Skip to main content

Fennville Farm Unit at Allegan State Game Area

Fennville Farm Unit at Allegan State Game Area

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. 16 – Feb. 12.
  • 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. 16 – Feb. 12.
  • Self-registration available for goose hunting outside of drawing dates from Nov. 4-12, and Nov. 25 – Dec.3 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

Week in review

Through 11/19/2023

Weather

Last week was significantly warmer than average and fair conditions overall for most of the week. A small amount of light rain fell early Friday morning.

Waterfowl abundance

Waterfowl numbers are very similar to last week with no weather to move birds into the area. A few new ducks have shown up but very few.

Hunting conditions

Crop cover is looking good throughout the Farm Unit. Much better than the last couple of years. Water is flowing into the DU project north of 120th and water levels are good. Zone 7 decoy area has as much water as we can get into it. Zone 5 impoundment continues to build water levels and some fields have sheet water across the area.

Corn harvest has begun and is happening very fast, The entire south half of the refuge is done and the north side has a very good start. All decoy areas have been combined and are hunt ready.

Hunter numbers

Hunting pressure last week was light to non-existent with the fair weather we had.

Waterfowl harvest

Harvest was very low last week with low hunter numbers and fair weather. A few ducks were shot Friday with North winds and cloudy skies.

What to expect this week

Expect a major cool down this week compared to last with abundant precipitation Tuesday. Temps in the upper 30s and mid 40s for highs and lows in the upper 20s to low 30s. Corn harvest will continue hopefully this week. Temps and winds should begin to bring in more fresh birds.

Upcoming events

Goose season re-opens Nov 25. Duck season remains open according to south zone season dates by self registration.

Other comments

N/A

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.

2023 waterfowl counts

2022 waterfowl counts

2021 waterfowl counts

2020 waterfowl counts

2019 waterfowl counts

2018 waterfowl counts

2017 waterfowl counts

2016 waterfowl counts

Table of contents

2022-23 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 14, 2022 through February 13, 2023.

Return to table of contents

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, Bravo, and Farm Units).

Return to table of contents

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.

Return to table of contents

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 home to a healthy, self-sustaining population of Pheasants and areas outside the refuge are managed for them as well as for other grassland nesting birds. 148 acres of grassland were burned under our prescribed burn program to enhanced grasslands on the Farm Unit by reducing invasive species and promoting grassland growth. Additionally, approximately 75 acres of grassland was either mowed to remove brush or sprayed to remove invasive species. 12 acres of forbs were planted in 2 previous food plot fields to reduce food plot acreage and promote pollinator species in the area.

Approximately 35 acres of corn (hunter concealment strips) were planted on the Farm Unit by DNR personnel. In addition, 41 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 smart weed, 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 drawn down in 2022 to allow wetland plant growth and facilitate some brush clearing. Approximately 7 acres of brush was mowed using a mulching head on a skid steer in the lower pool of the highbanks. 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 2022. Beans were planted in these fields as part of a 3 year crop rotation consisting of 2 years corn, 1 year of beans. 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.

Return to table of contents

Species management

In 2022 the Fennville Farm Unit staff banded 343 geese in Allegan and Ottawa counties. Staff were also able to band 229 Mallards and 91 Wood Ducks during the summer banding efforts.

Mute swan removal, especially at the Highbanks Unit, is a continuing project. No swans were removed in 2022 by Farm Unit staff as no mute swans used the Highbanks refuge in 2022. Efforts have proven successful despite the difficulty in accessing the swans. Trumpeter Swans continue to become more prevalent, however slowly, in the wetland units of Allegan State Game Area.

The MWA has a continuing goal to contain deer populations at levels that are compatible with other MWA goals. 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 2023 season at this time.

Return to table of contents

Land acquisition

No purchases.

Return to table of contents

Area maintenance

Roads and hunter access trails did not need much work in 2022 except for normal grading operations on the service drive between 118th and 120th ave. and the access road to the zone 8 parking lot south of 118th ave. 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. Several areas of the Highbanks dikes sprayed mid-summer by local staff to control brush.

Return to table of contents

Equipment

No equipment purchases were made in 2022.

Return to table of contents

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.

Return to table of contents

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 2022. The Christmas Bird Count took place on the game area over the holidays. Staff were not involved in any of these activities in 2022.

The WMA contributed opportunities for Youth hunting throughout the period. The federal youth hunting weekend outlined in the 2022 waterfowl digest occurred September 17 and 18. On December 17, 2022 and December 31, 2022 youth hunts through the Managed Waterfowl Hunt were held. Respectively, 9 and 29 youths took part in the two hunts contributing to the overall youth hunter trips. Youth hunters increased in 2022, likely as a result of good weather and high bird numbers for the 2 day split during duck season. We will continue the youth preference style drawing on these days in the future to help promote more youth entering the fields.

Return to table of contents

Hunting season report

Introduction

Conditions for the goose hunt in 2022 started very good but weather patterns quickly changed the outcome. In 2022 goose hunters could hunt through the drawing procedures on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays from Dec. 17-Feb. 13. In season segments prior to Dec. 17, area hunters could self-register to goose hunt the area 7 days/week. Hunting was closed on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from Dec. 17-Feb. 13. All draws were morning draws with the draw starting at 5:30 am. RE-issue was available for hunters to take leftover zones any time before 11am. Hunter numbers were again lower than the previous year, and as a result, bird harvest as also lower. Duck hunting across the area was still around average. Almost surely, poor weather during goose season severely impacted harvest.

