Most of New York State is now closed to duck hunting, except the fields and waters outside of the Big Apple. Most species begin arriving on the waters off Long Island in October, with waterfowl numbers building throughout the fall.
To the west, Atlantic brant have taken up residence in the South Shore bays and marshes. Sea ducks have settled into their deep-water and near-shore haunts, and diving ducks can be found foraging in the salt chuck. Puddle ducks have been trickling in steadily since early November, but they haven’t built up into their typical numbers yet. A few errant snow geese have even found their way into hunters’ bags.
“I’ve got about 3,000 ducks feeding in my fields every night,” says Captain Phil Gay of East End Waterfowling, though he notes that numbers are down slightly from last year. Gay has a series of agricultural fields and water blinds he manages on the South Fork. “We’re still low on black ducks, though there’s reports of new birds showing up on the ponds.”
“We need some weather to get them moving,” he says. Gay is hopeful the coming full moon and predicted winds will draw down the rest of the puddlers. His water blinds have attracted some divers as well, though not yet in peak numbers. “On days with wind and rain we kill ducks, but they’re not all here yet.”
“There’s plenty of geese,” Gay states, noting that Canadas are seemingly everywhere on the East End. Honker action has been consistent for nearly everyone with a decent field. If you can’t get access to a field, locating a loafing area out on the salt is a good way to fill your bag.
“They’ve been hitting the longtails pretty good,” says Mossy Oak Pro Staffer Ron Kee, speaking about the presence of these sea ducks in the inlets, bays, and ocean mid-island east. All three scoter species have made a showing, and there’s plenty of eiders in the mix. “A king eider was even taken near Shinnecock Inlet.”
“There’s broadbills out on the larger bays,” Kee adds, referring to greater scaup. Other divers have also taken up residence, mostly buffleheads and red-breasted mergansers, but the occasional ruddy duck can be found as well. “You can find buffleheads in all of their usual haunts, and the mergansers are all cruising the channels.”
“But brant are definitely the star of the western bays,” Kee says, referring to the second largest wintering flock of Atlantic brant in the world. “They’re all here, and they’re all putting on a show.” Time your hunts with the dropping tide to connect with these visitors from the high arctic.