It’s duck season: Prime for hunting — and noise complaints in Portland

Photo of Cassandra Day

PORTLAND — Every year around this time, the pop of gunfire begins just before dawn, announcing the start of migratory bird hunting season in Connecticut — inevitably prompting queries and complaints on social media.

Mike Siena, of Portland, prepares everything ahead of time because the first season is only one week.

“You wait all year for this,” he said. “This is our time to shine. In September, I was setting up my truck, training with my dog, and cleaning guns, and making sure there are no holes in my waders.”

Hunters wear full camouflage because ducks can see color, he added.

Ducks are “very, very fast game,” he said, so hunting them requires quite a lot of preparation. “It’s not that you just show up and you randomly spot them. You can really, really simplify it if you want and get a gun and sit out in a swamp, and you’ll probably shoot a duck,” but serious enthusiasts bring decoys and other equipment.

Siena won’t even tell his friends where he’s going to avoid tipping them off to where he’s found a lot of birds. “When somebody asks me where I go hunting, I usually say ‘the woods.’

“As I’ve grown up in hunting, you realize no spot is a secret spot,” said Siena, who also hunts waterfowl at the sprawling Meshomasic State Forest.

“Portland is lucky because it has three sides of the Connecticut River, and, with that comes a lot of flood plains,” he said.

Early morning gunfire is sporadic, and, although non-hunters may think the sound is a nuisance, this is the optimal time to head out into the woods, Siena said.

“It might be still dark out, but first light is the shooting time. Ducks don’t go by the clock,” he said. “They go by the natural light available.”

In the morning, ducks travel from their roosting place, where they sleep, to where they’ll feed for the day. “All ducks do is sleep and eat,” Siena said. “That’s where they spend the majority of their day.”

This year, duck hunting season runs until Saturday, and again Nov. 11 to Jan. 11, when more fattened waterfowl are migrating south for the winter.

The state permits the hunting of ducks, mergansers (which are larger); and coots (a smaller bird) on state and private lands during those 13 weeks only.

Hunting is a loud sport

Every season, residents fill the Portland CT Community Facebook page with questions, bemoaning hunters’ early start. This week, one commenter asked about “crazy amounts of gunfire,” while another observed that it “must’ve been a whole lotta ducks, or some shotty shootin’!”

Siena admits the sound is “pretty loud,” and most hunters have to wear ear protection. “It sounds like a fighter jet flying through the air,” he said. “A lot of old duck hunters can’t hear. They’re fast and the wind is going through the wings. When they’re flying, it makes a faint whistling noise,” which hunters need to tune into.

First Selectwoman Susan Bransfield said she hasn’t fielded any complaints this year, but she’s seen myriad questions on Facebook wondering what is causing the noise.

Where they hunt

The Wagunk Meadows, which is part state and private land, are a popular hunting ground for duck, Bransfield said. “It’s certainly well-used.”

Sports shooters also hunt at the Portland Fairgrounds swamp area. Meshomasic State Forest is also another population location, said Siena who wishes he could hunt ducks every day during open season.

Hunters spend a lot of time scouting duck feeding areas. “You want to beat them to the spot. You have to put in time to make your luck,” Siena said.

When the colder weather sets in, he said, hunters will spot ducks flying from Canada, passing through on their way south.

The federal government, which regulates every migratory bird, oversees their hunting because they are interstate travelers, Siena said. It also sets limits on capture depending on the type of duck.

February is the time when the baby ducks are grown and there’s no chance they shoot ducklings, Siena said. “By that time, they are all able to survive on their own, flying and doing everything a normal duck does.”