Zone In On Mid-Atlantic Ducks & Geese

Zone In On Mid-Atlantic Ducks & Geese

The 2008-09 waterfowl season is going to be an interesting one for hunters in the Mid-Atlantic states, as well as across the country.

After all, waterfowl populations in Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey are in very good shape.

Also, thanks to a mild winter last year, resident populations received a boost from migratory birds that wintered over in the Mid-Atlantic region.

While everything looks good for another successful waterfowl season in the region, external issues -- in particular, the price of gas and a depressed economy -- will definitely have an impact. In 2008, fewer hunters will likely take to the marshes and wetlands. Those who do may spend less time actually hunting because of the higher costs involved and subsequent loss of discretionary income.

Most wildlife personnel I spoke with agree that local hunting will benefit from the current economic situation, since people who want to save on fuel are looking for sites closer to home. The segment of the sport that will be hurt will be non-resident hunting, as well as hunters who must travel significant distances to hunt.

During hard economic times, sportsmen traditionally hunt and fish a lot more. Never before, however, has the cost of getting from place to place been so expensive because of gas prices.

NEW JERSEY

A mild winter last season disrupted recent trends for migrating birds in the Garden State. For the last several years, the numbers of birds stopping over in New Jersey had been consistent. But last year's mild winter caused a lot more birds to winter over in the state's plentiful marshes.

Fortunately for sportsmen, more marshes and wetlands have come under the protection of the state. This has helped keep the waterfowl habitat fairly stable, despite the increased development in the central, southern and coastal regions of the Garden State.

Dave Chanda, director of New Jersey's Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) said that the number of waterfowl hunters in the state has also remained constant: Over the last several years, between 10,000 and 12,000 hunters have purchased waterfowl stamps. Chanda said the new electronic licensing system has given them a better handle on hunting statistics, thus helping the DFW bring new hunters into the sport.

New Jersey has both freshwater and saltwater marshes that provide hunters with diverse duck populations to hunt. The state's 100-plus miles of coastline are chock-full of tidal marshes and wetlands, as well as bays, tidal rivers and small streams.

The Pine Lands Protection Act has protected the tea-stained waters of the legendary Jersey Pine Barrens, dotted with wildlife management areas that are available to hunters.

The western side of the state is bordered by Delaware Bay and the Delaware River. Here, too, plenty of waterfowl hunting opportunities are available to waterfowlers.

Delaware Bay is a traditional stopover spot for ducks and geese, and the mild winter of 2007 saw a lot of birds wintering over in the marshes and wetlands along the bay. In addition, the DFW has been working with Ducks Unlimited and the New Jersey Waterfowlers, who have helped secure a lot of access in recent years.

Along the coast, the Delaware River and Delaware Bay, many of the state's WMAs also offer excellent access for waterfowl hunters.

Waterfowl populations in the state are in very good shape. Because New Jersey is an important stopover on the eastern migration route, the state's duck and goose populations vary, depending on the overall number of birds using the Atlantic Flyway on any given year.

According to state waterfowl biologists, resident goose populations are estimated at around 100,000 birds. However, last year's mild winter has kept a larger than normal number of migratory birds in the state. Last year, large numbers of birds did not fly as far south as usual.

With about 250,000 birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway, hunters can take a shot at between 400,000 and 450,000 geese during the 2008 fall hunting season. Talk about a target-rich environment!

When it comes to smaller ducks, New Jersey has a solid mix of mallards, black ducks, blue-winged and green-winged teal, along with numerous lesser species at any given time during the fall and winter. The state's tidal marshes and wetlands are a traditional stopover for about 75 percent of the migratory brant population along the Atlantic coastline.

The 10-year average shows that mallard and black duck populations have remained stable. Recent surveys show good numbers of green-winged teal (between 2,500 and 3,000 birds) are available to hunters during October and into November, depending on the conditions on any given year. Great Bay Boulevard WMA

If you're looking for a good spot for duck hunting, one of the best in the state is the Great Bay Boulevard WMA. Located in Ocean County south of Tuckerton off state Route (SR) 9, the 5,358 acres of Great Bay Boulevard are mostly tidal marshes located between Little Egg Harbor Bay and Great Bay.

