Brant hunting is a specialized pursuit practiced primarily in the coastal waters of the Atlantic Flyway. The coast of New Jersey hosts more wintering brant than any other place in the flyway and consistently has the highest brant harvest in the country. In fact, some years more than 75 percent of the Atlantic brant population winters in this area.
“Brant are in our shallow coastal estuaries and are primarily found along our southern coast,” says Paul Castelli, New Jersey waterfowl biologist. “For most of the fall and winter, they’re in those shallow bays feeding on sea lettuce and other algae, as well as eelgrass where it’s available. Hunting access for freelancers is actually quite good. There are a lot of public wetlands on the coast of New Jersey. Several state management areas, as well as the E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, provide good public hunting grounds.”
Pacific (black) brant hunting opportunities are much more limited within the United States than Atlantic brant opportunities. More than 80 percent of the population typically winters in Baja California, Mexico. In the United States, California hunters take the largest number of black brant in the flyway and have averaged more than 1,800 the past three seasons.
That said, most black brant nest in Alaska, and there are early-season opportunities for them there. Although there are fewer than 2,000 active goose hunters in the state (and no doubt even fewer who hunt brant), Alaskans have averaged more than 900 birds the past three seasons.
“All the black brant gather in Izembek Lagoon (within the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge) near Cold Bay,” says Tom Rothe, Alaska waterfowl biologist. “They build up throughout September, and by October, the whole population is in that lagoon, which is full of eelgrass. Then, around the end of October or first of November, they pick up and fly across the Pacific to California and Mexico.”