The North Carolina coast provides a variety of waterfowling opportunities. Here's how to get in on the action.
By Mike Marsh
Sweat saturated the visor on my cap until it could absorb no more. Mosquitoes whined, landing on my ears. But I could neither daub the sweat from my face nor swat at the pesky bloodsuckers.
Dawn was coming. My backpack held way too many decoys for me to set it down in the water and go through the effort of picking it up again just to find a can of insect repellent in my duffel. Shotgun in one hand, flashlight in the other, I was wading through the water at Suggs Mill Pond Game Land.
Flocks of wood ducks and teal flushing from flooded fields of millet made me forget about the bugs.
Before the sun shone over the horizon, a limit of green-winged teal and ringnecks rewarded my efforts. I had awakened well before dawn and driven hours to the game land. I believe my luck at drawing a hunting day at the permit-only waterfowl hunting area had something to do with lack of competition. Many hunters are seeking other game during November when nearly every game species is in season. They wait until cold weather, or after deer season closes on Jan. 1 before even attempting to find waterfowl, leaving some excellent opportunities to dyed-in-the-wool waterfowl hunters.
Dennis Luszcz, the North Carolina Wildlife Commission's waterfowl biologist, is in agreement. A dedicated waterfowl hunter as well as scientist, he also enjoys hunting during the midseason.
"Other hunting seasons, warm temperatures and mosquitoes keep a lot of hunters out of the marshes," Luszcz said. "But they are missing out on some good hunting. The wood duck harvest is high in November and there are a lot of other species in the state at that time. Green-winged teal and blue-winged teal numbers are high and there are ringnecks in the areas that traditionally have them."
Pintails were once a mainstay of coastal duck hunting in November. The pintails are still in dusky plumage at that time and have been protected until December in recent seasons. However, there may be some light shed on the Atlantic Flyway pintail population that could help hunters get a chance at them during an earlier season.
"We have been helping out with a satellite tagging study of pintails," Luszcz said. "Our pintails are going to eastern Canada instead of to the prairies. They may not represent as strong a population, but the breeding areas are more secure and may hold a separate population.
"But besides pintails, we get a good slug of other ducks in November. Widgeon are around. On the sounds there are a few scaup. The good thing about November is that the birds haven't been educated. They haven't been shot at much before they get here. By the late season, they get very wary and therefore are harder for hunters to bag."
Luszcz said that all of the state waterfowl impoundments along the coast are good producers of midseason ducks. Success varies from impoundment to impoundment and year to year. But hunters who hunt waterfowl management areas on game lands have high rates of success.
Mike Marsh holds a pair of surf scoters taken on Pamlico Sound. Photo courtesy of Mike Marsh
"Most of the saltwater impoundments - Campbell Creek, Futch Game Land, White Oak River and Goose Creek - have lots of teal in November," Luszcz said. "Suggs Mill Pond is well known for ringnecks, but there are also some puddle ducks that use the area."
A longer season and higher limits seem to be impacting some of the heavily hunted coastal waterfowl impoundments. Hunting is limited to opening day, Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, holidays and closing days, with permits issued by computerized lottery system for most impoundments. Still, hunters are taking greater advantage of the lure of hunting these spots. Controlled water levels and manipulation of habitat through herbicide applications, burning, planting small grains and management of native waterfowl foods make them very attractive to waterfowl.
"The longer seasons and bag limits keep hunters out on the impoundments longer," Luszcz said. "The higher use can move the birds off the impoundments."
That gives hunters all the more reason to hunt when other hunters are least likely to be out in force. Most hunters who head to the state's waterfowl impoundments apply for their hunt days and hope. Other hunters head for non-permit impoundments or for impoundments that allow hunting on low-use, non-permit days. These occur on the weekdays when there is lower hunting pressure. It may cost a hunter a vacation day. But if he has not drawn a permit or cannot schedule his time off by Oct. 1, taking a day off during the week in November to hunt an impoundment can pay off with a good bag.
Special regulations apply to all waterfowl hunting areas on commission game lands. These regulations prohibit permanent blinds, do not allow entry before 4.a.m., prohibit hunting after 1 p.m., and require that all decoys be removed by 3 p.m.
Waterfowl areas are typically open Monday, Wednesday, Saturday, opening and closing days and holidays.
Suggs Mill Pond Game Land is located near Elizabethtown. Horseshoe Lake comprises one component of the waterfowl hunting area and contains 600 acres. The other is a series of five impoundments of flooded fields covering 80 acres. Permits are required for all hunts. The impoundments have wading access, but Horseshoe Lake requires a boat. Party hunts with up to three hunters are allowed. The area is known for its high ringneck population. There are also lots of teal and wood ducks and a few widgeon.