A causeway runs up the center of the main portion of the WMA, giving boat-hunters access via a boat launch about halfway down the road.

The Sedge Islands along the north side and the islands along the south side augment the main portion of the WMA. Hunters will find excellent populations of black ducks, widgeons and teal, along with fair numbers of mallards.

Stafford Forge WMA

Another good bet for some excellent waterfowl hunting is Stafford Forge WMA. Some 2,788 acres were purchased back in 1965 to create this WMA. Since then, it has been expanded to 17,212 acres, all of which are located in Ocean County

This WMA is broken up into three sections: north, central and south. The north section is located along the west side of SR 539; the central section to the east of SR 539 and bordering the Garden State Parkway, which also separates it from the south section.

Pete Jayne, chief of the Wildlife Bureau for the Wildlife and Heritage Service in Maryland, said that with the exception of black ducks, Maryland's waterfowl populations have remained steady and are in excellent shape.

The best waterfowl hunting is found in the WMA's central and south sections. Along the lower wes

tern side of the center section are located five ponds or bogs, and these produce the best hunting.

Waterfowl hunters can find both geese and ducks in the WMA's ponds and marshes. Canada geese are the dominant large waterfowl, while wood ducks, mallards and teal dominate among the small species.

MARYLAND

Pete Jayne, chief of the Wildlife Bureau for the Wildlife and Heritage Service in Maryland, said that with the exception of black ducks, Maryland's waterfowl populations have remained steady and are in excellent shape. The resident Canada goose population is estimated at about 85,000 birds, while the migratory populations varies from year to year.

I was told that here, too, the numbers of migratory birds that wintered over in Maryland's wetlands was higher than average due to this past season's mild weather.

An estimated 500,000 Canada geese and 200,000 snow geese found their way to the marshes and wetlands of the Free State. Most of these birds flocked to the wetlands of Maryland's famed Eastern Shore.

For the coming fall and winter seasons, Maryland hunters should have around 800,000 birds, the most of any state along the East Coast, to test their hunting skills. The number of waterfowl hunters in the state has remained stable for the last several years.

The state also has healthy numbers of non-resident hunters, though that may change over time with fuel prices at all-time highs.

The largest numbers of ducks are mallards. The state has a very good black duck population in coastal areas. Numbers vary from year to year, depending on the annual migration along the flyway. Hunters did enjoy good numbers of birds during the 2007 season. Here, too, more birds wintered over in Maryland marshes because of the mild winter.

When it comes to the duck numbers, according to the January 2007 survey (the most recent numbers available), the mallard population is around 34,764 birds -- a slight increase over the previous year's survey. Black ducks numbers have been up and down for the last several years. Hunters saw some good numbers of birds this past season, but numbers were still below the 10-year average. For the last several seasons, hunters have also had decent numbers of teal.

Here are a couple of lesser-known WMAs that offer some excellent waterfowl hunting.

South Marsh Island WMA

The 3,000 acres of Marsh Island WMA are in Chesapeake Bay in western Somerset County. The WMA is comprised entirely of marshlands, small creeks and ponds. Pirates used it during the Revolutionary War.

Because of its makeup, it's a main stopover area for migratory birds and also home to sizable native waterfowl populations, including gadwall, black duck, mallard, scaup and Canada geese.

Not the type of terrain for foot hunting, South Marsh Island WMA is accessible only by boat and is best hunted from small boats and portable blinds. Public ramps are available at Deal Island via SR 363 and Crisfield via SR 413. Access both of these roads from U.S. Route 13.

Pocomoke WMA

Another Somerset County wildlife management area that provides some excellent waterfowl hunting is the Pocomoke Sound WMA. Over 900 acres of marsh and tidal mud flats provide excellent habitat for a variety of ducks and geese, such as gadwalls, black ducks, mallards, scaup and Canada geese. Migratory bird populations vary from year to year, but this past year saw better than average numbers due to the mild winter.

