Introduction to Waterfowl Hunting on Long Island
The following is a brief description of waterfowl hunting on Long Island. It is not meant to be all-inclusive, but rather to serve as a starting point for waterfowl hunters unfamiliar with hunting here. For waterfowl regulations and season dates in all of New York, including Long Island, please see Migratory Game Bird Seasons and Regulations.
Hunting on Long Island is done in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. The island is heavily urbanized in the west, gradually becoming less so as you travel east. Roughly halfway across Suffolk County, development becomes interspersed with tracts of agricultural areas (such as cabbage, corn and rye fields, and sod farms). The north shore is best described as an abrupt change from the land to the Long Island Sound, with deep water just off shore. The south shore has a more gradual transition, with most of the Long Island being separated from the ocean by a barrier island. This geography provides a multitude of shallow bays, salt marshes and estuaries.
The tide is a major consideration in waterfowl hunting on the island. It influences the behavior of birds, and significantly affects navigation. The tide range (the difference between high and low tide) varies greatly across Long Island, from as much as 8 to 10 feet in Port Washington (western north shore), to as little as a foot or less in Moriches Bay. Most areas fall in between, with a 3 to 5 foot range.
There is approximately 12 hours between one high tide and the next, with low tide falling half-way in between. The highs and lows for the following day occur roughly 1 hour later. The specific details of each tide cycle (how high and how low, how quickly it changes, and at what time they occur) is influenced by many factors, including: location, geography (juxtaposition of islands vs. open water), distance to the nearest inlet(s), lunar phase, wind and storm surges (both local and ones out to sea).
It is important for a hunter to know the tides (both times and their extent) to get the most out of a hunting trip, and to return safely. Even a one foot drop in water level can leave a hunter stranded with water too shallow to navigate, and muck too thick to walk through. Strong, fast currents can develop that can challenge a boater's navigational skills, or even sweep a boat out to sea. Tide tables are available from many sources, including newspapers, local TV stations, local marinas, bait shops and weather services e.g. The Weather Channel, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Saltwatertides.com and University of South Carolina's tide predictor (links can be found in the right column.)
Long Island has terrific waterfowling opportunities. It's a major wintering area for greater scaup, Atlantic brant, and black ducks. We are blessed/cursed (depending on who you talk with and when) with an abundance of Canada geese, and have plenty of mallards. Our zone has the Special Sea Duck Area, with its extended season and bag limits for scoter, eider and long-tailed duck (see regulation guide for details). Just about every other species of duck common to New York can be found at one time or another, somewhere on the island. This includes species with no open season, such as an occasional harlequin duck or white-fronted goose, so hunters must be certain to identify their target before they shoot. On Long Island, Waterfowl Hunter Education courses are offered once or twice a year, and are recommended for both novice and seasoned hunters. Call (631) 444-0255 for more information on Waterfowl Hunter Education courses in Regions 1 and 2 (Long Island & NYC). You can also find courses on our website.
Canada geese are plentiful just about everywhere, largely due to the large population of resident geese. They love the athletic fields, golf courses, parks, sod farms and lawns that cover the island. However, in the early 1990's, a dramatic decline in the migrant Atlantic Population geese resulted in harvest restrictions. The regular goose hunting seasons were shortened throughout most of the Atlantic Flyway from 1992/93 through 1995/96, and closed in 1996/97 and 1997/98. During this period, biologists were able to clearly identify, delineate and evaluate a separate population of Canada geese. This North Atlantic population are the geese that migrate to and through Long Island and other parts of New England. The resulting management plan for this separate population allowed a return of a regular goose season to Long Island in 1998. In addition to the regular goose season, Long Island has two special seasons specifically for resident geese. The first of these is in September for the Central and Eastern Zones of Long Island. The second season which is a special late season generally occurs along the North shore of Suffolk County in the Central Zone. See the season brochure for details regarding zone boundaries and regulations.
Snow geese generally pass through the area early, often before the season opens. They tend to concentrate along the south shore. Most have their sights set on points south, like New Jersey. There are always a few groups that stick around, and one or two stragglers that hang out with the Canada geese. Incidental encounters like this seem to have increased in recent years.
Atlantic Brant are most abundant in the southern bays from the middle of the Great South Bay (GSB) westward.
Those species which prefer freshwater, such as wood ducks and hooded mergansers are more common on freshwater ponds inland or in brackish areas (which are plentiful along the south shore).
