July 11, 2013
By David Hart
Sea duck hunting isn't for everyone. It not only takes a bit of specialized equipment, it also takes guts. Big, rough water can give even the most dedicated puddle duck hunter the creeps, and extreme weather can definitely play a huge role in your hunt. There are great rewards for the willing hunter, but it's not for the faint of heart.
A top-notch guide can take some of the risk out of the equation and put you in the middle of tons of ducks. Not everyone can afford to go that route, but if you're trekking around the country looking for a great sea duck destination, it's probably worth your while. Of course when it comes to knocking down those birds, that part is entirely up to you. And it's not always an easy endeavor, since sea ducks are notoriously fast and can humble even the best wingshooters. But that's exactly why they are so much fun.
Whether you plan on putting the hunt together on your own or enlisting the help of a seasoned guide, we've got an inside look at some of the best places for sea duck hunting in the U.S.
Aleutian Islands, Alaska
There is no more unique state in the nation than Alaska, and there are few places to hunt sea ducks in Alaska like the Aleutian Islands. The islands are a chain of over 300 small volcanic landmasses extending 1,200 miles across the Pacific Ocean. They are home to over 15 different species of ducks, which live there during the winter. Included in the list of species you can hunt are Pacific eider, Eurasian wigeon, smew and pochards.
Outfitters like Alaska Wildfowl Adventures, which runs hunts from Dec. 22 to Jan. 30, provide quite the experience on the Aleutian Islands, with the option to hunt out of a tundra blind next to a freshwater pond or on the open waters of the Bering Sea and North Pacific.
Eastern Shore, Maryland
Few regions have the storied waterfowl traditions as Maryland's Eastern Shore. Perhaps best known for Canada goose hunting and its thriving canvasback population, the region also holds thousands of scoters and long-tailed ducks in the surrounding Chesapeake Bay, while cans and bluebills are also possible. Outfitters like Pitboss Waterfowl
make the trip a memorable one, with professionally guided hunts, premiere dogs and access to some of the country's best waterfowling.
Pamlico Sound, North Carolina
Three species of scoters, along with long-tailed ducks, are abundant on the Pamlico Sound, a vast body of water between the mainland and a thin strip of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks. As an added bonus, it's not unusual to bag divers and even puddle ducks on a Pamlico sea duck hunt.
What makes North Carolina so good for sea ducks? It's a stopping point on the major Atlantic Flyway, which makes it home to backwater creeks, sounds and open water teeming with waterfowl species. Outfitters like Water Dog Guide Service focus on sea ducks, but can also line up a sweet shot at divers and puddle ducks as well. With top-notch dogs, decoys and blinds, this is a hunt you won't want to miss.
No region or state is more synonymous with sea duckin' than the rocky coast of Maine. Whether you hunt down east or toward the southernmost region of the state, sea ducks are thick and hunting pressure can be light. Eiders are the main draw, but long-tailed ducks and various scoters round out the bag. Among others, Rising Sun Outfitters
offers a memorable experience for all skill levels, and nutrient-rich waters mean scores of sea ducks like to hang out along the coast.
Who knew the smallest state could have some of the biggest sea duck numbers? Scoters and eiders make up the bulk of the sea duck harvest, but a handful of other species are available as well. Additionally, Rhode Island and New Hampshire are the only two coastal New England states that allow Sunday hunting. For a great hunt, check out The Swampers
, where Capt. Brian Rhodes will take you out on a fast paced hunt.
Lake Michigan, Wisconsin
There isn't a sea, bay or ocean for 900 miles, but don't tell that to the thousands of long-tailed ducks and scoters that winter on Lake Michigan. Wisconsin doesn't have a special sea duck season, so hunters are restricted to the regular duck season. Limits are generous, though. For a great hunting experience, check out Coastal Wisconsin Outfitters
, where you can experience the best Lake Michigan and Green Bay have to offer.
Olympic Peninsula, Washington
If Alaska is a little out of your price range, a trip to the coast of Washington is a perfectly acceptable alternative. Many of the same birds available along Alaska's rugged coast can be shot on the Washington coastline. Harlequins, long-tailed ducks and scoters are abundant in Puget Sound. For a great hunt, check out Peninsula Sportsman
, where some of the best hunting on the Olympic Peninsula is found.
San Francisco Bay, California
Thousands of sea ducks winter in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. Most are surf scoters, but white-winged and black scoters, along with a few long-tailed ducks, round out the bag. For a lot of duck hunters, the big water is a step outside their element — and San Francisco might be the last place you think to try sea duck hunting — but California holds a special treasure in this locale.
Especially if you have an experienced guide, you'll probably see more birds in a day than you usually do in a month, and tagging a sea duck is particularly exciting. And once the hunt is over, you've got some of the best attractions, restaurants and scenery in the world. You can't beat that.
Long Island, New York
There's nothing quite like duck hunting in the shadow of the Big Apple. The city is an immense place in itself, but when you add sea duck hunting into the mix, it becomes a whole different animal. Huge numbers of birds winter off the coast of Long Island, sometimes just a short boat ride from New York City. Scoters and long-tail ducks make up the bulk of the harvest, but common eiders are available. Great scenery, an unbeatable night life and fantastic hunting — now that's hard to beat. For a great sea duck experience, check out East Coast Waterfowlers
, which offers different combinations of hunts for all levels of hunters.
Let's be honest: Alaska is one of the all time best hunting destinations in the world, and not just for sea duck hunting. But you can kill a few birds with one stone if you combine a sea duck hunt with a blacktail deer hunt, all while living on a 100-foot yacht. Most hunters would jump at that opportunity in a heartbeat.
There's simply no better way to experience southeast Alaska than by spending time on the open water and seeing all the beautiful state has to offer. You can also base camp in areas with crazy numbers of birds, taking you to unspoiled ground that gets little pressure. Ducks in the morning, deer in the afternoon, and we promise, you won't be disappointed.