Pocomoke is another WMA that is only accessible by boat, and the best hunting is from portable blinds and boats. Access to Pocomoke is from U.S. Route 13, via SR 413 south to Crisfield. Boat ramps are available at Crisfield and Jenkins Creek.

DELAWARE

With the Diamond State's being located between two of the biggest stopovers along the Atlantic Flyway, waterfowl hunters have two excellent places to hunt in both Delaware and Chesapeake bays, which traditionally see large numbers of migratory birds along with their resident populations.

While some of state's waterfowl populations have shown a slight decline, most have either remained stable or shown an increase in numbers over the last several years.

When it comes to the number of waterfowl hunters in the state, license sales show a slight decline in the last several years with approximately 5,500 licensed resident waterfowl hunters. Though the number of resident hunters has declined, the number of out-of-state waterfowl hunters has been increasing over the same period of time.

Delaware's marshes have always been the traditional wintering grounds for the Atlantic Flyway's migratory waterfowl. This past winter produced better than normal numbers of birds.

Here, too, the numbers of ducks that winter over in the state's wetlands are a result of how successful the breeding seasons have been in the Arctic and Canada. This in turn is determined each season by rainfall and other weather conditions.

The number of birds wintering over the last several years has remained consistent with 10-year averages.

The primary target of most waterfowl hunters in the state is snow geese. Delaware annually attracts between 200,000 to 300,000 birds to its marshes. Migratory Canada goose populations make up another 55,000 birds. But as with the other Mid-Atlantic states, last year's mild winter put a lot more birds in state marshes. The state's resident Canada population is estimated at 4,000 to 5,000, which means that Delaware hunters will see a total of between 250,000 and 300,000 birds.

Delaware's marshes have always been the traditional wintering grounds for the Atlantic Flyway's migratory waterfowl. This past winter produced better than normal numbers of birds.

The state's duck population is composed largely of mallards, green-winged teal and black ducks. The most recent survey showed a mixed bag of black ducks, mallards, pintails, teal, gadwalls and other species estimated at around 37,000 birds.

No story on waterfowl hunting in Delaware would be complete without mentioning the great hunting found at Bombay Hook and Prime Hook national wildlife refuges. These marshes and wetlands annually play host to thousands of ducks and geese during their spring and fall migrations, and these areas are considered the top geese hunting areas in the state.

While about 80 percent of Diamond State waterfowl hunters prefer to frequent these larger, more popular NWRs, several smaller public hunting areas also offer excellent waterfowl hunting. These wildlife areas are less known and as such, do not see so much pressure from hunters.

That makes them worthwhile choices for a quality hunt. So here are two of the best.

Assawoman Wildlife Area

The 2,00

0-plus acres of the Assawoman WA are located in zones 15 and 17, in the southeast corner of Delaware on the Assawoman Bay.

The WA is made up of three distinct sections: Miller Neck, Muddy Neck and the Beach.

The area was purchased with monies from the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 1989 and has been expanded since then. Assawoman has been a popular waterfowl hunting area since the 1800s, giving hunters a shot at both geese and ducks.

Recent surveys show good populations of Canada and snow geese. Duck populations consist of black ducks, mallards and gadwalls. Boat hunting and hunting from portable blinds are both permitted.

Augustine Wildlife Area

The 2,667 acres of the Augustine WA are located in Zone 3 in New Castle County, along the banks of the Delaware River. Its south and west boundaries lie along the

Appoquinimink River

This WA offers some of the best waterfowl hunting on the state's border with the Delaware River.

Small tidal creeks and marshes provide excellent habitat for both migratory and resident waterfowl.

Canada geese and snow geese serve up some good numbers during the fall season, and with the mild weather this past year, good numbers of these birds wintered over.

Black ducks, gadwalls, mallards and teal make up the bulk of the duck population. Twelve duck blinds are available to hunters on a lottery basis. In addition, a duck blind is available for handicapped hunters. Augustine WA can be reached from SR 9.

The 2008-09 waterfowl season in the Mid-Atlantic States promises to be another good one for hunters.

Both ducks and geese are in good shape, with populations consistent with their 10-year averages in all three states.

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