Story by Tom Pagliaroli

With the Coastal Zone duck season drawing to a close at sunset, January 27, it’s a weeklong now-or-never dealio, and with the existing conditions existing on the bays, tidal rivers and marshes east of the Garden State Parkway that are open to waterfowl gunning, well, it could indeed prove a fast ‘n furious Daffy experience.

The freeze, thaw, and semi-freeze have created pockets to swaths of open water that are magnets for the likes of black ducks, mallards, pintails, widgeon, buffleheads, gadwall, broadbills (scaup), shovelers and canvasbacks.

The daily limit is six ducks in aggregate and may not include more than two blackies, two cans, two hen mallards or scaup, and one pintail.

Canada geese are a bonus in this zone, as the season extends through February 15, with a generous five-bird limit.

Hooded, common and red-breasted mergansers? Yep, the season includes these tooth-billed fish eaters, but for all intents and purposes, one of these will prove better suited to mounting (especially the stunning black and white drake hoodie) by a taxidermist than as an entrée, or an appetizer for that matter. Ducks are what they eat, and with the finned diet of the ‘ganser clan, they just don’t pass as edible. Trust me on this one. I’ve experimented with just about every kind of “miracle” marinade and have tried them wrapped in bacon and grilled, broiled, stewed and baked…and after four attempts have made it a point to never again shoot one.

The Manahawkin wildlife management area (WMA) is a popular winter gunning spot, as is the Great Bay Boulevard WMA and the lengthy Cape May Wetlands WMA that extends from Great Egg Harbor Bay behind Ocean City down through the bottom end of Cape May.

Youth Movement: Youngsters under 16 that have their hunting licenses, federal and state waterfowl stamps and HIP numbers, will have the opportunity to hunt ducks in the Coastal Zone on February 10, the “Youth Waterfowl Day”. This is the second special day (the first was November 4) and gives the young guns an excellent opportunity to enjoy the hunting experience sans the crowds.

The same bag limit applies, and the youth must be accompanied by an adult who has the necessary license and stamps but who cannot have a firearm in possession during the hunt. He or she may assist in calling, but that’s it. This a day for the kids and is wildly popular, as are the pheasant, deer and turkey youth-only hunts.


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