Long Island's Sea Ducks

Long Island's Sea Ducks

Good hunting awaits hardy sportsmen with seaworthy craft in Long Island Sound, where a variety of sea duck species may be found this month. (January 2008)

Photo by Tom Migdalski.

One of the great unknowns of the hunting world, sea duck hunting around Long Island is nonetheless one of New York's great traditional sportsman's adventures.

The advice from Lisa Masi, a New York Department of Environmental Conservation Region 1 waterfowl specialist, is, "Contact a guide service because hunters will probably need a boat to get out on the ocean."

Ocean conditions in January may be treacherous, even in the bays. This is no place for inexperienced hunters or unsafe watercraft.

"Sea ducks" is a collective term applied to the common eider, king eider, spectacled eider, Steller's eider, black scoter, white-winged scoter, surf scoter, long-tailed duck (oldsquaw), harlequin duck, Barrow's goldeneye, common goldeneye, bufflehead, common merganser, red-breasted merganser and hooded merganser.

In the Long Island area, hunters can expect to encounter common eiders, black scoters, white-winged scoters, surf scoters, common goldeneyes, buffleheads, long-tailed ducks, harlequin ducks, common mergansers, red-breasted mergansers and hooded mergansers.

The harlequin duck is an unusual species and may not be hunted. Common goldeneyes, buffleheads and the three merganser species are commonly encountered at some inland waterways. Long-tailed ducks may be seen along the Great Lakes, particular on the Lower Niagara River, which is a major wintering area for the species. Scoters are occasionally seen along the Great Lakes, but are not often hunted.

When hunters speak of sea duck hunting, they are generally talking about hunting for scoters, eiders and long-tailed ducks. Species identification is important because the protected harlequin duck may also be encountered in the same areas.

The DEC offers a Waterfowl Hunters Education Class to help with species identification. Interested hunters may phone the Sportsman Education Office at (631) 444-0255 for information about the class and to be added to a list for notification of class schedules. Or you can check the DEC's Web site for class information.

"It's not a requirement for hunters to take a Waterfowl Hunters Education Class. However, it's highly recommended," Masi stressed.

It is also suggested that hunters get started in educating themselves about duck identification with a copy of the booklet, Ducks at a Distance. Copies may still be available at national wildlife refuges or from other U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offices.

Also, there is a shortage of sound scientific data available.

"Sea ducks are one of the species for which we have limited information," Masi pointed out. However, she added that more emphasis is now being placed on learning about the various sea duck species.

The Sea Duck Joint Venture is a cooperative effort between the United States, Canada and Mexico to promote conservation of North American sea ducks through greater knowledge and understanding of the 15 species of waterfowl classified as sea ducks that are breeding in North America.

It's generally accepted that populations are in decline for 10 of these species. Sea duck hunters also may see Canada geese, snow geese, Atlantic brant or even the protected white-fronted geese.

Atlantic brant are most abundant along the southern bays westward from the middle of Great South Bay. The ocean side of Long Island, with its extensive barrier islands, is distinctly different from the Long Island Sound side, where depths drop much more quickly.

There is an immense area around Long Island for hunting sea ducks, but there are many restrictions and limitations.

Masi suggested Montauk and Orient and anywhere in between. There's a good chance there will be eiders out there, as well as scoters and long-tailed ducks.

Long-tailed ducks are particularly noted for inhabiting the bays.

The DEC manages several tidal wetlands where it's possible to hunt from shore. Even in these places, a dog or a boat will probably be needed to retrieve downed ducks.

To hunt these areas, you'll need a free three-year access permit, which may be obtained by writing to NYDEC, Attn: Sporting Licenses, Stony Brook, 50 Circle Road, Stony Brook, NY 11790-3409; or log onto the DEC's Web site.

The Suffolk County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department, has six areas that are open to waterfowl hunting or provide hunting access. At Cedar Point County Park in East Hampton there are some beach-shooting opportunities for sea ducks. County residents are given preference, but others are allowed on a space-available basis.

Information is available from the Suffolk County Parks office, P.O. Box 114, West Sayville, NY 11796. Phone (631) 854-4949, or log onto www.co.suffolk.ny.us.

Ocean conditions in January may be treacherous, even in the bays. This is no place for inexperienced hunters or unsafe watercraft.

For information specifically about Cedar Point County Park, call (631) 852-7620. To get there, take Montauk Highway east to Stephen Hands Path in East Hampton, turn north and continue to Old Northwest Road.

Turn right onto Northwest Road. Bear left and continue to Alewive Brook Road. The park entrance is about 100 yards ahead.

At Fire Island National Seashore, which is managed by the National Park Service, there are five areas open to waterfowl hunting. Access permits are available in person only, starting about a week before the season opens at either the Smith's Point Check Station or at the Fire Island Lighthouse Check Point. Hunters must possess a driver's license, hunting license, HIP registration number and a federal duck stamp.

More information may be obtained by phoning the Smith's Point Station at (631) 281-3010 or the headquarters office at 120 Laurel Street, Patchogue, NY 11772. Or phone (631) 289-4810.

The bay bottom below the high tide mark is considered public domain, but there are exceptions. It's up to hunters to be aware of these exceptions, which should be available through local municipalities.

Sea and weather conditions can be treacherous during winter, so hunters should not attempt to cross large expanses of open water.

The DEC's Marine Fishing Access Unit publishes a list of boat ramps. Phone (631) 444-0439, or contact them at NYS DEC Marine Resources, 205 North Belle Mead Road, East Setauket, NY 11733-3400.

The New York sea duck season runs from Nov. 29 through Jan. 27 for the Long Island Zone. Tentative dates for the Canada goose season are Nov. 29 through Feb. 6 for western Long Island and Nov. 29 through Jan. 27 for eastern Long Island.

Note that all waterfowl hunters must register with the Harvest Information Program (HIP) for every state in which they hunt, in addition to holding the small-game hunting license or appropriate combination hunting license.

A hunting license must be purchased before registering with HIP. This program is essential in helping wildlife managers.

To register by phone, call 1-888-764-7343 for a live operator, or dial 1-888-427-5447 for an automated system that you can use 24/7.

Hunters may also register over the Internet at www.wetland.net. When you register, you will be assigned a registration number that you must have while hunting. (It is recommended that you write the number on the back of your hunting license.)

Waterfowl hunters ages 16 years and older must buy a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. These are available at U.S. Postal Service offices and at some sporting goods stores. These must be signed and carried while hunting. The federal duck stamp is valid in any state, but most states also require an additional state duck stamp.

For information about sea duck hunting in the Long Island area, contact the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources, Region One, Bureau of Wildlife, Stony Brook University, 50 Circle Road, Stony Brook, NY 11790-3409. Phone (631) 444-0310; or log onto www.dec.ny.gov.

For travel information in the Long Island Sound area, phone the New York State Travel Information System at 1-800-CALL-NYS, or log onto www.iloveny.com.

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