Currituck National Wildlife Refuge and Currituck Banks Game Land has hunts that allow a successful applicant to bring two other hunters along. A check-in is required for all hunts and standby hunting is allowed in the event hunters with permits do not show up by 5:15 a.m. on hunt days. Coordinates for blinds are given in the Special Hunt Opportunities booklet and are also provided to applicants. Scouting blind locations the day before hunting is advised.
At Currituck Banks Game Land, shallow water and wind tides mean hunters may have to pole or walk boats to blinds. But because of the local laws governing Currituck waterfowl hunting, the blinds on the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge and Currituck Banks Game Land are the only way most hunters can hunt the legendary sound without a guide.
NWR blinds are located at Herring Cove, Northwest Pond, Oyster Cove, Set Net Creek, Wishes Hammock, Sandy Haul New Found Creek and Rack Creek. Commission blinds are located at Parker's Bay, Southeast Island, Spot and Waterlily.
Currituck hunts can be chancy due to weather and water conditions. Teal and a few diving ducks predominate November bags. However, there may also be snow geese, gadwalls and widgeon.
Goose Creek Game Land is located in Beaufort and Pamlico counties. Six waterfowl impoundments on the game land consist of black needlerush marsh. Water depths vary from 4 to 10 inches. But there are some deep holes, especially near dikes. Teal, widgeon, wood ducks and ringnecks are prevalent in hunters' bags in November.
Hobucken and Smith Creek impoundments require no permits and offer walk-in hunting. Other impoundments in the Goose Creek-White-Oak River unit require permits for high-use days (Saturdays, opening and closing days and holidays) with non-permit access for non-holiday, opening or closing day Mondays and Wednesdays.
Campbell Creek Impoundment has 300 acres and is accessible by a commission ramp at Smith Creek off N.C. 33. Pamlico Point Impoundment is 600 acres and is accessible from a private pay ramp at Oyster Creek off SR 1235. A stable boat of at least 16 feet is recommended for hunting Pamlico Point.
Spring Creek Impoundment is 157 acres and Hunting Creek Impoundment, 13 acres. They are linked by a bridge and included together in permitting. A parking area allows access off N.C. 33. Spring Creek has a blind for hunters with disabled access permits.
White Oak River Impoundment is accessible by boat from a private pay ramp at SR 1442 at Stella. It consists of 100 acres of managed needlerush marsh. November hunters will see mostly teal and a few mallards and woodies.
J. Morgan Futch Game Land in Tyrrell County has 70 acres of shallow impoundments and 470 acres of diked and impounded agricultural fields. Permits are required for all waterfowl hunts. A small boat or canoe can be used to move through the impoundment areas. A portable blind and chest waders are recommended for hunting the game land. Teal, widgeon and wood ducks use the area. It is probably the best commission area for tundra swan.
Catfish Lake at Croatan National Forest is a large, shallow impoundment open for walk-in hunting. Croatan also has some greentree impoundments that hold wood ducks.
Gull Rock Game Land in Hyde County has a large impoundment that is also open to walk-in hunting. November hunters can expect teal, widgeon and wood ducks.
Holly Shelter Game Land in Pender County has a 40-acre greentree impoundment along the Northeast Cape Fear River and a 200-acre waterfowl impoundment on Lodge Road. The waterfowl impoundment has about 30 acres planted in grain, sorghum or millet and controlled burns are used to improve habitat on the remainder of the impoundment. Also, west of the impoundment is a 100-acre area of flooded pocosin that serves primarily as roost habitat. Holly Shelter waterfowl areas are currently walk-in hunting sites with no permit required. Hunters can expect to see mostly wood ducks.
At Butner-Falls of the Neuse Game Land and Shearon Harris Game Land, waterfowl may be hunted on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, holidays and opening and closing days of the season. At Jordan Game Land, waterfowl may be hunted Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, holidays and opening and closing days. This allows Piedmont hunters in the Raleigh-Durham area access to at least one of the lakes each day of the hunting week.
In addition to the lakes themselves, there are 16 waterfowl impoundments totaling 2,400 acres on Butner-Falls and Jordan game lands, including greentree reservoirs and flooded grains. All impoundment hunts after Nov. 1 require permits. Beaver ponds abound on these game lands and offer shallow-water hunting opportunities. All impoundments have walk-in access. The lakes require large craft of 16 feet or more if there are windy conditions.
Butner has four greentree and four flooded grain impoundments included in the 95-acre Bluff River, 76-acre Beaver Dam, 72-acre Waterfowl Depot and 246-acre Flat River waterfowl areas.
