Some great waterfowl hunting awaits gunners along the southern New England coast well into February. Try these top-rated public lands for some world-class shooting from shore or boat. (January 2007)
Photo by P.J. Reilly
There's a reason why waterfowlers love icy-cold, cloudy, windy and snowy forecasts. Not because they'd rather suffer -- it's that "association" thing: When the weather is rotten, the geese fly more.
When the geese fly more, of course, hunters associate that with better gunning. And that brings us to the bonus season in southern New England.
When waterfowl biologists predict lots of birds in our area, it's no longer big news. We've been hearing about record-high goose densities for years. In fact, you've probably seen resident flocks on corporate lawns, golf courses, beaches, parks, ball fields, lakes or farmlands. I've spotted them along highways and even on paved parking lots.
It's not the numbers of geese we have to worry about, it's the weather. You can blame global warming, or some natural cycle of warmer-than-average winters. Whatever the cause, the climate has been keeping bag numbers down during last few late winters, according to biologists.
"Last season's late goose hunting was similar to the previous year's," said Min Huang, Connecticut's primary waterfowl biologist. "Unfortunately, that wasn't very good. Warm weather was a major factor, as is the fact that few good spots exist in the current late-season zone to effectively target resident geese."
For hunters, the big message is that there are still many thousands of non-migratory or resident geese in southern New England. It also means that many of the places where large flocks gather are off-limits to hunting. But during the late season, each state has a few coastal marshes where hunters can expect to bag a limit of geese on any given day.
The remaining question mark is the weather. When conditions are mild, the inland water and forage sources are free of ice and snow. Geese can feed, drink and rest comfortably in protected areas. But once freshwater sources freeze over and food sources become covered, wintering birds are forced to move to the open salt marshes. January and February are obvious times for this to happen.
That said, I've also had fine days gunning the coastal marshes in January in 40-degree weather when nothing was frozen or snow-covered. There's always a chance that a flock of birds will light among your decoys. You have no chance, however, if you're sitting at home watching hunting shows on TV!
Maine and New Hampshire don't normally offer late goose seasons; while Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut have plenty of Canada geese and late bonus seasons to hunt them in.
Here's a look at some of the best public-access goose-hunting spots near you this season:
Connecticut's goose population is still hovering near all-time highs. But recent numbers aren't quite as good as they have been.
"The resident goose population in Connecticut," said biologist Huang, "was estimated last spring at approximately 10,600 breeding pairs. While that is still a lot of geese, it's a slight decline from last year, and the second year in a row that the estimate has been lower. When hunting has been good, we've averaged about 3,800 birds in the late season. But the bag hasn't been that high lately."
Connecticut's winter waterfowling opportunities -- and regulations --are managed as two zones. The demarcation line for the North and South zones is Interstate Route 95, which conveniently separates inland areas from coastal salt marshes. The bonus season is open in the South Zone only. The 2007 South Zone late season runs from Jan. 15 to Feb. 15, with a daily bag limit of five Canada geese.
Charles Wheeler WMA
Connecticut's goose numbers are highest in the southwestern corner of the state. Heading the list in that region is the Charles Wheeler Wildlife Management area, which features over 800 acres with the Housatonic River on the west side and Long Island Sound to the south. The Housatonic borders the towns of Milford and Stratford, with the bulk of the wetlands lying in Milford.
Charles Wheeler WMA, which features three main channels off the big river, is probably the most hunted goose location in the state and is often crowded with hunters. So be flexible in your planning -- and get there early!
One characteristic that makes the marsh so attractive to geese is its maze of cuts and minor channels, where it's easy to become lost or stranded at low tide or after sunset.
In general, the farther you motor into the marsh away from the main river, the better the goose shooting, but the thinner the water. Novices should probably avoid this marsh in favor of other, smaller marshes to the east.
Access to "Knell's Island," as it's called locally, is in Milford, one-half mile upriver from the marsh. Take I-95 to Exit 34 in Devon. Turn west on Route 1 and then north on Naugatuck Avenue. The launch is on the left. The large parking lot under I-95 is never full. (Continued)
Although the saltwater current in the main river runs strong, the ramp and marsh can freeze solid during prolonged periods of cold weather. This doesn't normally occur until late this month or early next month. Check DeLorme's Connecticut Atlas and Gazetteer, Map 59, for a detailed view of the area.
