3 Maryland-Delaware Waterfowl Picks
October 04, 2010
You'll find hot action for canvasbacks, Canada geese and more this month from Assateague Island to Prime Hook Wildlife Refuge. (December 2005)
A good retriever is an invaluable part of waterfowl hunting, and a well-trained dog adds to the pleasure of this exciting outdoor sport.
Photo by R. Michael DiLullo
Each year, as fall transitions into winter, a time-honored passage takes place: the annual migration of waterfowl from their northern breeding areas to their southern wintering grounds. Along the Atlantic Flyway, these breeding grounds extend from northern New York's lake regions into the southern Canadian provinces including the Maritimes, and farther north into the Subarctic and Greenland.
These birds follow ancient travel paths along the major river systems of the region, which funnel them into the heart of the middle Atlantic and into the Chesapeake Bay area, such as the Eastern Shore and the Delmarva Peninsula.
The Delmarva Peninsula contains portions of three Mid-Atlantic states, including Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, thus the name. The peninsula is bordered on the east by the Delaware River and Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay.
The inland area here is sparsely populated and consists mainly of agricultural land and hardwood forests. In fact, the year-round resident human population in much of the area is smaller now than it was in the past. And the area has changed little since that time.
Along the peninsula's coast, beginning at Dewey Beach, Delaware, and continuing south to Virginia's Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, is a series of barrier islands. These islets are primarily undeveloped and mainly consist of numerous bays, tidal marshes and countless holding ponds.
The National Wildlife Refuge system makes up part of the famed Eastern Shore. This renowned waterfowling area provides excellent habitat and varied food sources for a wide variety of ducks and geese and has long been the wintering grounds for one of the largest and most diverse populations of waterfowl in the United States, including the largest concentration of greater snow geese in North America. Dabbling ducks typically found in the area include both blue-winged and green-winged teal, mallards, black ducks, gadwalls, widgeon, pintails and northern shovelers. Diving ducks are well associated with the area and include canvasbacks, bluebills (scaup), redheads, goldeneyes, ringnecks, buffleheads and mergansers. Area sea ducks include Atlantic brant, oldsquaw, surf scoter and the occasional eider, while both Canada and snow geese are a regular mainstay among area goose hunters.
The Chesapeake Bay, Eastern Shore and Delmarva Peninsula have long been famous for waterfowling; the area has brought about traditions, customs and ways of life that are truly unique.
The nation's second smallest state offers waterfowlers some of the largest public land hunting opportunities. The First State's two national wildlife refuges (NWR) both contain some of the area's finest waterfowl marshes that are open to public gunning.
Bombay Hook and Prime Hook NWRs are part of more than 500 refuges throughout the U.S., where the primary objective is to provide habitat for the conservation and protection of all wildlife species. Hunting is one of the management tools used to control wildlife populations.
As with all waterfowl hunting on Delaware's public lands, it is highly regulated and prospective hunters should be very familiar with all hunting regulations, including all area specific rules, which may differ from area to area and from the normal Delaware seasons.
Hunting at both Bombay Hook NWR and Prime Hook NWR is through the issuance of a special use permit. Permits are issued on a first-come, first-served basis at the check station on the day of the hunt no earlier than two hours before legal shooting time and no later than noon. Permits for blinds require a nominal fee per hunter, with a discount to seniors and disabled persons. The number of blinds is limited at each NWR, with no more than three people allowed per blind. Permits must be turned in at the check station by 4 p.m., or when leaving the waterfowl hunting area. The questionnaire portion on the permit must be filled out after the hunt. Failure to complete and return the permit will result in loss of hunting privileges. Information provided in the survey is used to evaluate resident Canada goose populations.
Bombay Hook NWR
Bombay Hook NWR is in Kent County, on the western shore of Delaware Bay approximately eight miles southeast of Smyrna. Bombay Hook NWR was established in 1937 as part of the NWR system. It was purchased with Duck Stamp revenues from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund.
Bombay Hook NWR comprises some 15,978 acres, the majority of which is salt marsh. The refuge has one of the largest expanses of pristine salt marsh areas in the Mid-Atlantic. It also includes 1,500 acres of freshwater impoundments, which include timbered swamps and flooded brush lowlands. There are some 1,100 acres of timbered woodlands, including grassy upland areas and agricultural croplands, which are extensively managed for waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds.
