New York's Long Island Sea Ducks

Some of the best waterfowl shooting of the year takes place in January along New York's Long Island shores. Here's a look at how you can get in on some hot shotgunning action this month.

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Duck hunters are known for putting up with bad weather, but sea duck hunters take the prize for putting up with the worst. Wind and waves, blasts of icy air and constant salty spray from the ocean as the boat bobs up and down with the swells isn't everyone's idea of a good time. Those who do brave the tough weather can get some exceptional shooting as scoters, eiders and oldsquaw make their way down from the north, as well as the occasional oddball like the (protected) harlequin duck.

New York's Long Island offers some exceptional shooting opportunities for sea ducks this month, and the sport has a long history there.

According to Bob Miller, who is with Waterfowl USA, last season's best shooting came late.

"Last year, the ducks didn't start moving until late in the season," Miller said, "Generally, we have birds down here by October, but last year they started coming in good numbers in the middle of November. Last season's shooting was definitely better in the second half of the season."

Species availability changed last season, too.

"The oldsquaw showed up in very good numbers," Miller said, "but the shelldrakes and coots were in lower numbers than we usually see, especially the whitewings."

While it is tough to predict the Long Island weather, one thing for certain is that the potential for a great sea duck hunt is certainly there in the wintry end of the sea duck season in January.

Long Island is heavily urbanized on its western side, close to New York City, but urban sprawl begins to diminish as you go east toward Montauk. Coastal access is tough in some spots, but there are still some terrific opportunities for hunting sea ducks.

New York's "sea duck area" is defined as the coastal waters of New York including Long Island Sound, Block Island Sound, Great Peconic Bay and associated bays eastward from a line running between Miamogue Point (in the town of Riverhead) and Red Cedar Point (in the town of Southhampton), and any ocean waters of New York south of Long Island.

There are a number of hunting options around the periphery of Long Island. In general, the bottom of the bay below the high tide mark is considered public domain and is open to hunting.

There are exceptions, however. Some townships don't allow the discharge of firearms, and some towns allow only residents to hunt, or require a resident guide. For example, no discharge of firearms is allowed in the town of Huntington. In the town of Smithtown, no shooting is allowed except along the Nissequogue River northward from Tide Mill Lane. The town of Babylon prohibits shooting north of the East-West Channel.

Shooting is not allowed in the village of Lloyd Harbor, or the villages of North Haven and Head of the Harbor, or in the village of Old Field. In fact, most incorporated island villages do not allow shooting or hunting

Hunting is also not allowed in some New York state parks, but the Napegue, Higher Hills and Montauk Point parks are managed for hunting under cooperative agreement.

There are some sure bets, however. Several tidal wetlands are managed by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's Region 1 office at (631) 444-0310. A free seasonal permit is needed to hunt these wetlands. Permits, maps and regulations can be obtained by sending a written request, along with a copy of a current hunting license to: NYSDEC-Sporting License Office, SUNY Building 40, Stony Brook, NY 11790-2356.

There are also a couple of areas managed by the Suffolk County Parks Department, including some beach areas. The county offers hunting in Cedar Point Park for both residents and non-residents. Hunters may use the provided blinds, either floating or land-based, but must bring their own decoys. There are also blinds on the beach. Boats are not provided.

Sea duck hunting is restricted to Wednesday through Friday only, and there are procedures for drawing a blind assignment. County residents are given preference, but non-residents can also participate. The County Parks Department can be reached by calling (631) 854-4949, or by writing Suffolk County Parks, P.O. Box 144, West Sayville, NY 11796.

The telephone number for Cedar Point County Park is (631) 852-7620.

Sea duck hunters can also access Great South Bay and Moriches Bay at Smith Point County Park, where there is a good boat ramp. Some good shooting can be had in this area. There is a daily access fee for the use of the ramp.

Fire Island National Seashore is another good prospect for hunting sea ducks. There are two areas that are open for waterfowling, one on the eastern end of the property near Smith's Point, and another near East and West Fire Island near Fire Island Inlet.

Access permits are available at the Smith's Point check station and the Fire Island check station. For more information, contact the Smith's Point station at (516) 281-3010.

There are numerous town and county boat launches. Remember that the regulations among the various municipalities are in a constant state of change, and some of them may have banned the discharge of firearms.

Sea duck hunters should keep in mind that, during the winter months, it isn't a good idea to cross large areas of open water. There have been some horror stories regarding winter duck hunters getting into trouble on the water.

"There weren't any problems last season that I am aware of," Miller said. "Hunters are getting smarter on the water and so we didn't have any accidents."

Hunters should not head out in pursuit of sea ducks without all of the proper equipment, including life preservers (PFDs) for everyone in the boat. They should avoid hunting from small boats that are not suitable for use on the bays. It is also a bad idea to cross a wide bay in pursuit of sea ducks. The weather can change instantly and create dangerous situation.

Sea duck hunters should also have good boating skills and a firm handle on what the weather is going to be like during their outing.

Long Island sea duck hunters should bring plenty of decoys. A couple of dozen magnum-sized decoys are considered the minimum for a sea duck spread, and good-quality decoys will draw more birds.

Sea duck shooting can be challenging. These are big, tough birds that can take a beating and keep on going. Most sea duck hunters use an open-choked 12-gauge shotgun with No. 1 steel (or other non-toxic) shot. Sea ducks are tough targets, so bring plenty of shells!

The tentative dates for the Long Island sea duck season were Oct. 5 though Jan. 19. Remember that all migratory bird hunters must now register with New York's Harvest Information Program (HIP). Hunters may register for New York by calling (866) 426-3778.

Sea duck hunters must also have a migratory bird stamp, and a valid New York small game license.

More information on sea duck hunting in Long Island is available from a couple of sources. The NYSDEC Region 1 office has information at the number listed above.

There is also information about hunting on Long Island on the NYSDEC Web site at www.dec. The Web site includes the phone numbers for parks and municipalities. There is also detailed information on DEC-managed wetlands, including the regulations for their use and area descriptions. It also includes a listing of available boat launches where hunters can get on the water.

While the whipping winds of December and January drive many New Yorkers inside to watch football, hunters who do their homework and find the right spot on Long Island can enjoy some of the best shooting of the year. Good numbers of ducks are usually around, and if the weather cooperates, the shooting can be memorable.

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