Less than a 30-minute drive to the east on I-95, the seaside town of Guilford offers two smaller WMAs that are sleepers at this time of year because they don't receive the gunning pressure of the larger marshes. Small groups of Canadas often dump into these spots just before sunset, especially when the weather is raw.
Great Harbor WMA
Great Harbor WMA offers 188 acres of tidal marsh north of Sachem Head and south of Cockaponset State Forest. Access is via Exit 56 off I-95; then travel south on Leetes Island Road. Take a left onto Route 146 and travel several miles south on Sachem's Head Road. Turn right onto Colonial Road and then right again onto the access road. You'll find a parking area on the southwest corner of the marsh. The ramp here is small, and a 4WD vehicle can be helpful at low water.
East River Marsh
The East River marsh is another Guilford wetland that sees knots of birds moving in during cold spells. The marsh borders the towns of Guilford and Madison and totals 147 acres. The marsh p
roper may be viewed on Map 26 of DeLorme's gazetteer.
The launch is an all-tides landing that's in good condition and wide enough to accommodate several rigs launching at once. Be careful not to stray off the concrete ramp because there is thick mud on either side.
The East River marsh is off I-95 at Exit 59. Travel east on Route 1 and turn right onto Neck Road. Continue on Neck Road past the beach houses to the gate and gravel launch road on the right. The area may flood during full-moon tides accompanied by strong east winds.
Continuing east along I-95 in Old Lyme is Great Island. The 504-acre salt marsh offers dozens of creeks, coves and inlets on the main river and the protected backwaters. To find the Great Island launch, take I-95 to exit 70. Travel south on Route 156 for 1.8 miles to Smith Neck Road. Follow Smith Neck .9 mile to its end. The ramp access driveway is steep and curved, and a 4WD vehicle is needed during snowy conditions. The launch leads to a main channel in the marsh. From here, hunters may head west or north into the WMA or south toward Griswold Point.
For hunters, the big message is that there are still many
thousands of non-migratory or resident geese in southern New England.
For details about Great Island, see DeLorme's Connecticut Atlas and Gazetteer, Map 28.
Barn Island WMA
In the southeast corner of Connecticut, Barn Island Wildlife Management Area offers about 700 acres of legal gunning grounds. The marsh is east of Stonington and west of the Rhode Island border on Little Narragansett Bay south of Route 1 at the head of Wequetequock Cove.
A launch is available by traveling east on Route 1 to the light at Greenhaven Road. Turn south on Palmer Neck Road for 1.5 miles.
To hunt the late goose season in Connecticut, hunters must possess a federal duck stamp, a state waterfowl stamp, a Connecticut small-game license and a HIP permit.
For a copy of the Connecticut Waterfowl Hunting Guide and individual 8 1/2 by 11-inch maps of these and other WMAs, contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, Wildlife Division, at (860) 424-3011. For a copy of the Connecticut Boater's Guide, which lists local and state regulations as well as descriptions of all launch locations and conditions, phone the Connecticut DEP Boating Division at (860) 434-8638.
For additional information on Connecticut's waterfowl hunting opportunities and up-to-date regulations, go to Dep.State.CT.US. This Web site gives bag limits, directions, maps and department numbers. For visitor information, call the Connecticut Office of Tourism at 1-800-CT-BOUND or visit the agency's Web site at www.Tourism.State.CT.us.
Hunters may also contact waterfowl biologist Min Huang with information about tagged birds at min.huang@po.State.CT.us.
Rhode Island is our smallest state, but it boasts a resident Canada goose population of approximately 4,000 birds. During good years, waterfowlers will harvest about 600 geese.
The Ocean State generally offers a 60-day regular season for migrant geese. The limit is two birds per day from the first week of December through the third week of January. In recent years, the late season ran from about Jan. 27 to Feb. 12, with a limit of five Canada geese daily. Snow and blue geese were legal until Jan. 22, with a daily bag limit of 15 birds. Brant were also huntable until Jan. 22, with a bag limit of two. This year's regulations were not available as of this writing, but should be similar to previous seasons.
Rhode Island terms its late season "experimental." This special season is limited to Providence and Kent counties and parts of Exeter and North Kingston. Hunters should be sure to check the latest updated regulations for legal boundaries.
Hunting private property (with the landowner's permission, of course) is usually the way to go for Ocean State goose hunting.
Contact the Rhode Island DFW in Great Swamp for the required late-season permit, maps, information and legal hunting demarcation lines. It's up to waterfowlers to acquire individual landowner permission slips.
