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Shiawassee River State Game Area

Shiawassee River State Game Area
Phone:

989-865-6211

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

Shiawassee River State Game Area consists of nearly 10,000 acres of managed waterfowl habitat. It is the largest managed waterfowl area the State of Michigan has to offer. With a multitude of hunting opportunities, every type of waterfowl hunter will find enjoyment hunting at Shiawassee River MWA. Its dikes and access roads can be utilized to view an array of wildlife species that are present throughout the year. Mass concentrations of wetland obligated species are found throughout the area and provide exceptional wildlife viewing opportunities.

PDF map of area

Hunting Information

  • Morning hunts: Daily 5:00 a.m. (Reserved hunt first and second weekend of duck season)
  • Afternoon hunts: Daily 11:00 a.m. (Reserved hunt first and second weekend of duck season)

Activities

  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • Fishing
  • Canoeing and Kayaking
  • Nature Trail Hiking
  • Biking
  • Jogging
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

The Shiawassee River State Game Area (SRSGA) is 9,878 acres of lowland hardwoods, diked impounded cropland, cropped upland, riverine marsh, and managed impounded emergent marsh located about 10 miles southwest of Saginaw in the town of St. Charles. The game area is located within the Saginaw River floodplain (Shiawassee Flats Critical Flood Storage Area) and lies at the confluence of the Shiawassee River, the North and South branches of the Bad River, and Wolf, Beaver, Pickerel, Marsh, and Swan Creeks.

SRSGA initial planning and construction efforts began in 1951 with the clearing of floodplain forest to allow for farmed impoundments, the dredging of ditches, and placement of pumps and water control structures to allow for year-round water level manipulation, and the subsequent placement of over 40 miles of dike. All this effort was geared towards making the game area, and neighboring 10,000-acre Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, a preeminent migration stopover for the tens of thousands of Canada geese and puddle and diving ducks that move through the area each year during spring and fall migrations.

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Area goals and management emphasis

The primary goals for the SRSGA are to provide essential habitat for migratory and resident game and non-game wildlife species and to provide recreational opportunities for hunting, trapping, and wildlife viewing.

The operation of managed waterfowl areas is identified as a high priority action for the Wildlife Division and meets several goals and objectives of the Guiding Principles and Strategies (GPS).

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Significant habitat management

Providing food and cover on upland units continues to be one of the main management objectives for SRSGA. Habitat work and food plots suffered in 2021 due to the following conditions: difficulty hiring seasonal workers, wildlife assistant vacancy, and the wildlife technician being off for an extended period during the summer months in 2021.This is the second consecutive year there was a lack of habitat and food plot work in completed compared to the pre Covid 19 era.

Habitat work and food plot planting work were also significantly impacted by severe and prolonged flooding of the Shiawassee Flats due to the Sanford and Edenville dam failures in 2020. This event inflicted substantial damage to the game area’s infrastructure resulting in 48 locations that were impacted with dike erosion, complete dike failures, flooded pump motors, and large debris deposits. Increases in Tittabawassee River flows directly impact the game area regardless of the year, but this event was the largest to occur since the flood of 1986. The DNR is continuing working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service via their Emergency Watershed Protection Program, which is a federal aid funding program, to help fund ongoing repairs. Most the work completed in 2021 was focused on repairs from this flood event, and final completion work will continue into 2022.

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Land acquisition

There were no new land acquisitions in 2021. The DNR has three land acquisition proposals being reviewed at this time that are in the funding identification phase.

