Five Public Land Hotspots in the Atlantic Flyway for 2021

Let this serve as your guide for an Atlantic Flyway public land hunting adventure

© Mossy Oak

The Atlantic Flyway is a historical hotbed of waterfowl hunting in North America. As in other areas of the continent, the key to hunting success in this flyway is knowing where to go, and the following breakdown of public hunting hotspots is a good place to start.

Coastal Massachusetts and New Hampshire

The Atlantic coast of Massachusetts and New Hampshire is not only a great place to hunt sea ducks and divers offshore, but also puddle ducks on a mosaic of national wildlife refuges and wildlife management areas in tidal areas.

"We have some great early-season hunting for wood ducks and teal," says Captain Reilly McCue, who guides hunters and anglers with RPM Outdoors. "The first push in the salt marsh always consists of black ducks around mid-October, then we get into the later dates when hunters come to shoot trophy sea ducks for the wall."

In Massachusetts, the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and adjacent state wildlife management areas (WMAs) are part of a massive coastal wetland complex known as the Great Marsh, which offers a wealth of hunting opportunities for those with the equipment and know-how to hunt these storied salt marshes. Immediately north of Parker River NWR lies the Merrimack River estuary and the famous Joppa Flats.

Great Marsh extends into New Hampshire, and the Hampton River estuary near the towns of Seabrook and Hampton, offers good hunting opportunities on a patchwork of WMAs and other public lands. Another popular area, Great Bay, is located just west of Portsmouth, roughly five miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Great Bay NWR is located on the bay's eastern shore, adjacent to the airport.

For more info on northeast district Mass WMAs and New Hampshire WMAs

Eastern Lake Ontario, New York

New York's portion of Lake Ontario offers excellent public hunting opportunities on extensive tracts of coastal marsh managed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).

"These areas receive a lot of hunting pressure, but they can be good if you're willing to deal with other hunters," says DU biologist Ed Farley. "These coastal marshes offer diverse habitat with opportunities to harvest a wide range of species."

Early-season bags consist primarily of teal and wood ducks, but as the season progresses, hardier species such as mallards and black ducks increase dramatically.

Lake Shore Marshes WMA is located southwest of Oswego, on the south shore of Lake Ontario. This WMA includes seven separate units that encompass 6,200 acres of diverse wetland and adjacent upland habitats.

Three WMAs line New York's easternmost portions of the lake: Lakeview, Deer Creek Marsh, and Black Pond. Lakeview WMA offers nearly 3,500 acres of diverse marsh and upland habitat. Deer Creek Marsh WMA and Black Pond WMA together total over 2,000 acres of public land.

DU has completed wetland restoration projects on Lakeview Marsh WMA as well as Point Peninsula WMA to the north. This 1,000-acre natural wetland complex is located west of Watertown. French River WMA lies to the northeast and offers 2,300 acres of public hunting.

North of Watertown and inland about 20 minutes is Perch River WMA. At nearly 8,000 acres, this property is well-known for its varied waterfowl hunting opportunities.

While most of the properties mentioned above are open for waterfowl hunting without a draw or sign-in requirement, Perch River has very specific protocols in place to maximize hunting quality and success, so be sure to check the most up-to-date regulations before you hunt.

DU has also contributed to habitat improvements at Perch River. "We just concluded a very extensive project, and we are now able to control water levels in three distinct pools. This is the first year we've been able to hold water back in the upper pool, and a lot of wild rice will benefit," says NYSDEC wildlife biologist Irene Mazzocchi.

"Motorized boats are prohibited, so hunters use canoes and kayaks to access the marshes. Some waterfowl hunters paddle for an hour or more to reach the more remote sections," Mazzocchi adds.

For more information go to the New York DEC website.

New Jersey Shore

The New Jersey Shore may be famous for boardwalks and casinos, but a far greater attraction for waterfowlers is the abundance of public hunting opportunities on neighboring salt marshes and estuaries.

A seemingly endless expanse of conserved coastal wetlands lines the coast, including behemoth properties such as the 47,000-acre Edwin B. Forsythe NWR, 18,000-acre Lester G. MacNamara WMA (formerly Tuckahoe WMA), and the nearly 18,000-acre Cape May Coastal Wetlands WMA.

"There are tens of thousands of acres of public land," explains wildlife biologist Ted Nichols, with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Division of Fish and Wildlife. "The marshes east of the Garden State Parkway in the Coastal Zone have the densest populations of wintering black ducks and brant anywhere. Brant are strictly a coastal species and congregate along the coastline and salt marsh, while black ducks are typically found in the tidal marsh along both the Atlantic side and Delaware Bay."

According to Nichols, black ducks and brant are common from Sandy Hook to Cape May, and the denser brant numbers are in the southern third of the region—particularly Atlantic County. Places like Pork Island WMA, Forsythe NWR, and Absecon WMA are prime spots.

"All of these areas are right around Atlantic City, which is kind of weird. You can be on the marsh at zero dark thirty, ducks are quacking and brant are gabbling all over the place, and the skyline of Atlantic City is right there," Nichols says.

For more info go to the New Jersey DFW website

South Carolina Coast

The South Carolina coast is stacked with estuaries and tidal marshes that extend many miles inland along Lowcountry rivers, creating what can only be described as world-class waterfowl habitat. Near Myrtle Beach, five rivers, including the Waccamaw, Great Pee Dee, and Little Pee Dee, feed a diverse complex of tidal wetlands that attract a variety of waterfowl species.

Waccamaw NWR spans nearly 29,000 acres, most of which are wetlands. "This area was the largest rice producer in the country at one time and has a long history of waterfowl conservation," says refuge manager Craig Sasser. "After a long wet cycle, this year is one of the most promising in my career. Seeing so much great habitat being put back is very exciting."

According to Sasser, DU has played a major role in helping the refuge acquire land, and a historical rice plantation was recently purchased. Rice field infrastructure has been restored, and this year rice was planted to benefit waterfowl. Private landowners in the area are beginning to plant rice again as well.

"Early-season hunting has picked up a lot in recent years, with a diversity of early migrants utilizing the marshes in the region," Sasser says. "Our top species in the bag is the wood duck, but we also get a lot of gadwalls and green- and blue-winged teal. We see peak numbers of ducks around Christmas."

For more information on waterfowl hunting in the region, visit the South Carolina DNR.

Lake Seminole, Georgia

Lake Seminole is a 37,500-acre impoundment managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers in the southwest corner of Georgia along the Florida border. Known for outstanding bass fishing, Lake Seminole's shallow, vegetation-choked waters are also one of the best places to harvest a trophy, late-season bull canvasback.

Fed primarily by the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers, Lake Seminole is especially attractive to diver species that feed in dense beds of Eurasian watermilfoil and hydrilla. Both plants are highly invasive, but diver species such as ring-necked ducks and canvasbacks find the seeds and tubers of these weeds very desirable.

"You can't really hunt these ducks where they feed because the whole lake is one big feed. It's all about where they are going and where they want to be, which changes from day to day," says Justin Driscoll, owner and guide at No Limit Waterfowl. "Cans are opportunists. If you get an opportunity, you've got to make it count."

While the lake is essentially public, several WMAs provide extensive shoreline habitat that is accessible for public hunting. Together, Silver Lake and Lake Seminole WMAs on the north end of the lake encompass more than 26,000 acres. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission manages an additional 8,000 acres of public hunting on Apalachee WMA.

For more information about Lake Seminole WMA, visit https://georgiawildlife.com/lake-seminole-wma.