Narragansett Bay is a large public hunting area that offers good goose hunting when inland waters freeze. This includes the Warwick area at Conimicut Point, Green Island and Rock Island. Boat launches are around Narragansett Bay, but a better choice for Conimicut Point is the small sand launch at the end of Shawomet Avenue. A more substantial ramp is off Narragansett Parkway south of Rock Island. Wickford Harbor is another good option, with access via Route 1 off Intrepid Drive, southwest of Kingston.
See DeLorme's Rhode Island Atlas and Gazetteer, Map 71.
For additional information, maps, regulations and a late-season permit, contact the Rhode Island Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Wakefield, RI 02879. Phone (401) 789-0281, or visit the agency's Web site at www.dem.RI.gov.
For lodging and travel arrangements, contact the Rhode Island Tourism Division, 1 West Exchange Street, Providence, RI 02903. Phone 1-800-556-2484, or visit their Web site at www.VisitRhodeIsland.com.
MassWildlife started a goose relocation project in the 1960s that consisted of trapping birds along the coast and moving them into central and western Massachusetts. No one thought this would lead to such a boom in resident goose numbers. By the early 1980s, MassWildlife biologists estimated that 10,000-12,000 geese were year-round residents.
By the late 1990s, surveys showed the state's stay-at-home population had grown to 38,000 birds.
That's when biologists and lawmakers authorized special early and late seasons designed to reduce the native goose population. Biologist surveys showed that one-quarter of the non-migrant goose population was shot during these seasons. Fortunately for hunters, more recent studies show that at least 30 to 35 percent need to be harvested annually to maintain population control. But as in Connecticut and Rhode Island, late- season success usually depends on the Northeast's recent uncertain, unpredictable winter weather patterns.
In the Coastal Zone, last year's late goose season ran from Jan. 16 to Feb. 15, with a daily bag limit of five birds. These dates should be similar again this year, but hunters should check the exact days and limits before heading out.
Massachusetts established its Coastal Zone as a line from Route 139 in Duxbury-Marshfield to Brant Rock north to the New
Biologists always say that two of the most reliable public-access hunting locations are the Salisbury Marsh and the Parker River wildlife refuge areas, both north of Boston.
A recently constructed ramp is at Salisbury State Park, an all-season, all-tides landing. To get there from I-95, take Exit 58A to Newburyport and the intersection with Route 110 east. Follow Route 110 East to Salisbury and the intersection with Route 1A north. Turn right on Route 1A and follow it two miles to the park entrance on the right.
The Parker River Refuge has the unique advantage of being accessible by foot or boat. Parking near the refuge is limited, especially on weekends, with lots filled on a first-come basis. The gate and entrance to the park open an hour before gunning time.
The Parker River refuge is divided into areas A, B and C, each with its own restrictions. Area A is attainable by boat only from the refuge boat ramp opposite Lot 1 or from off-refuge sites. Vehicles and trailers must be parked in Lot 1.
Area B may be accessed by boat from either the refuge ramp or off-refuge sites. For hunters without a boat, it's legal to walk into Area B from Lot 8 at Newbury Neck Road and Marsh Avenue.
Area C, also called "Nelson's Island," is accessible only by foot. For parking, use Lot 9, which is off Stackyard Road. Hunting is not permitted within 150 feet of the lot.
See maps 19 and 30 in DeLorme's Massachusetts Atlas and Gazetteer for more details. Be sure to call for more information, changes, current regulations, maps and conditions before hunting either Parker River or Salisbury Park.
To learn more, contact the MassWildlife office, 251 Causeway Street, Boston, MA 02114; or call (617) 626-1590. Check out the latest regulations at www.MassWildlife.org.
For directions, maps, regulations and local conditions for Salisbury State Park, call (978) 462-4481.
Contact the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge office at 261 Northern Boulevard, Plum Island, Newburyport, MA 01950. Or log onto FWS.gov/northeast/ParkerRiver/
recreation.html, or phone (978) 465-5753.
For travel and lodging information, write the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, 10 Park Plaza, Suite 4510, Boston, MA 02116. Call 1-800-227-MASS, or visit their Web site, Mass-Vacation.com.
To purchase an updated copy of any DeLorme map book, write the DeLorme company at P.O. Box 298, Yarmouth, ME 04096. Telephone (207) 846-7000, or visit their Web site at DeLorme.com.