The length of the hunting season, as well as bag limits are set annually at the Federal Level and based on current waterfowl populations and expectations for the future. For this reason, the season dates and limits usually change year to year, and hunters need to check the current regulation brochure (PDF) (2.4 MB) before hunting. On Long Island, as with other parts of the state, the dates of the waterfowl season are crafted by a Waterfowl Hunter Task Force made up of volunteer sportsmen from local waterfowl organizations. These dates are reviewed and finalized by DEC biologists on the Season Setting Team. Tentative season dates are usually available in June or July, and finalized in late August. Keeping this in mind, the following generalities will give you an idea of the season dates on Long Island.
- Regular duck, coots and mergansers: 60 days counting back from the last Sunday in January.
- Sea Ducks: (eider, scoter and long-tailed ducks): Early October to approximately the end of January.
- Brant: similar to regular duck season.
- Snow Geese: end of November through early March.
- Canada Geese (early season for regular geese): the day after Labor Day through the end of September.
- Canada Geese (regular): three zones, some portion of which coincides with the regular duck season.
- Canada Geese (late): after the close of the regular season for a portion of the north shore of Suffolk County.
Ducks and geese are considered small game. To hunt them requires an annual New York State small game hunting license. Proof of a past hunting license, or Hunter Education course certificate, is required to purchase a license. The license year runs September 1 - August 31 each year.
All waterfowl hunters must also register with the Harvest Information Program (HIP) each year, in each state that they hunt. This program helps biologists better manage the resource. To register by phone, hunters can call an automated system 24 hrs/day, 7 days/week at 888-427-5447. You can also register via the internet on the On-line HIP Registration page. When hunters register, they will be assigned a registration number, which they must have on them while hunting. A good place to record this number is on the back of the hunting license.
The final legal requirement for all waterfowl hunters age 16 and older is the purchase of a $25 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp- better known simply as a "Federal Duck Stamp," which the hunter must sign across the face in ink to validate. Funds generated by these stamps go toward waterfowl management, primarily for the purchase of wetlands. The stamp must be carried while hunting as well. There is no requirement to affix the stamp anywhere, but many hunters stick it to the back of their hunting license. Since the duck stamp is a federal program, one stamp is valid nationwide, regardless of where one hunts. It also acts as a nationwide passport for entry into any National Wildlife Refuge open to the public (without it, each visit usually costs a fee). Duck stamps are supposed to be available at all US Post Offices; however you may find any given office does not have them in stock when you visit. They are also available from some sporting goods shops, by phone (1-800-782-6724) or online at Duckstamp.com (link in the right column.) Additional fees may apply for phone or internet orders. Both the Federal Duck Stamp and the HIP registration are valid from July 1 through June 30 of the next year, so you need a new duck stamp and new HIP number before each fall hunting season.
There are several DEC-managed tidal wetlands that are huntable from shore, but a dog or boat is generally needed for retrieving downed birds. A free 3-year seasonal access permit (PDF) (463 KB) is required to hunt these areas. A list of DEC managed tidal wetlands that are open to hunting is available online.
The Suffolk County Dept. of Parks, Recreation and Conservation also has six areas that are open to waterfowl hunting. These include Theodore. Roosevelt (Montauk), Cedar Point (Sag Harbor), Hubbard (Flanders), and Southaven (Yaphank) County Parks. Access to hunting is also available through Smith Point Park (Shirley) and Cupsogue Beach (West Hampton Dunes). County residents are given preference, but nonresidents are accommodated, space permitting. For more information, contact: Suffolk County Parks, P.O. Box 144, West Sayville, NY 11796; (631) 854-4949. You can also get this information on the Suffolk County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation website listed in the right column.
Fire Island National Seashore (FINS), run by the National Park Service (NPS), has two areas open to waterfowl hunting. Fire Island National Seashore's East End Hunting Area is adjacent to the park's Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness. A sportsman's recreational vehicle driving permit may be used to access the beach on the Atlantic Ocean side of wilderness area from September 15 through December 31, but access to the bay side of the island is by foot or shallow-draft vessel only. Waterfowl hunting is permitted only from Hayhole Point (west of the Wilderness Visitor Center and boardwalk) to Long Cove (east of Watch Hill). No hunting is allowed from the small bay islands north of Fire Island in this area. A portion of the Pattersquash Gun Club's hunting rights are within the boundaries of Fire Island National Seashore.
Fire Island's West End Hunting Area is restricted to shoreline waterfowl hunting from East Fire Island, West Fire Island, and Sexton Island.
