A Grouse Hunter’s Guide To Navigating Michigan’s Seven New GEMS

GEMS logo

Grouse hunting season in Michigan is open now through November 14th. Today, guest blogger Katie Keen from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources tells us about a new program that’s giving Michigan hunters access to some of the top grouse hunting areas in the country.

Daylight is starting to give us the squeeze, and if you’re like me, you’re starting to smell fall in the air.

Fall brings prime hunting season in Michigan, and with it a new program that the DNR and many other groups – like the Ruffed Grouse Society, U.S. Forest Service, National Wild Turkey Federation and Ducks Unlimited – are really excited about.

It’s called GEMS, or Grouse Enhanced Management Systems.

Michigan is among the leading states in the nation for grouse hunting, and the GEMS showcase seven great areas for those who want to give the sport a try or maybe existing hunters looking for new locations. The great thing about grouse hunting is, if you’re already a hunter you have – or will soon have, with deer season right around the corner – the hunting license you need.  The base license serves as a small game license, which is all you need for grouse hunting. The base license provides critical funding for wildlife and habitat management and conservation officers, and also to educate the public on the benefits of hunting, fishing and trapping.

Info kioskSeven GEMS are ready for this year’s grouse season, which starts Sept. 15.  Go online and pick out the first GEMS site you want to visit, whether it’s just below the bridge in Indian River, just north of the tri-cities near Standish, or north of the bridge where you could go from Drummond Island in the eastern U.P. to the Ottawa National Forest in the far western U.P.  The adventure is there and waiting!  You’ll also notice, when you’re on the GEMS website, the local support area businesses are giving GEMS. GEMS hunters will receive some great discounts by taking a selfie at a GEMS site and showing the picture to the participating business.

Once you’ve picked out your first GEMS location, and arrived there with your fashionable hunter orange vest, you’ll find some very useful information. Learn about ruffed grouse biology and how forests are managed for wildlife through cutting, hear examples of a ruffed grouse drumming on a log, and – most importantly – check out the map that will show you the miles and miles of hunter walking trails waiting for you.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 5.10.49 PMGEMS areas feature non-motorized trails planted with clover weaving through pockets of grouse’s favorite habitat – stands of young aspen trees. You can choose to stay on the trail looking for grouse, or step off a bit and venture through the stands of young timber.  And don’t forget the other great upland game bird that can be found and hunted in these GEMS – the American woodcock.  Woodcock season starts on Sept. 20, and since it is a migratory bird, an additional free “woodcock stamp” is needed for hunting.  You can grab a woodcock stamp anywhere DNR licenses are sold or online.

Once you’ve completed your first GEMS hunt, make sure to take that selfie in front of a GEMS sign and visit one of the area businesses to get a great discount.  Hunters in Michigan bring millions of dollars into our economy … and have a whole lot of fun doing it!

Katie KeenKatie Keen is a wildlife outreach technician for the DNR in Cadillac, who spends her working hours with hunters, landowners, educators and media representatives to help with their DNR-related needs. In her off-time, she is a hunting-landowner who loves to educate folks about the DNR.

 

 

How to Plan for the Perfect Pure Michigan Fall Color Tour in the Great Lakes Bay Region

Fall is in the air in Pure Michigan! Make the most of the vibrant changing colors by embarking on a fall color adventure on the waterways of the Great Lakes Bay region. Today, guest blogger Wil Hufton of Johnny Panther Quest Adventure trips tells us how to plan for the perfect Pure Michigan fall color tour. 

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

As the operator of a boating adventure tour company, people often ask me when is the best (or my favorite) time to go on a boat ride.  And for decades, my response has never changed.  “When you are BREATHING!”

This year marks my twentieth official one in a lifelong adventure of taking guests through the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge and some of my other favorite places on earth.  It’s part of my livelihood, my business –Johnny Panther Quests Adventure Trips.  More than that, it’s part of who I am.

When I was a young boy, my stepdad bought a set of hand-drawn, color-coded maps, and, with these, we spent five years exploring every river, creek, ditch, and bayou of the Refuge.  We came to know the waterways so well that I could navigate their twists and bends by heart, even at 2am with no moon and no light to guide me.  When folks ask how I do it, I reply, “By braille!”