Falls Lake contains 12,500 acres. Jordan Lake consists of 13,900 acres, and Harris Lake has 4,100 acres. All the lakes have diving ducks and puddle ducks. In November, hunters can expect to see mostly mallards, wood ducks, teal and ring-necked ducks.
Bladen Lakes Game Land in Bladen County has a new greentree impoundment and beaver ponds along the Cape Fear River. Hunters will encounter mostly wood ducks, but there are also teal and mallards in November.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore also offers hunts at 20 blinds on Bodie Island on a permit basis. Successful applicants may bring along one other hunter and one observer and there is a standby drawing every day at the Whalebone Junction hunter information station. Teal, widgeon, snow geese and swans are in the area in November.
Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge also has a youth hunt around Thanksgiving and general hunting thereafter. Successful applicants may bring up to two other hunters along per blind thereafter. Nearly any waterfowl species is likely to be bagged. Shovelers, widgeon, mallards, teal, ruddy ducks and ring-necked ducks abound at the 16 blinds that are available by permit only.
In addition to typical puddle duck and diving duck opportunities, November also opens up hunting opportunities for sea ducks, tundra swans, resident Canada geese and brant.
Sea ducks may be hunted where they occur 800 yards from shore. The Neuse River and Pamlico Sound have good populations of scoters in November and offer an extended season outside the regular duck season.
"The sea ducks offer good hunting by October and are coming into the state in sizable numbers by November," Luszcz said. "There is also a lot of eel grass in the shallows from Portsmouth Island to Buxton that attracts brant."
Except for the Northeast hunt unit, resident Canada goose hunting is available. The numbers of resident geese have risen until they have created a nuisance throughout most of the Piedmont and Coastal Plain. Obtaining permission to hunt flocks of resident geese feeding in farm fields and pastures and resting on ponds is getting easier. They also flock to most small and large water bodies. All it takes is scouting to find them.
Tundra swans have arrived in large numbers by November. However, the fields where they are typically hunted have not yet "greened up." Therefore, hunter success will be highest with open-water situations on the sounds.
"There will be some diving ducks on the sounds," Lusczc said. "But there haven't been as many on Pamlico Sound as there once were. They have moved north to Albemarle Sound and south to the Neuse River. Turbidity may have something to do with it. There seems to have been some vegetation loss at Pamlico Sound over the last 10 to 15 years and they are feeding primarily on clams.
"An overlooked area for coastal hunters is Swan Quarter National Wildlife Refuge. The area from Juniper Bay to Gull Rock i
s open to hunting, providing sound-style hunting opportunities. Diving ducks, teal, widgeon and tundra swans arrive in the area in November."
In addition, there is plenty of action on coastal rivers. Teal and wood ducks abound on the upper reaches and tributaries of the Roanoke, Neuse, Perquimans, Chowan, Cape Fear, Waccamaw, Lumber and many other rivers. Beaver ponds hold lots of wood ducks and teal along the river floodplains.
One thing's for certain. Hunters who wait until December or January will be missing out on the fun. Whereas there was once only a short duck season of a few days Thanksgiving week, now the November season is three weeks in duration.
"We've seen a lot of changes over the years," Luszcz said. "We had over 30,000 mallards at one time. Last year we had 9,000. There were 30,000 canvasbacks, now there are 1,000. There also aren't as many widgeon and pintails. But there are lots of green-winged teal, wood ducks and ringnecks."
Teal, wood ducks and ring-necked ducks are major species that arrive in November. That's good for midseason hunters. Gunning pressure is known to move ducks hundreds of miles in a single day. That's bad news for hunters who wait too long to cash in on the duck bonanza that's heating up right now, shattering the cold-weather hunting myths of bygone days. The weather may be warm in November, but so is the hunting. The time to go after waterfowl is now.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
The N.C. Wildlife Commission Special Hunt Opportunities booklet is available by calling (919) 733-7291.
Information on Cape Hatteras National Seashore hunts is available by calling (919) 473-2111, extension 118.
Information about Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge hunting is available by calling (252) 926-4021.
For Information on Swan Quarter National Wildlife Refuge, hunters can call (252) 926-4021.
For brant hunts, call Ken Dempsey (252) 986-2102.
For diving duck and sea duck hunts, call Lee Parsons, Down East Guide Service at (910) 350-0890 or George Beckwith at (252) 249-3101.
For swans, sea ducks, diving ducks, call Tom Jennette at (919) 925-1461.
For ducks and swans, call Willie Allen, Outback Outfitters at (252) 975-2549.
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