Waterfowl Hunts in New England

Cold weather means more ducks and geese along the New England shoreline this month bringing some exciting gunning action for waterfowlers.

The first blasts of arctic wind have started chasing early waves of waterfowl down from Canada into New England, but our weather isn't so cold yet as to freeze ducks and hunters out of coastal marshes. All this makes November a perfect time to pursue waterfowl in our region, yet conditions can still be unpredictable. Temperatures may range from the upper 50s with sun to the low 30s with snow, either of which will influence waterfowl flight patterns.

While November's variable forecast can affect hunting success, it's not the only factor determining bird activity. Wood ducks and teal have already moved south, and most big puddlers were shot out of the marshes during the early season. The ducks that remain are blind- and decoy-shy, but fresh arrivals from the North Country fill the void nicely. These recent migrants are eager to find new feeding and resting spots and will stool readily - most of them have never heard gunfire.

Looking Back
Last year's hunt was a different story. The Northeast experienced record-breaking mild temperatures through both the early and late seasons. Conditions were so warm in southern New England that inland lakes, reservoirs and streams remained open all winter, so resident ducks and geese were never forced to move to the coastal marshes for our normally hot gunning. Furthermore, the region's drought continued with below-average snowfall. Hunters were hampered because a lack of snow cover on farmlands and golf courses allowed birds to loaf and feed without concern.

Ducks Unlimited released a statement saying that mild weather and abnormal distribution of ducks, not declining waterfowl numbers, were the primary factors that resulted in poor harvests last season. That means we should have good hunting this year if/when weather patterns return to normal.

Regardless of the conditions, November is still a fine month to hunt the coastal marshes of the Northeast. Local biologists said that even if the dabblers don't move in, most bay duck numbers, including canvasbacks, mergansers, buffleheads and goldeneyes, are stable. Another highlight, they said, is the resident Canada goose population, which continues to show extremely high numbers. Flights of these magnificent waterfowl will improve as the season progresses and cold weather settles in.

Now is the time to head out and try the mixed bag and varied conditions of November.

Photo by Tom Migdalski

If November shapes up to be as cold as normal, Maine's inland waters will be solid by month's end, and the only puddle duck hunting will be along the coast. But last year many waters never froze. Brad Allen, waterfowl biologist at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said that, while most of the Atlantic Flyway had poor shooting, Maine hunters enjoyed tremendous success.

"Last year we experienced good numbers of waterfowl wintering here because it was so mild," he said. "The birds didn't go south this year because they didn't have to. Our winter inventory revealed lots of birds in northeast Maine, much to the dismay of hunters to our south, but we were pleased to see such good numbers. This spring, we had lots of mallards and geese hatching because we had good nesting conditions, so my outlook is good for this season."

Allen recommended Merrymeeting Bay as one of his state's best waterfowling areas. He says that it's "our no-brainer." The bay's waterfowl hunting is excellent earlier in the season but may be hit-or-miss later as ice begins to form. During average years, most local birds will have moved south by November, so Maine hunters depend on new arrivals from Canada to provide shooting opportunities.

The bay has boat access at Browns Point Road off Route 24. Turn right after reaching Center Point Road. There is also a boat launch north of Bald Head, a prominent landmark that extends into the bay from the west shore. Try motoring south to the area around Brick Island, which is productive for puddle ducks throughout the season. Another launch is in the south arm of the bay opposite Mustard Island off Old Bath Road. Check Map 6 in DeLorme's Maine Atlas and Gazetteer for more details.

Allen also suggested Great Works Wildlife Management Area (WMA), a marsh and pond habitat west of Dennysville in Down East Maine. Access Great Works by traveling Route 86 to Venture Brook Road. The launch is suitable for small or carry-in boats. Check DeLorme's Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, Map 26, for additional information.

Last year, Maine's South Zone waterfowl season opened Nov. 5 and closed Dec. 22. The goose season ran from Nov. 15 though Dec. 15. Four ducks and two geese were permitted in the daily bag limit. This year's dates should be similar.

A small-game license is needed for duck hunting in addition to state ($2.50) and federal ($15) migratory bird hunting stamps. For 2002-03 regulations, dates and bag limits, visit the MDIFW's Web site at www.mefishwildlife.com. To purchase a state waterfowl hunting stamp, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, 284 State St., Augusta, ME 04333; or call (207) 287-8000.

