Public Land Waterfowl In Maryland-Delaware
October 04, 2010
It's not too late to enjoy some final-season wingshooting in our two states for a variety of ducks and geese. Here's where you should try right now. (January 2007)
Waterfowlers who wish to remain mobile will use camouflaged boats with folding or detachable blinds.
Photo by R. Michael DiLullo
Late-season waterfowling can be extremely productive. Storms and cold fronts will force ducks and geese farther along on their migration south. When waterways and small ponds ice over, any open water will become honeyholes full of resting waterfowl.
But by the holiday season, many hunters have hung it up for the year, which means fewer crowds and plenty of action for the more determined and prepared waterfowlers.
However, late-season hunting is usually synonymous with cold, raw weather. Hunters who venture afield during the "late season" must be prepared to deal with extreme weather conditions. You must remain aware of the dangers that cold, partially frozen waters can hold. Prolonged exposure to cold, wet weather can very quickly become life-threatening, not only for your dog, but for you as well.
Care should always be taken when hunting over frozen waters. Late-season hunting can have unseen dangers that you must be prepared for, particularly cold-related injuries and conditions such as exposure, frostbite and hypothermia -- an insidious, but deadly ailment. Common sense should also decide whether to hunt in adverse conditions. Some simple precautions will help to reduce the chances of having a problem while out hunting at this time of the year.
The real secret to late-season hunting is being prepared with the proper clothing to keep you warm and dry in extreme weather. Cold hands and numb toes are usually the price you pay for skimping. But properly outfitted, late-season hunts can be very productive, since birds usually receive little hunting pressure after the first few weeks of the season.
Another special consideration to the late season is gunning over big water. As is often the case at this time of year, waterfowl will move to larger bodies of water out of necessity. Hunters need to be specially prepared to hunt these unique bodies of water. Waterfowling in large tidal saltwater marshes is very different than any other form of waterfowl hunting.
Little or sparse vegetation often makes creating natural blinds nearly impossible. Other locations may contain tall, thick reeds or grasses that can be difficult to cut, or regulations may not allow any disturbance of natural cover. Most marsh blinds are constructed in open areas on poles to compensate for changing tides; others are often made on floating platforms anchored to the bank or shore.
Many waterfowlers who want to remain more mobile use camouflaged boats with folding or detachable blinds made from lightweight material, to which they add natural local vegetation and beach against banks or anchor off rocks, jetties or pilings.
Even in a well-camouflaged boat or blind, hunters must wear matching natural drab-colored or camo clothing and also stay well hidden until ready to shoot. Decoys sets, and the decoys themselves, must match the species being hunted and in laid out in an appropriate pattern. Location includes the proper position for the wind, water depths for the tide, and in the correct area where the ducks want to be.
Calling is usually not as important as with puddle ducks. Big-water birds rely more on visual cues than calling. That said, don't leave your calls home, but concentrate more on visual signals like decoy setups, the number of decoys and flagging.
Tidal changes cause most big-water waterfowl to move throughout the day. However, tides can also affect the area you plan to hunt. An extremely high tide may flood out an area and cause birds to go elsewhere, while an extremely low tide may cause navigational hazards and restrict your ability to reach certain areas -- or even strand you in the marsh until the next rising tide.
However, one advantage to hunting in such a diversified environment is the ability to change locations or even the species of waterfowl being sought.
Dabbling ducks are usually hunted in backwater bays, ponds and secluded impoundments. Divers are found in bays and coastal lagoons, while sea ducks are usually loafing in the larger sounds and bays.
Canada and snow geese usually arrive in their feeding fields late in the morning and return to roosting areas in the evening. Atlantic Brant move with the tide, and hunting the correct tide is the key to hunting brant successfully.
Prospective hunters should seriously consider using the services of a professional guide. Even seasoned big-water hunters new to an area would be wise to hire a local waterman, guide or outfitter their first time out. Experience and knowledge of the areas being hunted, the local birds' patterns and effects of tides on a given location all play important roles in successful waterfowling.
Local guides are usually well aware of all of these factors and can safely put you onto birds. Weather should also be a serious consideration, and having someone familiar with local weather patterns and sheltered areas can be a godsend.
Whether hunting with or without a guide, hunters should consider all safety issues when engaging in late-season open-water waterfowling, including planning their travel routes.