Bombay Hook is a critical stopover spot for hundreds of thousands of migratory waterfowl, including greater snow geese, Canada geese, pintails, green-winged teal, mallards and wood ducks. For more than a decade, the refuge has also supported the largest concentration of wintering greater snow geese in the continental United States. Last year's reports exceeded 300,000 greater snows converging on Bombay Hook. The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has expressed concern to the amount of damage the birds are doing to the state's marshlands.
As with other waterfowl hunts at Bombay Hook, they are conducted via a daily lottery; however, no pre-assigned blinds are issued and hunters are allowed to set up anywhere within the designated snow goose hunting area.
Bombay Hook NWR is just off state Route 9, south on Whitehall Neck Road. For more information on Bombay Hook NWR, write to 2591 Whitehall Neck Rd., Smyrna, DE 19977; or call the Bombay Hook NWR office at (302) 653-6872.
Prime Hook NWR
The Prime Hook NWR is in Sussex County near Lewes on the western shore of the Delaware Bay. It is approximately 22 miles southeast of Dover and 64 miles southeast of Wilmington.
Prime Hook was established in 1963 primarily to preserve coastal wetlands as wintering and breeding habitat for migratory waterfowl. The refuge consists of over 9,700 acres, approximately 7,4
00 acres of which are fresh marsh, tidal marsh and open water. There are also approximately 1,000 acres of timber and brush lands with another 1,300 acres of grasslands and croplands.
Water levels on more than 4,200 acres of the marsh can be manipulated throughout the year through a system of dikes and water-control structures. This management stimulates the growth of aquatic plants for wildlife use. The refuge provides nesting habitat for wood ducks, black ducks and many other species of wildfowl. The upland fields in the refuge are also managed under agreements with local farmers, who leave some standing crops to provide supplemental food and cover for waterfowl and other wildlife.
Delaware hunters looking for a consistent producer of ducks and geese would have a difficult time finding a more dependable producer of Canada geese, snow geese, black ducks, mallards, green-winged teal, pintails, gadwalls, widgeon and wood ducks.
Records maintained by the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife indicates that hunters' harvests at Prime Hook remain very consistent despite weather conditions or the month they hunt.
Prime Hook NWR is accessible on off state Route 1. Several boat-launching ramps are available to provide convenient access and are delineated on maps available at the refuge headquarters. For more information on Prime Hook NWR, contact the Refuge Manager, c/o Prime Hook NWR, 11978 Turkle Pond Road, Milton, DE 19968; or call (302) 684-8419.
In addition to Bombay and Prime hooks' required daily hunting permit and all federal migratory hunting requirements, Delaware waterfowlers are required to possess a valid Delaware hunting license and a state waterfowl stamp. Also, anyone born after Jan. 1, 1967, must have proof of passing a state-approved hunter education course before obtaining a hunting license. Also, Delaware and Maryland share a reciprocal hunting license agreement for snow goose hunting. However, each state's waterfowling stamps and HIP permits are still required while hunting greater snows on either side of the two states' lines. For more information on waterfowling opportunities in Delaware, including season dates, contact the DFW at 89 Kings Highway, Dover, DE 19903; or call (302) 739-5295/5297. You can also visit them on the Web at
The Old Line State has long been considered the mecca for waterfowling. It has been said that the state history was written with a goose quill and Maryland is often referred to as the "goose hunting capital of the world."
Maryland has a multitude of public lands, all with diversified habitats that attract a variety of waterfowl. Maryland offers hunters some of the best options for duck and goose hunting in the Mid-Atlantic region. A few of the best are listed below.
Assateague Island begins a few miles 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.
The entire island is made up of the Assateague Island National Seashore, but it also contains the Sinepuxent Bay WMA and Assateague Island State Park.
Assateague Island State Park is Maryland's only ocean park and contains two miles of pristine Atlantic Ocean beaches and marshes on the Sinepuxent Bay side. The 756-acre park was selected in 1994 by National Geographic Traveler as one of the 10 best state parks in the United States; it is also considered one of the best waterfowling destinations in Maryland.
Assateague Island's excellent diversity of waterfowl species affords hunters good opportunities to take snow geese, Canada geese and ducks. The area receives little hunting pressure, possibly because the best hunting spots are difficult to access and require quite a bit of work and use of a boat and four-wheel-drive vehicle. The island's paved roads quickly give way to sand, where off-road vehicles are allowed by permit only.