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Area maintenance

  • Manipulated water levels for planting, hunting, and wetland management.
  • Distributed 200 tons of 23a crushed limestone and 200 tons of 4a limestone to dike tops throughout the area to maintain structure and access.
  • Rented a front-end loader, dump truck and bulldozer for four months to help with dike repairs from the flood of 2020.
  • Administered sharecrop agreements covering about 2,500 acres of land.
  • Hauled approximately 7,500 yards of fill to holes in dikes throughout the area to address and repair flood damage.
  • Repaired holes in dikes with help from Wildlife Division staff and from Forest Resources Division.
    • We greatly appreciate the assistance from the following individuals that assisted with infrastructure repairs in 2021:
      • Todd Owens (Harsens Island)
      • Marvin Kish (Nayaquing Point State Wildlife Area)
      • Glen Lampela (Gladwin)
      • Dan Bailey (Fish Point State Wildlife Area)
      • Cole Kelly (Holly Wildlife Area)
      • Pat Brickel (Fish Point State Wildlife Area)
      • Michael Gilkes (Non-career wildlife assistant, Fish Point State Wildlife Area)
      • Brennan Grant (Non-career wildlife assistant, Fish Point State Wildlife Area)
      • Dean Boerman (Allegan State Game Area)
      • Mike Richardson (Allegan State Game Area)
      • Jake Crawford (Allegan State Game Area)
      • Robert Beaudion (Forest Resources Division)
      • Brian Calkins (Forest Resources Division)
      • Tony Histed (Forest Resources Division)

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Equipment

No equipment purchases were reported for 2021.

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Special projects

Upon completion of an application and associated fee, a local beekeeper was again allowed to place beehives throughout the area to provide for more effective crop pollination.

All special projects were put on hold due to COVID-19 and associated work restrictions from the pandemic.

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Recreational and educational activities

There nearly 6,000 waterfowl user trips in 2021 that resulted in nearly 7,800 birds harvested.

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Trapping

As of the writing of this report, a total of 17 trapping permits have been issued for of the 2021-2022 trapping season at SRSGA. Trapping permit totals were not collected from 2020 trappers. Due to low fur prices that past few years, it is likely that 2020 trapping harvest was below the past few years average. Trapping permits for the 2021 season were issued out of the SRSGA St. Charles Field Office. These permits are still valid through March 31, 2022 for the 2021 season, which is after the publishing of this report; 2021 season totals will be included in the 2022 version of this report.

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Waterfowl banding and surveys

Due to reduced staffing, there was a reduction in banding efforts in 2021. Staff ran three floating traps in the seasonal refuge units and banded a total of 80 wood ducks.

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Hunting season report

Introduction

Due to COVID-19 restrictions the location of the draw was the same for 2021 as it was for 2020. The drawing was conducted out of a booth in the equipment shop where hunters had the choice of either walking or driving up to the check in booth. Announcements, draw rules, and drawing results were broadcast over FM radio as well as being displayed on a large screen TV mounted in the drive thru bay. There were two drawings per day, the hunting permits were valid from the start of shooting hours to 12 noon for the AM hunt period and from 1 PM to end of shooting hours for the PM hunt period.

The waterfowl check station was open from 4:30 AM to 4:00 PM seven days a week for the waterfowl hunting season. Hunters were able to pick up leftover permits until 4:00 PM for any non-occupied hunting zone. No zone changes were allowed, there was no checking of licenses, and hunters were not limited by party size to single or party preference zones. Permits were required to be returned either in person, by email, text, fax, regular mail, the kiosk drop box, or by using the drop tubes available in the area’s four main parking lots. There was a strong effort taken to ensure permits were returned this year.

Victor Weigold and Jeremiah Heise conducted the waterfowl check station operations with assistance from Nate Levitte (Saginaw Bay Field Operations Manager), and two seasonal non-career wildlife assistants who were hired to also help in the check station: Olivia Williams and Zachary Dalton.

During the early teal season, hunters harvested a total of 238 teal; during the early goose season, hunters harvested a total of 298 geese; during the general waterfowl season, hunters harvested a total of 7,798 ducks; during the regular goose season hunters harvested 769 geese. The youth waterfowl hunting weekend, which occurred September 18th and 19th, coincided with the new veterans and active-duty military waterfowl hunting days. These hunt periods were conducted via self-registration and hunters harvested a total of 152 ducks (goose harvest from the youth, veteran’s, and active duty military weekend is included with the early goose harvest season).