Shallow bays can be difficult to navigate even for seasoned local watermen, especially during low-light travel times. Using maps, tidal charts and scouting with the use of a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit are especially useful in getting in and out of small creeks and channels, which often lose water quickly during periods of low tide.
Having alternative routes and a back-up plan can save the day. These are all part of what you pay for in hiring a professional guide, and his services can spell the difference between a successful day on the water or having a serious problem.
More hunters should take advantage of the opportunities the late hunting season has to offer. With fewer hunters and plenty of birds still around, the only real obstacle is the weather. But with the right equipment, preparation and planning, both you and your dog can easily adapt to extreme weather conditions and continue hunting well into the New Year!
What follows are possibly some of Delaware and Maryland's best bets for late-season shooting. Each state's fish and game departments have information on other areas open to hunting within their respective stat
e. Most departments can also refer you to local reputable guides.
Delaware's rich waterfowl traditions revolve around Delaware Bay and its watersheds. Late-season First State hunters should seek-out wildlife management areas (WMAs) that offer a variety of wingshooting opportunities.
Little Creek & Ted Harvey
The Little Creek and Ted Harvey WMAs are two adjacent parcels offering more than 7,400 acres of superb late-season puddle duck and goose hunting. Both of these WMAs are located off state Route 9 and south of Dover Air Force Base.
Little Creek WMA offers 14 blinds over two large impoundments that regularly attract teal, mallards, black ducks, widgeon, gadwalls and the occasional pintail along with some diving ducks, as well as good flights of Canada and snow geese.
Little Creek WMA offers three boat ramps and is open to waterfowling on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays until 2 p.m. Hunters must vacate the area by 3 p.m. As in all of Delaware's state-run blinds, hunters are regulated to three hunters per blind.
The Ted Harvey WMA/Logan Lane Tract also offers 14 blinds over impoundments, along with eight pit blinds in the dove fields that are planted in corn, soybeans and sunflowers. The Ted Harvey WMA also offers hunters three boat ramps. Hunting is permitted on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays until 2 p.m., and hunters need to be out of the area by 3 p.m.
"This area is a premier Delaware waterfowling destination, not only because of the variety of waterfowl in the area, but also because of the numbers of birds that consistently use the area," he said.
"The area really offers something for every type of waterfowler, including a wide variety of gunning opportunities and hunting methods, from river, impoundment, tidal and field pit blinds to walk-in jump-shooting and float-hunting areas -- truly something for everyone!"
Waterfowl hunting on Delaware wildlife areas is highly regulated; prospective hunters should be very familiar with all hunting regulations, including specific rules that may differ from area to area and from the normal Delaware seasons.
Waterfowling is allowed on both the Little Creek WMA and the Ted Harvey WMA/Logan Lane Tract by permit only. Permits for blinds are free and issued by means of a daily lottery at the Little Creek Lottery/Check Station. Call (302) 674-2410 for more information.
The Little Creek and Ted Harvey area lottery is conducted two hours before legal shooting time, with remaining permits for blinds available until 10 a.m. Hunters must also fill out harvest reports and return them with their permits to the check station at the end of each day's hunt.
Pit blinds at the Ted Harvey WMA must be applied for prior to the season. Applications are available online at the DFW's Web site or by calling. However, any pit blind no-shows go back into the daily lottery.
Delaware waterfowlers are required to possess a valid Delaware hunting license and a state waterfowl stamp. In addition, anyone born after January 1, 1967 must have proof of passing a state-approved Hunter Education course, before obtaining a hunting license.
Delaware and Maryland now share a reciprocal hunting license agreement for snow goose hunting. But each state's waterfowling stamps and Harvest Information Program (HIP) permits are still required to hunt greater snows on either side of the state line. For more information on waterfowling opportunities in Delaware, including season dates, contact the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife at 89 Kings Highway, Dover, DE 19903; or call (302) 739-5295/5297. You can also visit them online.
Maryland has a multitude of public lands with very diversified habitats. These areas attract a great variety of waterfowl. The region offers Old Line State hunters some of the best options for late-season duck and goose hunting in the Mid-Atlantic.
