Part 1:THE HUNT
A World Class Sea Duck Hunt In The Midwest
With Big Water Outdoors
by dan wennerlind
After I pulled the trigger and watched the last drake old squaw of the day skip across the water from my one man layout boat, I knew that it would not be long before I would be back again for another sea duck hunt on Lake Michigan with Mike and Dean from Big Water Outdoors.
I spoke with outfitter Mike Thun the following summer to see how things were shaping up for the 2010 waterfowl hunting season. Mike told me that they had just picked up their brand new custom designed 26 foot Duck Water boat, and they were currently in the process of getting it dialed in for the upcoming season. He also told me that the prime dates were starting to fill up, so I knew I had to act fast if we were going to get a group together and get out on a hunt this upcoming season.
Reminiscing about the last trip with Mike and Dean, thoughts of Old Squaws and Scoters cruising across Lake Michigan while sitting in my personal layout boat setup, I remembered Mike telling me how incredible the diver duck hunting on the bay of Green Bay could be. Mike had also told me that many groups elect to book a two day combo hunt with one day hunting sea ducks on Lake Michigan and the second day hunting divers on the bay. I had remembered thinking that the next time I came back I was definitely going to spend a second day on the bay chasing divers. A couple of phone calls later and a few stories from last year’s hunt and we were booked for 2010!
November 18th could not come fast enough and when my two compadres for the trip, Brandon Crowley and Kyle Hamilton and I pulled out of Minneapolis on our 5 hour trek across Wisconsin to the east side, spirits were high. Mike had told us on the phone the day before that his clients took limits of Old Squaws and Scoters in about 45 minutes! This information was most reassuring to the “rookie” sea duck hunters of the group, but knowing that we would most likely see over 10,000 birds on the first day’s hunt alone, I had to chuckle to myself as the skeptic of the group now felt more confident about his chances for the upcoming hunt.
We were up and at ‘em at 4:30 am sharp the following morning, as the alarm went off in our Manitowoc, WI motel room. Having lodging available within minutes of the boat launch, we were able to meet our guides / outfitters Mike and Dean across the street from our motel at 5:15 am and had the boat in the water before 6 o’clock am. I was most impressed with the rig that carried us across the 60 foot deep waters of Lake Michigan to the Old Squaw “feeding grounds”. The new Big Water Outdoors 26 foot boat set-up came fully equipped with two- one man layout boats and 10 dozen decoys, it was very impressive! Even more impressive was how quickly the tandem had both boats and all the decoys deployed and ready to hunt over.
One of the nice benefits about hunting with Big Water Outdoors is that they only cater to 2 hunters at a time and each hunter has his own personal layout boat which allows each hunter to take his own personal limit of ducks at his own discretion. Since the “rookies” were chomping at the bit to get on the water and I was hoping to get my chessy Jada on a couple downed birds from the tender boat, I volunteered to sit the first round out and help chase down any cripples that the boys may have, along with the guides. Mike assured me that it did not make any difference if I got in the boat at sunrise or at twelve in the afternoon as the birds fly all day.
Not more than 20 minutes into the hunt the guys radioed in that they had three drake Old Squaws dead on the water. Before we could even get there to pick those birds up, they had a fourth drake down. It was just as exciting for me to see the grins from ear to ear on my hunting partner’s faces as we pulled up and Jada launched off the back of the boat to retrieve her first Old Squaw. I was also impressed that the guys were able to distinguish the hens from the drakes and were very cautious to only shoot “the flying tuxedos” as Mike referred to the drakes, even though six of either sex were available in the daily limit.
I had a chance to do some catching up with Mike and Dean and hear their war stories from their previous hunts, as we patiently waited for the next call to action. It was unbelievable how many flocks of Old Squaws were cruising across the skyline as we sat and talked. We must have seen 5,000 birds in the first hour alone. We even saw a couple of flocks of white winged surf scoters. Unfortunately, the scoters did not give the guys a solid look. Approximately two hours into the hunt, Brandon radioed in that he had his sixth drake Old Squaw belly up in the decoys, which limited him out. Now I started to get excited as my turn was up and the birds were still flying strong. Again, Mike reassured me that they would be flying like this all day long, so it really didn’t matter what time I got into the boat.
Brandon Crowley with his
first drake Old Squaw
What a Trophy!
Right off the bat, I had a single drake swing by the right hand side and with Kyle sitting 20 yards to my left in his boat, I had a clean shot and dropped my first bird of the day- it felt good! Ten minutes later, another pair swung right in, taking the same path and drake number two hit the water. Then Kyle crushed a drake at about 15 yards out and he was now down to his last bird. While the big rig chased down my third drake, I enjoyed watching Jada launch right over the front bow after Mike finished off the cripple with a single shot.
Kyle finished off with his last bird and I offered to have Mike join me in Kyle’s boat for the remainder of the hunt. I knew the hunting was going to continue to be fast and furious and I also knew that Dean and Mike never really have a chance to do much hunting of their own throughout the season as they are always so focused on catering to their hunters needs. About a half our later my last drake came in picture perfect- right up the shoot and with a single shot another successful hunt was in the books.
Day Two was an entirely different ball game. We were expecting 30+ mph winds which ensured that even if we wanted to have another chance at a consecutive 18 drake Old Squaw limit on “The Big Pond” like we did the day before, it was completely out of the question. We were now off to the bay of Green Bay, located another 40 miles up the road. Mike assured us that no matter what the weather conditions, they were always able to get out and hunt the bay.