Participation was high for the late split of the general waterfowl season, January 1-2. Due to a moderation in temperatures, hunters were able to find open water and where there was open water there were birds. This hunt was conducted via self-registration but harvest data has not been fully entered yet.

The late goose season ran from February 5–14, 2022. Late goose hunting was available on the area through self-registered permits. Harvest for this season has not yet been determined as we are still collecting harvest information from hunters who participated in this hunt.

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Weather and habitat conditions

For the 2021 farming season, sharecroppers were able to get all of the corn planted in a timely manner with all fields planted by May 16. Spring started off dry, but conditions changed in late June when we received 4.5 inches of rain, it then stayed cloudy with periodic rains showers every other day until July the second week of July. Small grains plantings were a bit of a challenge due to wet conditions and lack of staff to help complete the plantings. Fields 9-14 and 55-60 had to be replanted because of rainfall after the initial planting (Gary Bronz was the driving force behind planting this year. Gary was able to plant approximately 350 acres of small grains this year). Small grains were planted with a no-till seed drill set up planting 4 rows of buckwheat 1 row of millet across all fields.

Decoy strips were left as moist-soils areas and that were mowed before the hunting season. All decoy openings were not able to get mowed due to rainfall and lack of staff. The south Prior Road field was left to 90 % moist soil with 120 rows of corn planted in the hunting zones. This field harvested more birds than any other field on the area.

Bob Walker sharecropped field 1-4 and that unit was planted to soybeans (harvest was difficult with standing water observed in the field during harvest). The 9-14 field was not sharecropped for 2021 and was planted to corn strips and small grains.

Due to crop damage by deer and sandhill cranes, members of the SFCHA continued their scare program under permit from the DNR. The group took care of all aspects of the program filling propane cannons and moving them around the fields. It is believed to have helped some but did not completely obviate the problem. The group also took on the ambitious task of placing hundreds of scarecrows in the fields.

During the 60-day waterfowl season, temperatures ranged from a low of 18 degrees on December 7th to a high of 80 degrees on October 11th.

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Migration and waterfowl numbers

Weekly waterfowl counts were completed on the Prior Road refuge. Counts were conducted every Wednesday around 12:00 noon. The same observers, route and methods were used each week.

The east half of the flooded woods and the B and C marshes were again designated as a waterfowl refuge, but archery deer hunters could hunt the area.

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Season dates and area regulations

Shiawassee River State Game Area was open for all 2021 waterfowl seasons in Michigan’s South Zone waterfowl hunting zone.

There was an early teal season held again this year that ran from September 1-16 with a 6-bird bag limit.

There was a six duck per day daily bag limit for the 2021 waterfowl season. A hunter’s bag could include six ducks made up of no more than four mallards (no more than two of which could be a hen), three wood ducks, two redheads, one or two scaup depending on the date, one pintail, two black ducks and two canvasbacks. Hunters could also take five mergansers, only two of which could be hooded merganser. The Canada goose season ran from September 1-30, January 1-9 and February 5-14. The daily bag limit for Canada geese, dark geese, white-fronted geese and brant is 5, which only 1 can be a brant. The daily bag limit for light geese (snows, blue and ross’s) was 20.

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Hunting season results

Pre-registration

In 2021, there was a total of 5,993 hunter trips for the first split (58-days) of the 60-day waterfowl season and hunters harvested an average of 1.30 ducks per trip, down from 1.36 ducks per hunter trip in 2020.

The first two weekends of the regular waterfowl season were preregistered hunts (October 9,10,16 and 17). These hunt periods were preregistered with a maximum of 40 parties (Table 5). Some reserved hunt drawings had leftover spots available if some of the 40 preregistered parties did not attend the drawing; a leftover drawing was held if parties were present to fill up to the 40 spots available, which are the numbers listed in parenthesis in Table 5. The opening day PM hunt and November 6 PM hunt were both youth priority draws; there was a veteran’s preference hunt day on November 11 for both the AM and PM hunt periods.