Assateague Island begins just south of Ocean City in Worcester County and continues south along Maryland's Eastern Shore into Virginia. This 37-mile barrier island is bordered on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and on the west by Sinepuxent Bay and farther south by Chincoteague Bay. The entire island is made up of Assateague Island National Seashore, but also contains Assateague Island State Park and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, just over the Virginia line.
All of Maryland's waterfowl hunting is conducted in Assateague Island National Seashore, since there is no hunting in the state park. Because of the island's geography, location and proximity to wildlife refuges, it's considered one of the best waterfowling destinations in Maryland and possibly the entire U.S.
Assateague Island's diverse waterfowl afford hunters some excellent opportunities to take snow geese, Canada geese and ducks of all kinds. The area receives little hunting pressure, possibly because the best hunting spots are difficult to access and usually require a boat or 4WD vehicle -- or both. The island's paved roads quickly give way to sand, where off-road vehicles are allowed by permit only on a 13-mile stretch. The annual off-road vehicle permit costs $70, and certain safety equipment is required on the vehicle.
According to ranger Ted Morlock, approximate 22 maintained blinds are strategically positioned throughout the island, as well as some walk-in areas. "A daily lottery for blind selection is conducted each morning at 5 a.m., Monday through Saturday during the waterfowling season."
Morlock said that the lottery is held at the Sinepuxent District Ranger Station and that prospective hunters must also posses a valid off-road vehicle permit. He went on to mention that only three people are allowed per blind and that no offshore hunting is allowed at Assateague Island.
"Waterfowl hunters are regulated to assigned blinds or the walk in areas. The area doesn't have as much hunting pressure as one would imagine, and there are usually open blinds available to hunters," he added.
Assateague Island's diverse
waterfowl afford hunters
some excellent opportunities
to take snow geese, Canada geese and ducks of all kinds.
Hunters must also check out at the Ranger Station and fill-out a waterfowl harvest survey at the conclusion of each day's hunt. "Although it can be a little more difficult to access than other places, it is usually worth the effort," he said. "The combination of hunting in a beautiful area and the opportunity to see literally thousands of ducks and geese make it well worth it."
Morlock said that due to the area's natural scenic beauty and because more than 300 wild ponies roam the island, it is a major tourist destination during summer months. By the time the waterfowl season begins, hunters usually find that they have the island all to themselves.
Because the island is a vital resting and feeding area for a large variety of birds, it is considered one of the top birding sites in America. It also has one of the highest densities of waterfowl in the U.S.
"Assateague Island National Seashore contains a multitude of inland waters, coves, salt marshes, back bays and agricultural fields in the region, providing some of the best waterfowl hunting opportunities in the United States," said Larry Hindman, Waterfowl Project manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Hindman described the area as a strategic stopover point as well as a wintering destination for huge concentrations of migrating waterfowl traveling down the Atlantic Flyway, including some 50,000 greater snow geese that annually roost in the area.
He explained that nearly all of North America's waterfowl species can be found in and around Assateague Island, usually in large concentrations, and especially during the later parts of the season.
"Hunters can expect to see large numbers of puddle and dabbling ducks such as teal, black ducks, widgeon and gadwalls, along with some mallards and pintails," Hindman said.
"Both Canada and snow geese frequent the area, as well as old squaw, scaup, bufflehead and other diving duck species."
He added that earlier in the season, the area is a major travel corridor for migrating wood ducks, which also congregate there in large numbers.
"Assateague Island's diverse ecosystem -- which includes a multitude of bays, salt marshes and vast wetland as well as abundant open shallow waters -- creates ideal habitat, protection and feeding grounds for dozens of species of waterfowl."
Assateague Island National Seashore is administered by the United States Department of the Interior's National Park Service, while Assateague State Park is managed by Maryland's DNR. Vehicle entrance fees are $10 a week or $20 annually.
A Federal Duck stamp is also a valid annual pass at for national wildlife refuges. Boat-launching facilities are located on the west side of the bridge to the island and on the mainland park acreage. Assateague Island is about a three-hour drive from Washington, D.C.
For more information, write to Assateague Island National Seashore, 7206 National Seashore Lane, Berlin, MD 21811. Or phone the Sinepuxent District Ranger Station at (410) 641-3030.
Find more about Mid-Atlantic
fishing and hunting at: MidAtlanticGameandFish.com