Return to table of contents

Weather and habitat conditions

The weather during the hunt in 2022 started out mild and very dry to begin duck season, but much needed rains were received in October and cooler temperatures arrived shortly after. Mid-November provided the first good cold snap and snow, which gave great duck hunting opportunities and helped push more geese into the area. Some harsh weather events in December, including the Christmas blizzard gave great goose hunting opportunities although very few people showed up to hunt. On December 31, a warm thaw melted almost all the snow and cold temperatures never really returned in a stable fashion. With this thaw, almost all the geese left, and numbers recovered. Hutchins Lake, the Kalamazoo River near Saugatuck, and the Ottawa Marsh became main roosts during the short duration of freezing temperatures in 2022.

Crop production was average on the farm in 2022. Planting conditions were good in May and crops got a good start. Mid-summer, drought set in and corn began to slow its growth. This drought caused some of the corn to be weak in the fall and high winds knocked much of it down throughout waterfowl season. Volunteer corn continues to be an issue in zone 8 where limited space prevents a crop rotation and very sandy soils increase risk of drought. Barley was once again 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.

Return to table of contents

Migration and waterfowl numbers

Canada goose numbers on the Goose Management Unit increased slowly but steadily from around 250 geese on September 10 to around 2000 by the end of October. Goose numbers remained below 5000 geese until mid-December before jumping dramatically. By the end of December, the Farm Unit had over 10,000 geese using the area. In early January, mild weather created the most drastic fall in goose counts over at least the last 10 years. Estimates in September, October, November, December, January, and February averaged approximately 550, 1600, 2400, 5600, 3100, and 3600, respectively. The greatest increase in goose numbers occurred in mid to late-December when over 10,000 geese were counted at the Farm Unit.

Mallard numbers in the WMA started very low in September but began to trickle in mid-October. By late December, Mallard numbers were at peak with an estimated 10500 Mallards using the area. Non-mallard dabblers were most prevalent I November and December. Wood duck numbers peaked around the 3rd week of October (400 estimated). Ring-necked ducks were less abundant in the Highbanks Unit this year than in previous years but a great number of dabbling ducks used the upper pool.

Estimates of goose numbers are more reliable than estimates of duck numbers. Fall estimates are less variable than winter estimates. 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.

Return to table of contents

Season dates and area regulations

To eliminate the need for hunters to enter the building, drawings during the 2022-23 waterfowl season were conducted as a drive-up system similar to the 2022 season. Each party would pick up a registration card at a drive-up window 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. At the first window, the party could then 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 3 seasons now and remains the preferred draw procedure among the majority of hunters. Drawings were conducted 3 days per week on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays from Dec. 17 through Feb. 13. Goose season segments prior to Dec. 17 were hunted by self-registration 7 days per week except for early goose season in September.

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 15th through December 11th, 2022, and December 31st, 2022, through January 1, 2023.). The GMU Goose Season included 107 days (September 1-30, November 5-13, Nov. 26 – Dec. 4, and Dec. 17, 2022 – Feb. 13, 2023. 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.

Morning hunts were offered through the draw on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays from Dec. 17-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 4pm. 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 4pm. Re-issuance of leftover zones was re-instituted in 2022 and was utilized by both local and traveling hunters.

The early teal season was offered again this year (Sep. 1-16). The Farm Unit saw little participation in this season and only 1 Blue Wing Teal was harvested. This hunt was on a first-come, first-served basis by self-registration.

Return to table of contents

Hunting season results

Participation was average for goose hunting during self-registration (237 hunter trips) but was steady during drawings with an average of 14.5 parties per day; identical to last year. Duck season participation was lower than last year but fair overall with harvest success very close to last year. Lower hunter numbers with success equal to last year resulted in less ducks harvested. Overall, goose harvest success was well below average and duck hunting was average. These success rates directly correlate to weather conditions throughout the season.

Harvest and hunter use

During the goose season, a combined 983 hunter trips from self-registration and draw hunts, resulted in 165 harvested geese (0.17 geese/hunter trip). This success rate is lower than the long-term average of 0.25 geese/hunter trip.

106 ducks were taken from the Farm during the 2 days that were open to duck hunting through the drawing in the 2022 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 451 ducks harvested as tallied from the 556 self-registration cards resulting in a 0.71 duck/hunter trip harvest rate. Duck hunters reported that success on the Farm Unit was average and success in the Ottawa Marsh Unit was below average during the 2022 season. For days when only duck hunting was open on the Farm Unit (no goose hunting overlapping with duck hunting) 288 ducks were harvested as tallied from 319 self-registration cards resulting in a .94 duck/hunter trip harvest rate.

Permits

A total of 337 permits were issued through the draw for the managed hunt resulting in 744 hunter trips through the draw. In addition, 556 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 WMA. 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 165, lower than last year’s total of 200. A total of 557 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, black ducks, gadwall, widgeon, green-winged teal, blue-winged teal, bufflehead, ring necks, red heads, 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 2022-23 managed hunt. Resident (local giant Canada geese) and migrant (lesser Canada geese), comprise the subspecies of Canada geese harvested at the Farm Unit although several greater white-fronted geese have been taken in recent years along with a few snow geese and a bar-headed goose.

Return to table of contents

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. 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 and feeding waterfowl. Water levels in the Ducks Unlimited flooding north of 120th Ave. remained at or near full pool with supplemental pumping most of the 2022 duck season until the first hard freezes required pulling the pump to avoid damage. Crops on the Farm were below average in 2022, mainly due to drought during the summer.

Return to table of contents

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.
  • Continue issuance of leftover zones after the draw to allow hunters who cannot attend the drawing a chance to hunt.

Return to table of contents

  • No special events scheduled at this time.