Ducks

Maryland’s history and tradition of waterfowl hunting is as rich as any in the world. Presidents and kings have been drawn to hunting ducks on the Chesapeake Bay for centuries. When English Captain John Smith first discovered the Chesapeake Bay, he remarked that “heaven and earth have never framed a better habitat for mankind.” These immortal words will resonate with any sportsman who sees the Chesapeake Bay for the first time.

160138171No article on the early days of waterfowling is complete without mention of the Chesapeake Bay and places such as the Susquehanna Flats, where the Decoy Capital of the World calls Havre de Grace home in Harford County. Maryland has some of the best duck hunting opportunities on the East Coast: From body booting on the Susquehanna Flats; hunting canvasbacks off shore on the Potomac River and wood ducks in flooded timberlands; to hunting sea ducks on the vast Chesapeake Bay.

Puddle ducks are typically birds of fresh, shallow marshes and rivers rather than large lakes and bays. They are good divers, but usually feed by dabbling or tipping rather than submerging. The speculum, or colored wing patch, is generally iridescent and bright, and often a telltale field mark. Any duck feeding in croplands will likely be a puddle duck, as most of this group is sure-footed and can walk and run well on land. Their diet is mostly vegetable, and grain-fed mallards or pintails or acorn-fattened wood ducks are highly regarded as food.

Jay Fleming SMI Stock© Jay Fleming12Diving ducks frequent the larger, deeper lakes and rivers, and coastal bays and inlets. The colored wing patches of these birds lack the brilliance of the speculums of puddle ducks. Since many of them have short tails, their huge, paddle feet may be used as rudders in flight, and are often visible on flying birds. When launching into flight, most of this group patters along the water before becoming airborne. They feed by diving, often to considerable depths. To escape danger, they can travel great distances underwater, emerging only enough to show their head before submerging again. Their diets of fish, shellfish, mollusks, and aquatic plants make them second choice, as a group, for sportsmen. Canvasbacks and redheads fattened on eel grass or wild celery are notable exceptions.

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Duck season, both puddle and diving, ranges from October through January on specified dates. The season is broken up during these months as it coincides with deer season. For youth hunters, the season lasts from early November through the beginning of February. For more information about duck season and a list of dates, visit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ website for  Waterfowl Seasons and Bag Limits.

While non-resident hunters can hunt duck on public lands, they are only allowed to hunt open waters accompanied by a guide. With some of the best duck hunting opportunities on the East Coast happening in the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland’s waterways, joining up with a guide is ideal.

Licensed guides have access to a range of the best duck hunting opportunities in Maryland. Without their accompaniment, non-resident hunters have a difficult time getting the most out of a duck hunt. With the help of a guide, you can go body booting in the famed Susquehanna Flats for canvasbacks, hunt in offshore blinds, call in flocks of mallard and black duck while bunkered down in flooded impoundments, or travel to our marsh islands for a specialized hunt that won’t soon be forgotten.

Novice hunters may find a Regulated Shooting Area (RSA) more suitable for their first time duck hunting in Maryland. A RSA is a tract of land, including any waters, on which the licensee may release and shoot captive-raised pheasant, bobwhite quail, chukar partridge, Hungarian partridge, and mallard ducks. Great for first-time bird hunters, RSAs offer a chance to hone their skills before heading out on a more difficult hunt. Visit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ website for a full list of RSAs in Maryland.

Maps and descriptions of Sea Duck and Offshore Waterfowl Hunting Zones are available from DNR Wildlife & Heritage Service Offices listed in Addresses & Phone Numbers. Nonresidents must be accompanied by a Maryland resident while hunting in designated waters.

Acquiring a hunting license in Maryland is easily done through DNR’s app, or through the application process online. Nonresident hunters seeking a Maryland hunting license can download the Hunting License Application & Instructions. DNR’s app is the easiest way to apply, register, and report a harvest with the push of a button.

A Regular Hunting License, Junior Hunting License, any Senior Hunting License, or a Nonresident (full term or short term) Hunting License is required to hunt migratory game birds in Maryland. All migratory game bird hunters, including those who are exempt from the hunting license requirement, must purchase a Maryland Migratory Game Bird Stamp. In addition, all waterfowl and coot hunters over the age of 15, including those who are exempt from the hunting license requirement, must purchase a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. See Licenses, Stamps, & Permits for other requirements, descriptions, prices, and availability of licenses, stamps, and permits.

Money generated from the sale of licenses goes directly to the conservation, protection, and preservation of Maryland’s natural habitat and cherished wildlife. Maryland DNR works tirelessly to maintain a healthy population of duck and the regulations needed to sustain hunting in Maryland. Changes in regulations, dates, and requirements vary year-to-year. Please check with DNR frequently for the most up-to-date information.