Hunting Lake Michigan's Long-Tailed Ducks

Hunting Lake Michigan's Long-Tailed Ducks

Cold November waters on a bouncy 18-foot walleye boat made the perfect setting for an unforgettable oldsquaw hunt.

Three miles from shore, the morning's first bath of Lake Michigan spit across my cheeks as Rob Andersen steered his 18-foot walleye boat into the growing swells.


I shivered instinctively, and then smiled. I couldn't help but equate the gentle dousing of frigid water as a baptism of sorts. Although I had hunted ducks in Wisconsin for 30 seasons, I'd never experienced anything remotely close to this ride. Never saw a live oldsquaw before, either.

"We're not out far enough yet," instructed Rod Whitehead of Phelps, Wis. "Keep going!"

Whitehead, owner of Easy Pluck bird dressing systems, was the veteran deck hand on our expedition. He had hunted sea ducks in open water previously -- twice. The outboard roared. As Andersen pushed the craft farther from shore, I squinted, scanning the sea horizon for ducks.

"There!" I shouted, thrusting my hand to point at a half-dozen speeding forms off of the bow.

"Oldsquaws," Whitehead declared with a salty grin. "Let's go out farther. There'll be more."

VIDEO: Lake Michigan Long-Tailed Duck Hunt

A minute of throttle later, birds were buzzing all around us. The work began the second we stopped. The first task was to deploy a dual boat anchor system in 65 feet of water. Next, we set a pair of longlines rigged with diver and sea duck decoys. Sounds simple. It wasn't. Setup took an hour. Hundreds of ducks whizzed past while we fought sea swells and shifting winds.

Finally, we were ready to fire. We had no cover, so we attempted to stay low in the boat and to hold still. Honestly, I'm not sure it mattered.

The oldsquaws, nowadays known by the more politically correct moniker "long-tailed ducks," seemed to follow a predetermined flight path. With a raft of thousands of the colorful ducks sitting offshore, we were bound to have visitors. Most would skirt the edge of the decoy line, but every so often, a single or pair would wing right through the heart of our operation.

Our goal was to shoot mature drakes -- the longtails. We had missed a couple of frustratingly longish shots at handsome drakes early on, so when a young drake crossed too close behind the motor, I snapped and fired.

"Ah ha!" Whitehead celebrated.

We unhooked the boat anchors and retrieved the first duck of our voyage. It wasn't the taxidermy specimen I was hoping to collect, but I was proud nonetheless. Connecting on a fleeing 50-mile-per-hour duck while bobbing like a corked bottle atop 4-foot sea swells and wind-driven chop is no easy feat.

I made another discovery on that November day: Shooting oldsquaws in those conditions is easier than videoing hunters shooting oldsquaws in those conditions.

Ducks pushed past in breathtaking waves. We rocked. We rolled. We blasted. All three of us collected stunning long-tailed drakes, and I managed to capture footage of Andersen folding a duck on the tepid waters of Lake Michigan.

At hunt's end, I brought ashore a trophy for the wall and a video clip for the Wildfowl Web site. More importantly, we had shared an unforgettable duck hunt.

Recommended for You


Gun Dog Nutrition & Intelligence

Tony J. Peterson

Nourish your pup's noggin for elite performance.


Ducks Unlimited: A Duck Man's Best Friend

David Hart

To date, Ducks Unlimited has played a role in conserving 14 million acres.


Sweet Jalapeño Grilled Duck Recipe

Scott Leysath, "The Sporting Chef"

The sweet, tangy flavor of orange juice combined with spicy jalapeños in this duck recipe will...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Swedish Duck Hunt

Kevin Steele takes part in a family driven duck hunt in Sweden.

Women's Waterfowl Lineup

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the company's full line-up of women's waterfowl hunting gear for 2019. From warm and moisture-wicking base layers to water and windproof outer layers, this is a complete system for women who love to chase fall and wintertime ducks and geese across the four flyways!

Franchi 12-Gauge Affinity Semiauto Shotgun

Craig Boddington and Eric Poole take a look at the new modern Franchi Affinity shotgun.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories


11 Best New Shotshell Loads For Waterfowl

Wildfowl Online Staff - August 17, 2017

Consistency is what pushes today's shotshell makers to constantly improve new waterfowl loads


Cowboy Fernandez Commemorative Yentzen Classic Duck Call

Lynn Burkhead - January 28, 2019

As Groves, Texas duck call maker Sure-Shot Game Calls celebrates their 60th anniversary during...


Best Waterfowl Shotguns of 2018

John Taylor - September 25, 2018

Author John M. Taylor has broken down the top waterfowl shotguns for the 2018 season.

See More Stories

More North America

North America

Why Kansas is More Than Just a Greenhead Mecca

Joe Genzel - April 23, 2015

Hard Core's honky tonk tour bus pulled through the gates and we stepped off just in time to...

North America

Hunt Manitoba's Pothole Region at Birdtail

Online Staff - March 25, 2019

With second-to-none hunting opportunities, Birdtail Waterfowl is the place for diehards!

North America

No Boat? Try These Walk-In Hunting Opportunities

David Hart - September 01, 2016

Here are some of our favorite walk-in areas that can really deliver on the ducks if you're...

See More North America

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.