Fairfield's shoreline fair game for hunters in winter
In winter, amateur photographers visit Fairfield's shoreline to shoot icy seascapes, or using the stark vistas as a backdrop for other pictures.
But amateur shutterbugs aren't the only ones aiming and shooting on town beaches this winter.
Hunters also are walking the shoreline during the winter waterfowl hunting season. And with Connecticut situated along a major fly route for ducks and other waterfowl, birds are plentiful, hunters say.
While people wearing camouflage clothing and toting guns may surprise the average dog walker or couple out for some exercise, the hunters have a right to be there, officials say, as long as they obey state regulations.
And it would seem most do. First Selectman Kenneth Flatto last week said his office has never received a complaint about a waterfowl hunter.
The town's most popular coastal hunting spots , according to Conservation Director Thomas Steinke, include Penfield Reef, Sasco Beach, Sunken Island and the area near St. Mary's by the Sea.
Chris Samor, president of the Connecticut Waterfowl Association, grew up hunting with his father in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport and the abutting waters of Fairfield. He said Connecticut and other parts of New England are unique in their diversity of waterfowl.
"In the winter, you could shoot 20 to 30 different species of ducks," he said.
The region, Samor said, is on one of the nation's major flyways for birds. "And you'll get birds coming down from Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick. Connecticut has a lot to offer these birds."
Waterfowl hunting regulations vary depending on the body of water, the prey and the location, according to Sgt. Ray Ramos of the state Environmental Conservation Police
At bodies of water influenced by tides, hunters may not fire their guns within 250 feet of any building occupied by humans or domestic animals or where flammable materials are stored. For other bodies of water, the distance is 500 feet, Ramos said.
In Fairfield, Interstate 95 is the dividing line between a south zone and a north zone, according to Ramos. Fairfield is divided into two hunting zones: a zone on the north side of I-95 and a south zone along the coastal side of the highway. And the seasons for various birds are different in each zone.
Hunting times for most waterfowl are typically a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour before sunset. Waterfowl hunters may camouflage themselves if they remain in a stationary location, but those who move around must wear bright orange. Shotguns are the only firearms permitted.
It might surprise some people that coastal hunters can fire inland, provided they observe the rules for distance from occupied buildings.
"If you choose to hunt in areas in the public eye," Ramos said, "you must exercise unquestioned ethical hunting practices, avoid conflicts with other users of the resource, and use common sense."
The waterfowl association's Samor said daily limits on ducks have variables.
Basically, the limit is ducks per day. But only four can be Mallards, and of them, only two can be female. Of the six, only one can be a Black Duck.
"There are species-specific management plans," he added.
When it comes to Gadwalls though, it's a different story. You can shoot six in one day, as they are plentiful.
Sunken Island, Samor noted, is a big area for Mallards and Black Ducks.
Many duck hunters like to hunt from boats, often amid marshes, and employ "layout blinds" to better blend into their environment, Ramos said.
But when in small areas, such as a pond or a slow-moving stream, hunters often use a method called "jumpshooting," whereby they attract ducks with decoys, they move up on them to get them to fly.
Hunters have to retrieve anything they shoot.
Ramos said most hunters eat what they kill. Many eat their birds at home with family, donate the meat to area soup kitchens or feast upon what they've bagged at fish-and-game club dinners.
Species have different tastes, Samor said, and for those lower on the taste chart "one can always get creative with the preparation."