Maryland's "New" Waterfowl Hunting Areas

Ongoing efforts by the state's Department of Natural Resources have opened more public land and water around the state. Here's where to find your ducks and geese! (December 2008)

Seeking waterfowl is one of Maryland's great hunting traditions.

Do you want diving ducks on rivers that feed the Chesapeake? Or dabbling ducks on marshes? Or do you prefer field-hunting for Canada geese? The Free State has it all.

Often the best hunting takes place on private waterfowl leases, which are not available to all hunters. But Maryland's significant amount of public lands also contains good duck and goose habitat. And recent efforts by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are aimed at opening up more public land to waterfowlers.

First, here's a look at the status of waterfowling in our state, recent migration movements and population trends. Then we'll examine some new public waterfowling opportunities, and finish up with some good public areas that provide traditionally solid late-season action.

"Last spring, breeding conditions in eastern Canada were pretty darn good," reports Larry Hindman, the DNR's waterfowl biologist. "For birds out of those areas, populations should be pretty good. But for birds coming out of the prairies, that's another story. The prairies are dry.

"So birds produced in the prairies, well, their numbers are going to be down. A lot of dabbling ducks and species like canvasbacks are not going to have good production this year.

"You end up with several species on the same pothole, which doesn't lend itself to good production. So I think duck production out of the prairies is going to be poor. That doesn't bode well for some species that end up here. The birds that come out of eastern Canada -- like black ducks, eastern mallards, green-winged teal, pintails, bufflehead, goldeneye -- their numbers should be good. We should have good numbers of scaup, but canvasbacks will be down."

As in any late-season waterfowling scenario, how many birds and which species you see will depend pretty much on the weather -- particularly what's being experienced in states north of Maryland.

"A lot of it's going to depend on the weather," agreed Hindman. "If we're to have a reasonably good duck season, it'll take winter conditions up north to push the birds down here.

"With the poor production in the Midwest, it's going to be a mixed bag. I think Canada geese are going to rule the day. There was a really good hatch in northern Quebec, so there should be a lot of young migrant birds to help save the day."

While Maryland has a strong waterfowling tradition, middle- to late-season success is going to be strongly tied to good habitat. As ducks and geese move through an area, only the choicest spots collect good numbers of birds. Doing a bit of fieldwork to discover an area's ducks and geese are using will pay dividends at the end of the hunting day.

"It's not good everywhere," said Hindman. "Unless you have a waterfowl lease, you need to scout to find areas that hold enough ducks and geese to provide good hunting.

"We have a lot of private impoundments managed for moist-soil plants that hold considerable numbers of dabbling ducks. They are generally good throughout most of the season, except for brief periods when we have some freeze-up. And during the past couple of years, we haven't had even that.

"Duck hunting is best where you have better habitat with good submerged aquatic grasses, and that's not everywhere. In some areas of the upper Chesapeake Bay, the duck hunting is pretty mediocre. But mixed within that areas are some places where it's pretty darned good." (Cont.)

Hindman emphasizes that weather is a notable factor in duck and goose movements, especially in regard to the location of diving ducks.

"For late-season hunting, weather is a factor, especially when considering diving ducks," he notes. "The Chesapeake Bay is a traditional hunting area for bluebills and to a lesser extent, canvasbacks and redheads. And there are less sought-after birds like goldeneye and bufflehead. And though there are usually good numbers here during the winter, they've been arriving later. They're spending more times on the Great Lakes.

"Scaup in particular seem to be spending more time there, feeding on zebra mussels and arriving here later. In a situation like last year, we didn't have any real ice-up in the upper part of the bay, and the birds didn't get pushed down to some of the rivers and other tributaries in the mid- to lower bay. So the hunting there for diving ducks was rather mediocre.

"But up the bay, it was pretty good during late December and January when our season goes out. Perhaps it's related to climate change, but this retarded movement certainly affects what goes on here with diver ducks."

Naturally, Canada geese are a large part of the late-season waterfowling scene. This winter, Hindman said, hunters will have plenty of honkers for to zero in on.

"We have about 80,000 resident Canada geese in our state," he said. "And if there's a good cover of snow in more northern states, like New York, we will get a push of resident geese from those areas in December and January. Of course, they mix with our migratory geese.

"We winter more Canada geese than any other state on the East Coast, largely because here on the Delmarva is the core wintering area for the migrant Atlantic population.

"Goose hunting has been good, and has offset some of the middle-of-the-road duck hunting. As a waterfowler myself, I can tell you that at times, it would be pretty poor waterfowling if it weren't for goose hunting."

Thanks to recent efforts by the DNR, hunters limited to public land will enjoy relatively new changes in regulations that will open more lands to them.

"If you're not in a club, access to the best hunting areas can be pretty tough," said Hindman. "If you don't have access to private property or aren't invited by someone in a club, you're left with hunting public lands. So during the past three years or so, we've increased the numbers of public lands open to duck and goose hunting. This includes some portion of the Chesapeake Forests.

"And some state parks have been opened to hunting. Some of these areas hold geese. But for the most part, these lands provide opportunities for ducks.

"We've been working with the Maryland Waterfowlers' Association to

get more state properties opened. Any new changes in regard to hunting access to public lands will be highlighted in our annual Hunting and Trapping Guide. But many of these changes are two or three years old."

A couple of years ago, one significant change took place when the DNR's Wildlife and Heritage Service announced that waterfowl hunters may now hunt from a boat at anchor or while standing on the natural bottom in public waters adjacent to certain lands owned and managed by the DNR. The restriction in place up to then had made these areas off-limits to hunters.