The Park Service administers the park and boat-launching facilities, which 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., just off state Route 611. For more information on Assateague Island, write to Assateague State Park, 7307 Stephen Decatur Hwy., Berlin, MD 21811; or call (410) 641-2120.
Tuckahoe State Park
Tuckahoe State Park is located in Caroline and Queen Annes counties near the towns of Denton and Hillsboro. The park offers nearly 3,500 acres along both sides of the Tuckahoe Creek. Roads along the boundary and in the park provide access on both sides of the river.
Tuckahoe Creek, a small meandering stream, is bordered for most of its length by wooded marshlands. A dam in the creek forms the 60-acre Tuckahoe Lake. Boating with non-gas engines and fishing are permitted on the lake and in the surrounding flooded woodlands. The lake and the creek waters above the lake have fresh water, with brackish water below. Water levels below the lake are also influenced by tidal changes.
Hunters come to the park seasonally for doves, quail, turkeys, woodcock, rabbits, squirrels and deer. In recent years, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), along with the State Forest and Park Service, has allowed hunting for migratory Canada geese at Tuckahoe State Park. Goose hunting is by permit only and highly regulated. Hunting hours are from one-half hour before sunrise to 1 p.m., and hunters must leave the area by 2 p.m. Hunters are assigned blinds with a limit of four people per blind. Parking is permitted in designated areas only and hunting permits must be displayed on vehicle dashboards. Weather and ground conditions may require hunters to walk or haul gear to the blind.
Goose hunting applications were due in mid-October. A lottery drawing is held about a week later at the Tuckahoe State Park office and successful applicants are notified of their hunting date and blind location by mail. A $10 non-refundable fee, along with a stamped, self-addressed return envelope, is required with each application. If selected, an additional $30 service charge is required one week prior to the selected date.
For more information or details, contact Tuckahoe State Park at (410) 820-1668.
Fishing Bay WMA
Located west of Salisbury in Dorchester County, Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay on the lower Delmarva Peninsula.
Fishing Bay WMA is surrounded by some of the area's best waterfowling locations, including Taylor's Island WMA, Blackwater NWR on the west, and Ellis Bay, Deal Island, Fairmont WMAs and Janes Island State Park to the southeast. The area is extensively managed for waterfowl by Maryland's DNR.
Fishing Bay WMA is the largest wildlife management area in Maryland; this expansive saltwater tidal marsh consists of more than 21,000 acres, which is bordered by F
ishing Bay to the south and the Nanticoke River to the east. Fishing Bay WMA is a haven for late-season waterfowl especially diving ducks. Late-season hunters should look for scaup, buffleheads and an occasional redhead along with good flights of Canada geese.
The area is an especially good place to score on canvasbacks. Because Fishing Bay WMA is a tidal marsh, the area can be tough to hunt because of deep mud during low tide. Hunters need to be aware of tidal changes while hunting in the area. Most of the area's waterfowling is best accomplished by well-camouflaged boats, which are anchored against the bank. Sportsmen use their boats as blinds to hunt from or they will beach their boats and walk into an area to set up temporary blinds. Remember that plants and other naturally occurring items may not be cut within a WMA for blind use.
There are several boat ramps and launch sites in the area. Fishing Bay WMA can be reached via U.S. Route 50 east to Cambridge, then Bucktown Road south to Bestpitch Ferry Road. Continue south to the WMA entrance. For more information, call Fishing Bay WMA at (410) 356-9272.
In addition to all the federal migratory hunting requirements, Free State hunters are required to possess a valid Maryland hunting license and state waterfowl stamp while afield. The state's Harvest Information Program (HIP) was combined with the state duck stamp requirement a couple of years ago, eliminating the need to buy a paper stamp and physically apply it to your license and sign it. If you hunt any migratory species in Maryland, you simply purchase the $9 stamp when buying your license. All HIP requirements are done electronically. Collectors can still purchase paper stamps by mail.
For more information on waterfowling opportunities in Maryland, including season dates and daily bag limits, contact the Maryland Department of Natural Resources at Tawes State Office Bldg., 580 Taylor Avenue, Annapolis, MD 21401, or the DNR at (410) 260-8540. Visit the Web site at
www.dnr.state.md.us. You can also call Maryland Tourism at (877) 209-5883, or on the Web at