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

Ready to grill up some delicious, juicy waterfowl burgers? This Horseradish Duck Burger Recipe is made with ground duck breast fillets and a kick of horseradish. Recipes

Horseradish Duck Burger Recipe

Scott Leysath

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

Keep your retriever sharp in the offseason. Retriever

Waterfowl Workouts: 3 Summer Duck Dog Drills

Tony J. Peterson

Keep your retriever sharp in the offseason.

Here's how to cash in on the spreading numbers of white-fronts. Hunting Tactics

Take Advantage of the Specklebelly Surge

John Gordon

Here's how to cash in on the spreading numbers of white-fronts.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Swedish Duck Hunt

Swedish Duck Hunt

Kevin Steele takes part in a family driven duck hunt in Sweden.

Puppy Training Getting Started

Puppy Training Getting Started

Puppy Training Getting Started

Picking a Puppy

Picking a Puppy

Wildfowl contributor Mark Romanack shares advice about choosing your next retriever.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Author John M. Taylor has broken down the top waterfowl shotguns for the 2018 season. Shotguns

Best Waterfowl Shotguns of 2018

John Taylor - September 25, 2018

Author John M. Taylor has broken down the top waterfowl shotguns for the 2018 season.

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the Bozeman, Montana company's full line-up of women's waterfowl hunting gear for 2019. From warm and moisture wicking base layers to water and windproof outer layers, this is a complete system for women who love to chase fall and wintertime ducks and geese across the four flyways! Clothing & Waders

New SITKA Women's Waterfowl Lineup for 2019

Lynn Burkhead - January 28, 2019

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the Bozeman, Montana company's full...

Jim Orth needed'a simple blind for hunting Lake St. Clair. A staffing recruiter and outfitter from How-To

Building a Duck Boat Blind on a Budget

Mike Marsh - May 10, 2016

Jim Orth needed'a simple blind for hunting Lake St. Clair. A staffing recruiter and outfitter...

See More Stories

More Stories

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

When you first tuned into an episode of A&E's Duck Dynasty, I suspect you asked yourself the Stories

How Duck Dynasty is Changing the Waterfowl World

Kyle Wintersteen - March 27, 2013

When you first tuned into an episode of A&E's Duck Dynasty, I suspect you asked yourself...

          Thin ice and bitter conditions endanger a devoted waterfowl hunter and his trusty hunting Stories

Near Duck Hunting Tragedy on the Pend Oreille River

Gary March - March 07, 2011

Thin ice and bitter conditions endanger a devoted waterfowl hunter and his trusty...

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.