce mute swan populations on the ASGA.
  • Continue to provide hunting opportunities that promote youth participation and other forms of new hunter recruitment and existing hunter retention. Continue to search out partners that can donate time and resources to these events.
  • Continue to provide hunting opportunities that are ADA friendly where feasible.
  • Continue conversion of marginal cropland into wetland areas where possible and work to convert current reed canary grass monocultures to productive moist soil units.
  • Continue to experiment with different and innovative ways to improve decoy areas at the hunting posts surrounding the refuge.
  • Evaluate 2021-22 season results and consider operational changes to hunting opportunities in 2022-23 (e.g., maintain self-registration during duck season and drawings 3-4 days/week).
  • Re-institute issuance of leftover zones after the draw to allow hunters who cannot attend the drawing a chance to hunt.

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  • No special events scheduled at this time.