You must first obtain a hunting permit from the Seashore. Permits can be issued at the Wilderness Visitor Center (link in the right column) or, when staff is available, at the West District Checkpoint, 631-661-2556. Hunters need to bring their hunting license, driver's license, HIP number and Federal duck stamp to get the permit.
In general, the bay bottom below the high tide mark is considered public domain and open to hunting. However, there are exceptions. For instance, the Town of Southampton (which claims ownership of the bay bottom) requires hunters in the town to be a resident, or in the company of a resident guide. The Pattersquash Gun Club has exclusive rights to much of Bellport Bay, including the bay bottom. It is possible for local municipalities (such as villages and towns) to pass ordinances prohibiting discharge of firearms. Since there are so many municipalities, and the laws can change at any time, DEC cannot keep track of all these ordinances. It is the responsibility of the hunter to know if a specific area is legal to hunt before going afield (check with the town or village clerk's office, or local police department). If a hunter encounters a "no discharge" or "no hunting" ordinance, they should try to obtain a copy of both the ordinance and a map of the municipalities' boundary lines. They may find out that the ordinance actually allows hunting under specific circumstances (such as over water, or under the permission of a landowner) or that the area they are looking at is actually out of the municipality's jurisdiction. For a complete listing of town codes and ordinances, you can visit the New York eCode website (link in the right column.)
*Note: The State holds the authority to regulate hunting, and no lesser government can usurp that authority. Although "No Hunting" laws are not valid, they may nonetheless be on the books in some municipalities.
Most of Long Island waterfowl hunting is done on the bays. Unfortunately, access to the water is difficult. Finding access to the place you want to hunt is even harder. It is advisable to avoid crossing the bay, or any large expanse of open water during the winter. Dangerous weather conditions can form quickly.
There are a few public ramps, mostly operated by the town or county, that are left open during the winter. Some are free; some require a permit or a fee. In general, town-owned ramps require a permit (the fee for which is generally higher for nonresidents), which may or may not be checked and/or enforced during the winter.
The NYSDEC Marine Fishing Access Unit also publishes a list of Boat Ramps in the Long Island Region (PDF) (4.7 MB).
Many waterfowl hunters launch over the beach, without a ramp. It's a matter of finding a place where the bay and road are close, without private property or tidal marsh in between. In some areas, the land is so low and tides so high that you can almost launch right on the road during some of the storm tides.
Becoming involved in a sportsmen's club is one of the best ways for the novice waterfowl hunter to get started. It is also very helpful for the experienced waterfowl hunter who is new to the area. Some of the area organizations include:
Bellmore Rod & Gun Club
P.O. Box 324, Bellmore, NY 11710
Mattituck Gun Club
P.O. Box 700, Cutchogue, NY 11935
Manhasset Bay Sportsman's Club
36 Matinecock Ave, Port Washington, NY 11050
Pattersquash Gun Association
PO Box 155, Bellport, NY 11713
Peconic River Sportsmen's Club
389 River Road, Manorville NY 11949
Suffolk Alliance of Sportsmen, Inc.
215 Waldo Street, Copiague, NY 11726
South Shore Waterfowlers Association
P. O. Box 217, Brightwaters, NY 11718
Waterfowl USA, East Hampton Chapter
PO Box 3170, East Hampton, NY 11937
Watermill Rod & Gun Club
P.O. Box 924, Watermill, NY 11976
Practice, Practice, Practice
A hunter gets to be a good marksman by frequently practicing. Natural talent helps, but even that needs to be honed. Before the season, you should get out to the range and practice on clay targets. Trap or skeet, either at a regulated range, or by throwing your own, will help a hunter become consistent. Sporting clays, set up to mimic real life hunting situations, is even better.
Below are two available ranges for shotgun:
Suffolk County Skeet, Trap and Sporting Clays
165 Gerard Road
LI Shooting Range of Brookhaven
Ridge, NY 11961
Open Wednesday through Sunday
Protect The Future of The Sport
Regardless of where you hunt, whether you hunt alone or with a guide or group, you should always be conscious of others, and the effects that your actions will have. You should act as if your every move is under close scrutiny, because it may be. This is particularly so in urbanized areas, like Long Island, where the majority of the population does not hunt, and may not understand hunting. Whatever you do may affect the sport for others. Don't turn non-hunters into anti-hunters. Long Island has some of the best waterfowling opportunities in the state; let's keep it that way.