More than just the Great Lake State, Michigan is a Mecca for ruffed grouse hunting along with other small game hunting opportunities.
Aspen seemed to dominate every direction I looked. The early fall had yet to turn the leaves, but the green was softening towards undertones of yellow. This was the first time I had been to the state of Michigan, drawn here by upland artist and writer Jason Dowd.
Jay is part of the landscape here; although he’s a former tattoo artist, his words and actions point him towards a more nostalgic time in the uplands. With the sound of his vintage Parker shotgun closing, my daydreaming was interrupted only to hear, “We already have a dog on point here.”
Not 60 yards away, an English Setter stood silent and still, eyes looking back at the approaching armada of hunters. An American woodcock got up and a single shot rang out. It was almost impossible to define and start and stop point for the bird encounters, starting from the moment we left the trucks to what seemed like a couple dozen points soon after. We were knee-deep in a flight of migrating woodcock. But as the day ran on, the mumbles of finding grouse began to grow louder.
By the time we moved along to one of Jay’s sacred grouse covers, I had already shot a woodcock, my first with a .410 bore. This particular gun was a Stevens 555 that I had just picked up for fun. In retrospect, as we stepped into the next cover to target hawthorns, I should have switched to my 20 gauge Franchi Instinct, which is a shotgun that I have much more confidence with.
Needless to say, my shooting was subpar, but most of the bunch walked out with heavy game bags, laughing, and reviewing the day afield. Soon we were around a campfire eating aged woodcock from days before and recounting stories of dogs past and present.
As a popular destination for tourism and camping, Michigan prides itself on natural beauty and some of the best beaches in the midwest. Upland hunters are no strangers to the bounty that Michigan offers, especially when it comes to ruffed grouse and woodcock hunting. With its unique geography, Michigan offers a variety of opportunities to bag a few birds.
|Ruffed Grouse||Sept. 15 – Nov. 14, 2020 and Dec. 1, 2020 – Jan. 1, 2021||5/10*||*Check zone possession details|
|American Woodcock||Sept. 19 – Nov. 2, 2020||3/9|
|Sharp-tailed Grouse||Oct. 10 – Oct. 31, 2020||2/4||6 for whole season|
|Pheasant (male)||Oct. 10 – Oct. 31, 2020||2/4||Zone 1 (partial)|
|Pheasant (male)||Oct. 20 – Nov. 14, 2020||2/4||Zone 2 and 3|
|Pheasant (male)||Dec. 1, 2020 – Jan. 1, 2021||2/4||Zone 3 (partial)|
|Snipe||Sept. 1 – Nov. 9, 2020||8/24|
|Bobwhite Quail||Oct. 20 – Nov. 14, 2020||5/10||Not wild or stocked by State.|
|Virginia and Sora Rail||Sept. 1 – Nov. 9, 2020||25/75|
|Snowshoe Hare||Sept. 15, 2020 – Mar. 31, 2021||5/10 (combined)|
|Cottontail Rabbit||Sept. 15, 2020 – Mar. 31, 2021||5/10|
|Gray Squirrel||Sept. 15, 2020 – Mar. 31, 2021||5/10|
|Fox Squirrel||Sept. 15, 2020 – Mar. 31, 2021||5/10|
|Crow||Aug. 1 – Sept. 30, 2020 and Feb. 1 – Mar. 31, 2021||No Limit|
The Upper Peninsula is pretty famous for ruffed grousehunting in Michigan—but do not be fooled into thinking that other parts of the state do not provide ample opportunity. You don’t have to be in the U.P. itself to find great forests for grouse hunting.Drummond Island, accessible by ferry, makes for a distinctive experience and location for grouse hunting.
It is no doubt that the ruffed grouse and American woodcock is what draws many out-of-state hunters with dreams of that Michigan grouse experience.
American woodcock is another excellent hunting prospect in Michigan. While populations are spread out through the state, the migration provides ongoing opportunity. The Allegan State Game Area in the south along with other state lands can be great prospects. There are plenty of national and state forests in the northern parts of the Lower Peninsula as well.
The American woodcock season is governed by federal migratory bird laws and a HIP number is required.
