A hunter’s point of view shows the decoys laid out in the water as they attempt to attract a flock of ducks.

A hunter’s point of view shows the decoys laid out in the water as they attempt to attract a flock of ducks.

Photo provided by Ryan Farrell

Diver hunting set to populate Lake St. Clair as duck season approaches

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Metro | Published September 15, 2022

 Two hunters prepare their decoys  on the line, in preparation for the day.

Two hunters prepare their decoys on the line, in preparation for the day.

Photo provided by Pete Pierce


ST. CLAIR SHORES — As the summer season approaches its final stretch, some boaters on Lake St. Clair are getting ready to “dive” into a different activity.

As opposed to the tubes and jet skis most would see when looking out onto Lake St. Clair in the middle of June, the cooler climates will bring layout boats, decoys and 12-gauge shotguns, as duck hunting season approaches.

On Oct. 15 in Lake St. Clair, waterfowl duck hunting season will officially kick off, but for some specific hunters, it’s another year of diver hunting. Diver hunting is open-water hunting that requires hunters to be at least 450 feet from an occupied building, dwelling, house, residence or cabin. 

The primary boat will sit at a distance at the group’s discretion, away from the layout boat with a radio to communicate with the layout boat, which will hold someone at a low profile, as awaiting potential targets. Decoys of several duck species are typically near the side of the layout boat, and placed on long lines anchored on each end.

“It can be a little more fast and furious, and it’s a little more labor-intensive; we’re sitting out there miles offshore in November or early December,” Ryan Farrell said. “It’s pretty exciting when you’re sitting out on the lake and all of a sudden there are a flock of 20-40 ducks flying past you.”

Farrell, a St. Clair Shores native, is one of many duck hunters who sets out for the open waters early in the morning.

Fortunately for locals, Lake St. Clair is a prime destination for diver hunting due to a few factors that separate it from other areas.

“Lake St. Clair is world-renowned for diver ducks,” said Dan Wennerlind. “It’s the largest staging lake in North America and it’s the largest freshwater staging lake for the diver species, so there’s probably eight to 10 different diver species.”

Wennerlind founded the Ultimate Waterfowlers Challenge, which has over 3,000 members, back in 2014 with Lake St. Clair being one of its 12 targeted areas in North America. The group is filled with world-class hunters who have a chance to harvest 41 species of ducks, and Lake St. Clair is a primary hunting zone for canvasbacks, redheads, and scaup.

While diver hunting can be an adrenaline rush, it’s important to remember safety precautions before beginning.

“You’re out in the big water, so if something goes wrong you have to know what to do; it’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of strenuous work,” Pete Pierce said. “Duck hunting by far is the most physically challenging type of hunting you can get into.”

Pierce, a Holly native, has been diver hunting for five years after duck hunting for 15 years. He stressed a few safety precautions.

“When you’re layout hunting, you want to have a flotation device,” Pierce said. “Gun safety is humongous, especially when you’re shooting all day and coming back to the boat.”

For people feeling inspired and ready to diver hunt, it’s not something that can be easily mastered overnight.

“It’s not a sport where people can easily just pick up and start hunting; you have to learn the ropes and learn the safety measures,” Farrell said. “A lot of situational awareness and realizing you’re dealing with Mother Nature.”

While safety measures may be vigorous at first, especially during the first few times out, diver hunting enthusiasts say the activity is an exciting mix of hunting and open-water isolation.

It’s not for everyone, but many hunters hope that the sport increases in numbers for years to come.

“We really pushed to have the younger generation involved because it is a dying sport,” Wennerlind said.

Pierce, in part with his Facebook group Just A Bunch Of Sportsmen, has worked with not only the younger generation, but veterans as well to increase the sport’s popularity and show them a great time.

“It’s the most addicting sport I’ve ever done in my life,” Pierce said.