For visitor information, contact the Maine Publicity Bureau, P.O. Box 2300, Hallowell, ME 04347; or call (207) 623-0363. Hunters may reach waterfowl biologist Brad Allen at (207) 941-4469.

As with other southern New England states, the resident Canada goose population is the big story in Massachusetts, with wintering numbers continuing to exceed 35,000 birds.

North of Gloucester are two of the top coastal hunting areas in the state. On the north side of the Merrimack River is Salisbury Marsh in Salisbury. The 4,662-acre Parker Wildlife Refuge in Newbury is on the south side of the river. A new ramp at Salisbury Beach State Reservation is an all-season, all-tides landing that should stay ice-free into December. There is also a small landing inside the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge gate on the Plum Island side.

The Parker River Refuge is accessible by boat or by foot, which is a bonus for hunters who do not own a large number of decoys or a seaworthy craft. The refuge entrance gate and parking lot opens one hour before shooting time. Expect crowded conditions on weekends.

The Parker River site is divided into areas A, B and C. Each portion has special restrictions. In Area A, for example, access is by boat only from the refuge boat launch, which is opposite Lot 1, where yo

u must park. Or hunters may access Area A from off-refuge sites. If possible, plan to hunt around high-water times to avoid being stranded in the marsh at low tide.

Area B may be reached by boat from the refuge ramp, from off-refuge sites or by walking from Lot 8 off Newbury Neck Road and Marsh Avenue. Duck hunting is permitted only in spots designated by Public Hunting Area signs. Area B is one-third of a mile to the left of the trail's end from Lot 8. Jump-shooting is not permitted here, and hunters must rig at least a half-dozen decoys and hunt within 50 yards of them.

Area C, also called Nelson's Island, is accessible by foot only and is a good choice if you don't own a duck boat. Park in Lot 9 off Stackyard Road. Hunting is not allowed within 150 feet of the parking area. If you are new to the area, obtain DeLorme's Massachusetts Atlas & Gazetteer, Map 19, for more access details.

Massachusetts's waterfowl seasons and bag limits will be posted on the MassWildlife Web site at www.state.ma.us/dfwele/dfw/. Seasons and bag limits should be similar to last year's. Maps of all state WMAs and boat launches can also be found there.

For more detailed state hunting regulations, contact the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, 100 Cambridge St., Room 1902, Boston, MA 02202; or phone (508) 792-7270. For directions, maps and local conditions, call Salisbury State Park at (978) 462-4481. For information on the Parker River Refuge, call (978) 465-5753. For visitor information, write the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, 100 Cambridge St., 13th Floor, Boston, MA 02202; or phone (800) 447-6277.

Narragansett Bay is one of biologist Charles Allin's picks for great waterfowling with good public hunting access. The November action heats up once inland waters freeze. The area offers many waterfowling locations, including Conimicut Point in Warwick, Green Island and Rock Island.

Several launches are available around the bay. For Conimicut Point, try the small sand launch at the end of Shawomet Avenue. A larger ramp is off Narragansett Parkway south of Rock Island.

Allin also recommended Wickford Harbor. Access is off Route 1 southwest of Kingston. Hunters may review these areas on maps 68 and 72 in DeLorme's Connecticut/Rhode Island Atlas & Gazetteer. Waterfowl hunting listings for Rhode Island's numerous WMAs can be found on page 16.

Rhode Island's 2001-02 season ran from Nov. 17-25 and Dec. 5 to Jan. 20. The 2002-03 season should be similar to last year's. For the new dates, check the latest regulations on the state's Web site at www.state.ri.us/dem.

A small-game license and state and federal duck stamps are required to hunt ducks and geese in Rhode Island. For additional waterfowling information, maps, regulations or a copy of The Atlas of Rhode Island Wildlife Management Areas, contact the Rhode Island Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Wakefield, RI 02879; or call (401) 789-0281 or (401) 222-1267. For lodging and travel arrangements, contact the Rhode Island Tourism Division, 1 West Exchange St., Providence, RI 02903; or call (800) 556-2484.