“The nice thing about hunting the bay,” Mike said, “is that you never know what you are going to see.” Dean followed up by stating, “With the abundance of blue bills on the bay, you will surely get your limit of two blue bills a piece, no problem.” He also said that we could expect to see a wide variety of diver ducks including: golden eyes, canvasbacks, redheads, buffleheads, ring bills, mergansers, scoters, old squaws, and even possibly an eider if we were really lucky.
This hunt was definitely going to be a test in waterfowl identification, that was for sure. The set-up was similar to that of the day before with ten dozen diver decoys on long lines and two layout boats set up about a half a mile off shore. However, I found out very quickly that the hunting on the bay was completely different.
Brandon finally finished up with another golden eye and Kyle climbed in to start his hunt. With one duck left, I let Kyle go to work and within a half an hour he had his two blue bills down along with another nice golden eye. Then I had another small flock of buffleheads that skirted the edge of the decoys and I took a big swing and a miss. That was not the way I wanted to end my day, so when the next drake golden eye came across the spread, I aimed carefully and finished my hunt with a clean kill. Not long after, Kyle completed his limit and we were ready to make the six mile trip back to the launch.
I think one of the things I was most impressed with, not only on our two day hunt this year, but from the year before as well, was the amount of birds that we saw throughout the hunt. On our first day, we had to have seen over 10,000 Old Squaws. Between both days of hunting, there was never more than five minutes without seeing a flock of ducks working the spread. However, as many hunters know, it is not just harvesting game that makes for a successful hunt. I have been on many hunts when a limit of birds has been taken and I went away feeling like the day was a complete waste of time.
There are many factors that set Dean and Mike’s hunts apart. First off, safety is always a major concern throughout the hunt. Many hunters who I tell about this hunt are very concerned about hunting out of a small layout boat on such big water. Even in the 30 mph winds, there was never a time where I felt unsafe and we actually stayed completely dry during the entire hunt. Another big factor is their professionalism. They always put their customer’s needs and wants first and work their tails off the entire hunt to ensure complete satisfaction. The little details also helped make a big difference. One of the aspects of the hunt that I personally enjoyed was that we each hunted out of our own boat, with only one other hunter in the spread. It was also a real treat to have a hot egg bake breakfast waiting for us on the tender boat as soon as we finished shooting. These guys truly know what the meaning of “customer satisfaction”. Lastly, I really appreciated that this hunt is priced for the average guy at $225 per day. For what they offer, this is definitely money well spent. The fact that such a unique experience is available right here in the Midwest is surely a no-brainer for any serious waterfowl hunter. After spending two seasons hunting with Dean and Mike, I was honored to name Big Water Outdoors The 2011 HuntTheNorth.com Outfitter Of The Year.
Part 2: THE REVIEW
|OUTFITTER KNOWLEDGE / PERSONALITY: ||Score||5 / 5 |
Mike and Dean are a couple of the most fun and professional outfitters that I have had the pleasure to spend time with. The attention to detail and the safety awareness throughout our hunt was first rate. In addition, their knowledge and experience guiding this area was very apparent and showed in both day’s results.
|QUALITY OF |
|Score||5 / 5|
All of the equipment from the brand new 26 foot Duck Water boat, to the single man layout boats, to the 10 dozen decoys professionally rigged on long lines were of the highest quality. At no time during the hunt were we ever in any danger and on the second day we were the only hunters that were able to get out on the bay with the high winds. It was also very evident that there has been a lot of off season thought and preparation that went into making this a seemless operation.
|Score||5 / 5|
The opportunity to take our limit of ducks on both days was unbelievable. On the first day alone we saw over 10,000 old squaws. In addition with the layout boat rigs, they ducks decoyed right into the spread. On the second day we had similar results but with an entirely different species of ducks with the divers. The other nice thing is that when the weather does get very nasty and hunting Lake Michigan is not an option, they always have the bay as a back up Plan B!
|QUALITY OF MEALS |
3 / 5
Although meals and lodging are not included in the daily hunt rate, I felt in this situation, that was actually an added bonus as the guys are able to keep the overhead and the overall cost of the hunt to a minimum. The motels in town were very comfortable and affordable and there were several options close to the launch. Refreshments and a hot breakfast were offered on the boat after a cool morning of hunting which was definitely a welcomed treat.
HUNT PACKAGES AND
|Score||5 / 5|
The guys offer a very personalized hunt at $225.00 per hunter for groups of 2 – 4. However you will be hunting out of your own boat so the hunt is as personable as you can get. They also offer the option of catering to individual hunters for a little extra- $350.00 per day. Trust me when I say they earn every penny and it is well worth the money invested!
|OVERALL QUALITY |
OF THE TRIP:
|Score||5 / 5 |
Overall this was one of the most enjoyable, satisfying and challenging waterfowl hunts I have ever been on. The actual hunting itself is what I would consider “World Class”. The overall operation was run with a professionalism and dedication to the customer that is second to none. We came back for round two for a reason and it was definitely a hunt to remember!
Overall Big Water Outdoors Scored 28 Out Of 30 Giving Them An "A" Rating. We Would Not Hesitate To Refer Them For Their Spectacular Sea Duck & Diver Hunts!
|28 / 30|
Part 3: Booking Information
|Contact Information For Big Water Outdoors|
Outfitters: Mike Thun and Dean Crom
Phone: Mike 920.377.0929 / Dean 920-377-0927
Address: 21998 Schreiber Road Kiel, WI 53042
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Website Address: bigwateroutdoors.com
|Additional Services Offered|
In addition to Mike and Deans unbelievable Lake Michigan sea duck hunting and diver duck hunting on the bay or Green Bay, they also offer early season and regular season field Canada goose hunts in eastern Wisconsin. In addition in the summer months charter fishing is also available and they do get into some big walleyes on the bay as well!
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