Watch: Jason Dowd—Woodcock Hunting Michigan
Though not all that common, Michigan does offer a chance for sharp-tailed grouse hunting. Chippewa County in the northeastern portion of the Upper Peninsula is the only place to find these birds, but that is more of an opportunity than a handicap. There is some state land available for bird hunting as well as Hunting Access Program lands.
The season runs from October 10 to 31, with a daily bag limit of two birds. In addition to the base license, the state requires a free sharp-tailed grouse stamp.
Bird hunting in Michigan would not be complete without ring-necked pheasant, at least in days gone by. When pheasant hunting began to decline, Michigan—in collaboration with conservation groups—established the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative. Hunters can find ring-necked pheasants in CRP program acres in southern parts of the Lower Peninsula. Some other places for ring-necked pheasants are in the center of the Lower Peninsula within Huron, Tuscola, and Sanilac counties.
The ring-necked pheasant season (males only) happens within three separate zones. Zone 1, the Upper Peninsula, runs from October 10 to 31. For Zone 2 and 3 in the Lower Peninsula, the season runs from October 20 to November 14. For the southern parts of the Lower Peninsula, which is part of Zone 3, the season is December 1 to January 1. There is a daily bag limit of two birds.
The bobwhite quail is the only threatened species that is still available for hunting in Michigan, but not in a way you would think. Hunting is limited to just 27 counties and much of their habitat within these counties is privately owned and within preserves. For some unsuspecting hunter, bobwhite may wander onto adjacent properties and offer a good night’s meal.
The bobwhite quail season runs from October 20 to November 14 with a daily bag limit of five birds.
Michigan Hunting Licenses and Hunters Safety Course
Michigan recently simplified its small game licensing. You’ll only need to buy a base license to access its 10 million public acres of hunting. Non-residents pay $151, while residents pay only $11. If you’re a non-resident and want to pay a smaller fee for bird hunting in Michigan, a small game 7-day non-resident license costs $80.
|Military License (Full-time Active Duty)||$0.00||$0.00|
|Small Game 7 Day||—||$80.00|
Like most states, Michigan requires anyone who wants to purchase a small game license to have completed the related hunter safety requirements. If the hunter is over the age of 10 and does not have a hunter safety certificate, they can purchase a 7-day apprentice hunter license for 2 years. They will have to complete a hunter safety course after that time. An apprentice hunter afield must be accompanied by a resident at least 21 years old who possesses a current-year hunting license. Otherwise, if you were born after January 1, 1960, you will need to complete a hunter safety course.
For training your dog to bird hunt, the dates are July 8 to April 15. You can use non-native birds, except pheasant, during this open training season on State Game Areas and Wildlife Management Areas. There are designated Field Trial Areas for closed-season training. In these areas (Highland, Holly, Ionia, Sharonville, and Lapeer), you will need a permit for shooting anything other than a starter pistol.
Related Conservation and Non-Profit Organizations for Michigan Bird Hunting
Ruffed Grouse Society
North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA)
The bird hunting season dates, game bird species available, and other information is subject to change. The article may not reflect this. Please visit theMichigan Department of Natural Resourcesfor the most up-to-date information on bird hunting in Michigan.
A.J. DeRosa founded Project Upland in 2014 as an excuse to go hunting more often (and it worked). A New England native, he grew up hunting and has spent over 30 years in pursuit of big and small game species across three continents. He started collecting guns on his 18th birthday and eventually found his passion for side-by-side shotguns, inspiring him to travel the world to meet the people and places from which they come. Looking to turn his passion into inspiration for others, AJ was first published in 2004 and went on to write his first book The Urban Deer Complex in 2014. He soon discovered a love for filmmaking, particularly the challenge of capturing ruffed grouse with a camera, which led to the award-winning Project Upland film series. AJ's love for all things wild has caused him to advocate on the federal and state levels to promote and expand conservation policy, habitat funding, and upland game bird awareness. He currently serves as the Strafford County New Hampshire Fish & Game Commissioner in order to give back to his community and to further the mission of the agency. When those hunting excuses are in play, you can find him wandering behind his Wirehaired Pointing Griffon in the mountains of New England and anywhere else the birds take them.