New Hampshire doesn't have a great deal of coastline, but what it does have provides very good waterfowl hunting. Granite State biologists recommend the famous Great Bay for some great puddle duck shooting later this month. This tidal water body is located several miles inland up the Piscataqua River. The area has a few boat launches, but a good one is the all-tides Chapman's Landing access off Route 108 in Newfield in the southwest corner of the bay. Check DeLorme's New Hampshire Atlas and Gazetteer, Map 30, for details.

The Piscataqua River and Little Bay also provide decent late-season hunting opportunities. Waterfowlers may launch at the Hilton Park landing at Dover Point for access.

Last year, the second half of New Hampshire's coastal duck season opened Nov. 21 and closed Dec. 31, and the goose season closed on Dec. 23. The first three weeks of November are usually closed to hunting, giving waterfowl a break from gunning pressure. When the season reopens, the birds should decoy well.

The Granite State's Coastal Zone is on the southeastern corner of the state east of Route 108. If you want to shoot earlier in the month, November is a good time for sea ducks. Eiders, scoters and oldsquaw were legal game last year from Sept. 15 to Dec. 30. November conditions are still bearable for shooting from an exposed boat, but be sure to hunt from a seaworthy craft and have a reliable motor and cell phone on board before planning an open-water trip.

Six birds were allowed in the Coastal Zone last year, only one of which could be a black duck and only four of which could be mallards, including two hens. A New Hampshire hunting license is required, along with the usual state and federal duck stamps and HIP permit. For more details, contact the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department at (603) 271-3211, or visit the Department's Web site at www.wildlife.state.nh.us.

"Last season was not very good for waterfowlers in Connecticut," said Min Huang, a Connecticut state waterfowl biologist. "Hunting success was poor due to mild weather, but midwinter counts were about average across the flyway. We were wintering good numbers of birds on the Atlantic seaboard. We just didn't have a lot of cold weather to make the birds move. For really good waterfowl hunting success, you need some weather to push those birds around and make them come in and feed. A lot of birds were there, but they were just not available to hunters because of the weather."

At the time of this writing, Huang said it was still too early to predict duck population numbers, but he was very enthusiastic about the state's non-migratory geese.

"This year, we again have excellent opportunities for early- and late-season resident goose hunting," he said. "Our goose population is doing very well."

Two of the best places to hunt southern New England ducks and geese are the Charles Wheeler WMA in Milford and Great Island in Old Lyme.

The Charles Wheeler WMA is in western Connecticut. Locally known as Nells Island, it borders the towns of Milford and Stratford at the mouth of the Housatonic River. The marsh is one of the best known in the state and covers 812 acres.

One popular launch to access the river and marsh is off Interstate Route 95 at Exit 34. Turn west on Route 1 and then north on Naugatuck Avenue. The launch is on the left. Plenty of parking is available. There are strong currents here; however, ice is never a problem until after the holidays. Check DeLorme's Connecticut/Rhode Island Atlas and Gazetteer, Map 59, for details on this WMA.

Local conservation officers recommend the small, unlisted Court Street ram

p for hunters who don't own a duck boat. From here, it is possible to walk a short distance on public property to some good hunting. Shoot only toward the water, and retrieve all your birds.

To find the ramp, turn south on Naugatuck Avenue, turn right on Milford Point Road and then turn right onto Court Street.

At the mouth of the Connecticut River in the eastern end of the state is Great Island WMA. Both sides of the river are huntable. In Old Lyme, Great Island covers 504 acres of coastal marsh, holding dozens of creeks, coves and inlets on the river and protected backwaters. A boat launch is off I-95 at Exit 70 to Route 156 in Old Lyme. Travel south on 156 for 1.8 miles to Smith Neck Road. Follow Smith Neck .9 mile to the launch.

Hunting waterfowl in Connecticut requires a federal duck stamp ($20), a Connecticut waterfowl stamp ($5), a Connecticut small-game license ($10 for residents, $42 for non-residents) and a HIP permit ($2). Last year's season reopened Nov. 20 and ran through Jan. 19. Six birds were permitted. This year should be similar for bag limits and dates. Visit the DEP's Web site at www.dep.state.ct.us for 2002-03 seasons and bag limits.

For a Waterfowl Hunting Guide and individual maps of all of Connecticut's WMAs, call the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection Wildlife Division at (860) 424-3011; or write them at 79 Elm St., Hartford, CT 06106.

* * *
For more information on the latest waterfowling news in New England, visit www.waterfowler.com.

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