I admit being partial to the spring, but fall on the waterways of the Great Lakes Bay has a magic all its own.  The air is sweet, the foliage is ripe, and the migrations are cranking up into full swing.  As the frost gets thicker and the days get shorter, the infinite shades of green transform into a kaleidoscope of color.  It becomes easier to pick out the wildlife through the trees and the water gets clearer, sometimes so full of leaves it looks like land.

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

The Saginaw River Valley is rich with wildlife in a way you couldn’t imagine until you’ve seen it. Sometimes so many birds fill the sky, you’ll wish you had a raincoat on, and you never… (I repeat, never)… look up with your mouth open!  Jokes aside, this is the “Everglades of Michigan” at its finest.  And it’s all here when you set out for a fall color tour in Pure Michigan’s Great Lakes Bay Region.

Going on a fall color tour doesn’t have to mean cramming into a car and hitting the tarmac, mile marker after mile marker, as you watch the beautiful fall colors fly past you through the glass.  In the Great Lakes Bay, we like to make our fall color tours a little more… vibrant.  That’s why, on Johnny Panther Quest Adventure Trips (and other Great Lakes Bay fall color tour experiences like those aboard Bay City’s Appledore Tallships) you can experience the beauty of the season as it was intended.  Naturally, freely, and however you please.

That’s because you can customize your fall color tour to be exactly what you want, and nothing you don’t.  If you’re looking for a romantic, relaxing tour, early fall is perfect. From Mid-September through late October the foliage changes dramatically.  At this time in the season, sunsets become more dramatic, and couples snuggle closer together sharing warmth as the world comes alive around them.  Sharing the romance of nature with others is what I live for, and if theirs is reignited in some way, then I’ve been successful!

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

To make the most of an early fall color tour:

  • See nature at its peak.  Here, the fall colors peak around Mid-October, so it’s the perfect time to witness the waterways in all their autumn glory.
  • Dress warm! You can never bring too many layers, and can always remove a few!
  • Bring coolers. Fill them with your favorite bevereages (warm or cold!), pack a picnic basket (with wine, cheese, and chocolate perhaps?) and don’t forget to stash a camera.
  • Pack your binoculars.  As the season progresses, the migrations increase along with other animal activity. We will start seeing more raptors and sometimes multiple eagles in the trees.

Rather opt for a little more of a trailblazing adventure?  You’re not alone.  Each year, I have more and more people who are willing to put on a snowmobile suit and brave the cold to go for a boat ride later in the season (late fall and even well into winter).  Why? Because the deeper in the season we are, the more stuff we see.  Good stuff.  Like the eagle, hawk, heron, and owl.  In the later months, their nests stick out like sore thumbs.  The air is full of birds, and some of the buck’s racks are nothing short of awesome. The solitude and tranquility of thirty-two square miles of rivers, marshes, and bayous beckons.

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

To make the most of a late fall (or early winter) color tour (November):

  • Don’t underestimate the late fall or early winter chill.  Dress warm and in layers. Bring spare clothes. A snowmobile suit or similar can be your best friend.
  • Keep things toasty.  Switch from cold beverages to something warm that won’t freeze!
  • Stick with the staples.  As always, stock your picnic baskets, bring cameras (and binoculars are always highly recommended).

By branching out on a late fall or early winter adventure, the colorful leaves will be gone and a totally different landscape awaits. Spotting wildlife will be far easier, and the chorus of ducks, geese, and swans will at full amplitude. The air will be brisk and sometimes biting, we don’t call them adventure trips for nothing!

For it all, you’ll will be rewarded with “tranquilitude.”  A life changing, battery-recharging experience far removed from the hustle and bustle of civilization. If you truly want to eliminate stress, get out of the mainstream, and go on a “quest!”  And your quest for the perfect fall color tour begins right here in the Great Lakes Bay.

Take a quick preview of what you can expect on a Great Lakes Bay fall color tour with Johnny Panther Quest Adventure Trips in the video below!

Wil Hufton - Guest BloggerWil L. Hufton III is the owner and operator of Johnny Panther Quest Adventure Trips, a AAA Gem Attraction that has specialized in ecotours by boat for over 19 years.  He is an outdoor enthusiast who loves sharing his “playground” with others and educating them on everything from waterways to wildlife.