Harvest and hunter use

In 2021, Teal/goose hunters’ success was significantly higher than 2020; 395 hunters harvested 304 geese and 73 teal (0.95 waterfowl/hunter trip), compared to 435 hunters harvesting 88 geese and 130 teal (0.5 waterfowl/hunter trip) in 2020. During the last 10 days of September 175 hunters harvested 230 geese (1.31 geese/ hunter trip).

2021 marked the first season for Fish Point being in the Middle Zone. Hunter success was low the first two weeks of the season due to warm weather and high goose hunting pressure up to the opener of the regular duck season. By the third week of the season harvest increased and stayed constant at around one duck/hunter trip the rest of the season (Table 1). Spikes in daily and weekly harvest coincided with weather fronts and the arrival of new birds. Total duck harvest and hunter trips were more than last year (Figure 2). Duck harvest increased by 24% compared to 2020. Hunter trips and ducks harvested were well above the five-year average. It’s worth noting that the ducks/hunter trip was less than the last two years and below the 5-year average. In 2020, leftover hunting zone after the draw where not available. If leftovers were allowed hunter numbers in 2020 would have been closer to the number of hunter trips in 2021, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic this was not allowed to help protect hunters and staff.

  • 5,993 hunter trips
  • 7,798 ducks harvested
  • 769 geese harvested
  • 1.30 ducks/hunter trips
  • 1.42 total birds/trip 

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Recommendations

  • Continue with the number of pre-registered parties at 40, pending annul area conditions.
  • Continue the following draw procedures that were adopted in 2021 for future seasons:
    • Do not check for waterfowl hunting licenses
    • Remove party zone draw preference
    • Utilize FM radio for draw speech and zone selection
  • Continue to allow for fall tillage in the bottomlands in a manner with minimal topsoil disturbance; do not allow fall tillage of any kind in the decoy opening areas of the field.
  • Purchase front-end loader.
  • Purchase dump truck.
  • Purchase new disk.
  • Pursue long-term sharecrop agreements.
  • Work closely with constituent groups while still being able to manage our game areas to benefit wildlife and improve habitats.
  • Trust local staff to make judgments and decisions in matters concerning their areas when following the GPS.
  • Replace the D41P dozer.
  • Backfill vacant wildlife assistant position.
  • Staff will continue to explore options for our agricultural program (examples -sharecrop agreements, moist-soil management, wildlife crop damage, tillage operations).
  • Due to rising Great Lakes levels we will have to make recommendations on how to best manage our resources.

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Volunteers and partners

The following groups helped us to reach some of our management goals. Their generous donations of both time and money are greatly appreciated.

  • Shiawassee Flats Citizens and Hunters Association
    • Funded repairs, planted crops, and provided recommendations in helping to establish waterfowl check station protocols.
    • Undertook major posting of the area, which included navigational signs throughout the area to better direct hunters to their hunting spot. This project was funded by the MDNR and the posting was done by SFCHA.
    • Mowed willow brush at various locations
    • Continued crop depredation activities to alleviate damage from sandhill cranes and deer in corn zones

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Economic benefits

Hunters, trappers, fishermen, wildlife viewers, and other area recreationalists use this area frequently throughout the year. The biggest influx of users on the area is during the fall when waterfowl and deer harvest opportunities exist. It is hard to put a dollar amount or percentage of sales amount on the contributions made to local businesses from users of the game area. With 5,993 waterfowl hunter trips, approximately 900 deer hunting days, and the number of trapping days, it is quite significant. This does not include fishing days, bird watching days, kayaking days or days where people are just enjoying the area on a walk. When talking to local business owners the percentage of increase varied from season to season and business-to-business. Overall, the estimates were from 5% to 25% increase in sales from people using the area and doing business with local merchants during times of open hunting seasons.

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  • 11/11/2022 - Veterans preference drawing