To hunt waterfowl offshore of the listed state-owned properties, no special permits are required. However, hunters must follow some specific regulations:

  • Individuals must hunt from a boat at anchor, or while standing on the natural bottom.
  • Hunters must stay at least 250 yards from the property line of any landowners adjoining the state-owned properties, or 250 yards from where that line would be if it extended perpendicular from the shoreline out into the water.
  • Hunters may be not more than one-third of the distance from the state-owned property to the opposite shore, or a maximum of 300 yards offshore from the state-owned property -- whichever is less.
  • Hunters must remain at least 250 yards from any licensed stationary blind or blind site or from any other person or party hunting wild waterfowl.
  • Hunters must remain at least 125 yards from any licensed shoreline on the opposite shore.
  • A person may not guide hunting parties for economic gain on the waters adjacent to these areas.

"This opens the waters adjacent to many miles of state-owned shoreline formerly closed to waterfowl hunting," said Director Paul Peditto. "We offer hunters the chance to hunt diving ducks and other species in an open-water setting."

Waterfowlers can download maps of these areas from the DNR's Web site at www.dnr.maryland.gov. Or call (410) 260-8540.

In addition to the added public access listed here, certain larger state WMAs have a history of providing good opportunities for late-season waterfowling. They include these three public lands.

DEAL ISLAND WMA
(11,902 ACRES)
Somerset County, located on the southern end of the Maryland's Eastern Shore, is home to the nearly 12,000 acres known as Deal Island, one of the state's more important wildlife management areas.

Though this WMA's name implies that it's an island, most of the tract is located on the mainland. Only one small island is located within the boundaries of the WMA.

Biologist Hindman considers Deal Island a good choice for late-season waterfowling.

Deal Island WMA is located about 11 miles west of Princess Anne. Fed by the Manokin River, this expansive wetlands area provides excellent waterfowl hunting for a variety of species. Black ducks, mallards and pintails head a list of ducks that also include gadwalls and widgeons.

Diving ducks are also found there, primarily on the areas of more open water. Canada geese are commonly seen on the area, too.

Hindman said that during major migrations, there could be as many as 10,000 to 15,000 ducks on Deal Island. What species are present during a late-season hunt will depend on the weather and the migrational patterns of the birds that year.

An impoundment that covers about 2,800 acres is the center of waterfowling attention on Deal Island. For hunters, one of the major concerns will be the presence of open water on this impoundment.

Shooting can be great if the weather stays relatively mild and the impoundment stays open. But if ice locks things up and roosting areas are not available, the ducks will move on.

This is a concern of most late-season waterfowling ventures, and not limited just to Deal Island.

Other than during the opening day of the season -- which has a lottery to limit the number of hunters -- the hunt is conducted on a first-come, first-served basis. Temporary blinds are allowed, but must be taken down at the end of each day. Access to the hunting areas is by boat, and outboard motors are permitted. There is no horsepower restriction.

To reach the Deal Island area, take U.S. Route 13, then SR 363 west at Princess Anne. From there, it's about an 11-mile drive to the WMA.

For more information on Deal Island, call (410) 543-8223. You can also obtain maps of the area by calling this number, or download maps from the state's Web site for Deal Island WMA.

TAYLORS ISLAND WMA
(1,020 ACRES)
Also located along the southern portion of the Eastern Shore, Taylors Island WMA is another prime place to partake in some late-season waterfowling.

According to Hindman, Taylors Island is a tidal marsh comprised in a large part by black needle rush. Hindman said that hunters could expect to find a maze of tidal creeks that are broken by gentle upland. These surrounding uplands are covered mostly in pine.

Puddle ducks receive the most attention from hunters, and waterfowlers trying their luck on Taylors Island may experience a variety of dabblers.

"The most common species on Taylors Island are mallard and black duck," said Hindman. "There are some resident Canada geese. As far as divers go, you mostly see bufflehead."

There are no managed hunts on Taylors Creek, and no limit to the number of hunters who may use the property at any given time. Hindman said that the management of Taylors Creek is pretty much typical of other state WMAs. The objective is not to limit hunting pressure. Blinds are permitted, but may not be permanent. Hindman notes that hunting pressure can be relatively heavy during the early season, but will have tailed off by the time the late season arrives.

To reach the Taylors Island WMA, continue east on U.S. Route 50 from the Bay Bridge to Cambridge. Take SR 16 west about four miles from Madison. Turn left on Smithville Road and look for a sign indicating the WMA.

Boat access is found beyond the parking lot of the WMA, in the form of a county boat ramp located off Smithville Road. The ramp enters Beaverdam Creek. Travel west on Beaverdam Creek to reach the wildlife management area.

For more details, maps and information on Taylors Creek WMA, call (410) 376-3236.

JANES ISLAND STATE PARK
(2,573 ACRES)
Janes Island State Park is another good waterfowling choice. This is a tidal marsh located on the Chesapeake Bay. Through this marsh pass a variety of puddle duck species, including black ducks and gadwalls. Ducks of the diving variety include bufflehead and scaup.

Hunting areas on th

e Janes Creek tract can be accessed by way of the many tidal creeks and channels that section it up. Canoes are perfect for exploring these protected areas.

To reach Janes Island State Park, travel south on SR 413 (Crisfield Highway) to Hopewell. Turn east on Plantation Avenue, then south again on Jacksonville Road. Watch for the signs for the state park and boat access. A marina and boat ramp are located in the state park at Daugherty Creek Canal.

You can call (410) 968-1565 for more information on Janes Island, as well as any for specific requirements for waterfowling the park.

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