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Feb 26, 2019 10:42 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Waterfowl Season Will Start Earlier In 2019

Brian Finnegan and another of the big bluefins being caught by local boats visiting North Carolina this winter.  Dan Weslar
Feb 26, 2019 1:53 PM

It’s the end of February and on the few days this past week when I didn’t think I should have gone and played golf in Montauk, I did some driving around to check on my duck blind and the local ponds.I’ll say this, a few weeks and some more chilly nights does not seem to have increased the waterfowl population in the areas I hunt a whole heck of a lot. The black ducks have taken to sitting closer to Meadow Lane again now that the blinds are empty, and the geese are flying a little lower when they trade from the bay to the ponds and estate lawns in Southampton Village. But there wasn’t a major movement of ducks in the wake of the bitter days at the end of January and start of February.

My experience is, that is more commonly the case, however. I’ve been waiting for a while for the state to make another shift of the hunting season to have the second half start later in December and push the end into February, at least to Super Bowl Sunday.

But they are going the other direction. Next year the waterfowl season for Long Island will return to its traditional opening from decades past on the weekend before Thanksgiving. It will be the Saturday before, not the Friday, as was the case until the early 2000s, but it will mean that there will be a full week and a day of hunting before the December break and then just 51 days after it reopens, with the final closure on January 26.

For those hunters on Long Island who have great greenwing teal and wood duck hunting spots, this is great news (don’t both of you go applauding at the same time, please.)

For the rest of us, this just creates a vexing conflict: go duck hunting...or go fishing? Or play golf?! Maybe go for a bike ride into town and get lunch at one of Silver’s sidewalk tables.

It got cold kind of early this year. I grassed my blind the weekend before Thanksgiving in a t-shirt and had to take my skullcap off midway through.

Whatever caused it, you can’t deny that winter comes later and later in these parts. The number of times it’s been anything like “hunting weather” on eastern Long Island the weekend before Thanksgiving, or even Thanksgiving, for that matter, in the last 15 years could be counted on one finger. And the ducks aren’t oblivious to this. If it isn’t bitter and snowy to our north, they don’t leave there in a big hurry. I used to spend every evening twilight for the two weeks before hunting season would start sitting in the parking lot at the south end of Lake Agawam, watching the flights of bluebills swarm out of the lake—some heading west toward the sunset and the big bay, others into the darkness toward Mecox. Now, I don’t even really start looking for a bluebill anywhere until at least the day before the start of the second half of the season.

Yes, this year it was bitter cold on turkey day, but it still wasn’t hunting weather really. Other than resident ducks, there weren’t really any migrators in town yet and the sudden blast of frigid air just kept most of them hunkered down, rather than stirring them to fly. No ponds froze and it was back to 50 degrees by the weekend.

Keeping the opener on or right before Thanksgiving does make sense. It’s a day with a lot of hunting tradition in outdoorsy families, plus almost everybody has off that day.

But adding days before then, is just taking away from potentially good days later in the season when migratory birds are more likely to have arrived, and making outdoorsmen more likely to have to choose between precious few days of sporting activities as the depth of winter approaches. With the late weather, and fishing great in December still in as many years as not, I would personally just as soon not even have to think about hunting until January, and I would love to have it still as a distraction through the whole month of February. It’s not like we can go ice boating in February anymore.

If you’re in OBX, Florida or the islands, catch ’em up. See you down there.

48th Annual Decoy Show

The Long Island Decoy Collectors Association will host its annual antique decoy and fishing lure collectors show this coming Saturday, March 2, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the IBEW Union Hall, 370 Motor Parkway, Happauge.

This year’s feature exhibit will be “Atlantic Brant: Our Graceful Arctic Goose.” Once enormously abundant along the East Coast, brant were a staple of market gunning in the 1800s and have seen their numbers winnowed by chemical contamination and habitat loss, but they remain a prized target of waterfowlers.

The exhibit will feature brant decoys from around Long Island, where brant have been hunted for centuries, as well as tutorials on the bird’s unusual biology and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s efforts to band the birds on their wintering grounds here.

Along with the feature exhibit, there will be more than 50 vendors featuring antique decoys, sporting art, and other collectibles for viewing and purchase.

Admission is $7, or free for kids under 12. For more information, contact Craig Kessler at ckesslerducks@gmail.com and 516-639-8480, or Steve Sanford at sjaysanford@gmail.com and 518-677-5064. If you’re interested in being a vendor at the show, contact Tim Sieger at 631-537-0153.

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