Blast From the Past: Remembering New Jersey's Famed Waterfowling

Blast From the Past: Remembering New Jersey's Famed Waterfowling

bfp_fNowadays, the Jersey Shore is better known for sleazy reality shows and $1.99 streak and eggs after a night losing the family nest egg at an Atlantic City casino.

But it wasn't always that way. Long ago, a deep culture of waterfowl hunting, or gunning as the east coasters call it, existed (and still does today) on the seemingly endless coastal marshes of New Jersey.


One of the most famous coastal areas is Barnegat Bay, which runs from nearly the tip of Manhattan to the Brigantine Marshes just north of AC.



Part of Barnegat Bay's mystique is in the small shallow-draft boats used there and named appropriately Barnegat sneakboxes. Made for one man, they were outfitted with a decoy rack on the back where a dozen blocks could be stacked.

On the front was a canvas spray shield that was attached to the deck just ahead of the hunter and held in place with a dowel forming a low but effective shield against breaking waves, and also provided concealment.


Once at the hunting location, it was a quick drill to toss out the decoys and slide the craft into the abundant marsh grass that bordered the water up and down the bays.


A few bunches of grass to cover the deck, and you were hunting. On bitter-cold days some hunters lit a candle or kerosene lantern under the front deck to take off some of the chill. The hunter laid down, only his head above the boat's profile, nearly invisible to circling ducks and brant.

Because sneakboxes are easily maneuverable, hunters could position their backs to the wind for perfect decoying birds right out front. Rowed, sailed, poled or towed, the Barnegat sneakbox was purposely made for the thousands of tidal streams and holes, and light enough to be hefted over shallows when the tide went out.

The major species of Barnegat, Brigantine, Abescom and other tidal areas were and remain the Atlantic brant, canvasback, scaup, mallards and black ducks, it just depends on where you go.

Toward the Atlantic Ocean, hunters also shot scoters, long-tails and other saltwater ducks; further inland they found the mallards and black ducks. Atlantic brant are especially fun to hunt, diving in for beaks full of eel grass at low tide. They still decoy well, making a crackling sound as they fly in strings along the bays.

Today it seems surreal hunting with the towers of the Atlantic City casinos as a back drop, but the waterfowling is superb on the old hunting grounds, and although motors have replaced rowing and poling, the allure of the hunt remains the same on one of America's truly classic gunning waters.

Recommended for You

Recipes

2 Easy Duck Recipes for Summertime Grilling

WILDFOWL Online Staff

Make summertime barbecues super easy by grilling up one of these duck recipes from Scott...

Recipes

Horseradish Duck Burger Recipe

Scott Leysath

Ready to grill up some delicious, juicy waterfowl burgers? This Horseradish Duck Burger Recipe...

Industry

Ducks Unlimited: A Duck Man's Best Friend

David Hart

To date, Ducks Unlimited has played a role in conserving 14 million acres.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Franchi 12-Gauge Affinity Semiauto Shotgun

Craig Boddington and Eric Poole take a look at the new modern Franchi Affinity shotgun.

Arkansas Snow Geese

Wildfowl Editor Skip Knowles took this short video showing all the Snow Geese flying. Let's just say, he had a very good hunt!

Browning A5 Shotgun - 'Gun Stories'

Gun Stories host Joe Mantegna talks about the origin and history of the Browning A5 shotgun.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Shotguns

Best New Waterfowl Shotguns for 2019

Lynn Burkhead - January 23, 2019

Check out our picks for the best new waterfowl guns from the 2019 SHOT Show!

Ammo

11 Best New Shotshell Loads For Waterfowl

Wildfowl Online Staff - August 17, 2017

Consistency is what pushes today's shotshell makers to constantly improve new waterfowl loads

Accessories

8 Best Choke Tubes for 2017

Wildfowl Online Staff - October 25, 2017

While there's no guarantee they'll make you a better shot, these 8 newly-designed shotgun...

See More Stories

More Stories

Stories

Why Early Teal Season is the Best

Skip Knowles - September 09, 2015

Biologists claim canvasbacks and mergansers are the fastest ducks of all, and that teal in...

Stories

"Kill that'¦that...Duck!"

Brad Fenson - September 30, 2016

Six mallards swung past the decoys as the sun broke the horizon and two of us put four of them...

Stories

Blast From the Past: Remembering New Jersey's Famed Waterfowling

John Taylor - May 06, 2015

Nowadays, the Jersey Shore is better known for sleazy reality shows and $1.99 streak and eggs...

See More Stories

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×