A-hunting We Will Go: Don't Shoot the Kayakers!

Any number of unwelcome sounds have sent icy shivers down my back while kayaking – a thunderclap, the roar of a waterfall just downstream, a ferry horn in fog, the wail of a patrol boat's siren when I've inadvertently strayed into forbidden waters – but when paddling the other day with a small group off the coast of Guilford in Long Island Sound an even more chilling blast jangled my nerves.

Bam! Bam! Bam! Unmistakably, shotgun fire.

Instinctively the four of us froze and silently mouthed, "Uh-oh…"

Normally in this kind of situation you hit the deck or run for cover – not an option when you're effectively a sitting duck almost four miles offshore.

As it turned out it's a good thing we weren't ducks, since apparently that's what the hunters were shooting at off Faulkner's Island, where we were heading.

"Hey, Phil, why don't you paddle up to those guys and tell them to hold off until we're out of range," I called over to my buddy, Phil Warner. Phil muttered something unprintable, and then he and I, along with our two companions, Robin Francis and Rusty Norton, drew our boats together to discuss our options.

We could see a small boat cloaked in camo about a quarter-mile ahead on the west side of the island, so we decided to steer to the east side.

It was a clear, unseasonably balmy day with calm seas that made us eminently visible, so we counted on the boating hunters to either hold their fire or shoot in another direction.

As we resumed paddling I gave my best Elmer Fudd imitation: "Be vewy, vewy quiet…"

Happily, we watched their vessel swing around and head for shore, so we gave a collective sigh of relief.

Turns out Connecticut allows hunting of sea ducks through Jan. 20, 2014, so keep that in mind if you're planning any offshore paddling in the next couple of months.

In fact, quite a few migratory birds are fair game at various times, including geese, woodcock, snipe, and rails, so to be safe consult the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection website site at www.ct.gov/deep/hunting.

We observed a few lucky ducks on our paddle, and Rusty spotted a loon, but the real treat came when we passed Faulkner's Island and approached a tiny rock pile called Goose Island – several harbor seals popped up only yards from our boats and followed us for a few minutes. Part of a migration from the Gulf of Maine and points north, these marine mammals populate much of the Sound – particularly the eastern end – throughout the winter.

When the seals swim north in the spring Goose Island become a rookery for double-crested cormorants.

Goose Island, only about three acres, is part of the Faulkner's archipelago, but we skipped landing there because the public is allowed ashore only once a year and we missed our opportunity by a couple months.

Faulkner's – also called Falkner and now part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge – was originally called Falcon Island, but it probably should be called Roseate Tern Island because one of the largest colonies in the Northeast nests there.

We paddled past Faulkner's 46-foot lighthouse, built in 1802 and commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson. For centuries it kept mariners off treacherous shoals; now most big vessels use electronic navigational aids to avoid disaster, while some adventurous paddlers deliberately steer for wild water.

"This is an incredible day for November," Rusty told me. "You should be out here when it's rough."

"Calm is good," I replied. Though it can be fun paddling among and surfing on big waves, when the water gets cold I'm happy for millpond conditions.

After a quick break for snacks we steered for shore and caught a glimpse of the camo boat at the public landing.

I considered calling, "Duck!" but held my tongue.

The hunters were within their legal rights to shoot at ducks off the island, and I'm sure they never fired in our direction, but I'd just as soon not feel as if it were open season on kayaks.

I'm sure the ducks feel the same way.

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

R.I.P. Cecil the Lion: Let's Make the Trophy Hunter an Endangered Species

The international outrage sparked by an American trophy hunter’s killing of Cecil, Zimbabwe’s beloved lion, justifiably vilifies the despicable practice of slaughtering wildlife for sport – but it also exposes the human...

All Who Wander Are Not Lost: Searching For The Elusive South Bog Stream In Rangeley, Maine

"Head for that tree stump," I instructed authoritatively one afternoon earlier this week, as if I knew for sure where we should be heading. I have learned to exude confidence when giving directions on any expedition, even...

Scott Jurek's 'Reward' For Breaking Appalachian Trail Speed Record: Three Summonses

When internationally celebrated speedster Scott Jurek scrambled last Sunday to the 5,269-foot summit of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, he broke the record for the fastest assisted hike of the 2,189-mile...

No Swimming at Seaside: What’s Next? No Hiking at Bluff Point?

Most of the time I’m reasonably scrupulous about abiding by government regulations.

Training For Mystic Sharkfest: The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Swimmer

Among the many benefits of active recreation is hanging out with friends – which of course you can do at a bar, pizza parlor or coffee shop, but since most of my pals prefer to spend their leisure time on the trail or water, we...

Stung By Wasps AND Suffering From Lyme Disease: I Can't Catch A Break

You know that funny, itchy feeling when something is crawling around or worse, lodged where it doesn’t belong?

Which Is Worse: Getting Devoured By A Grizzly Bear Or A Great White Shark?

During years of roaming hither and yon on land and sea, I’ve been chased by a grizzly bear, nearly trampled by stampeding yaks, charged by a bull, attacked by swarms of hornets and almost struck by a copperhead – but what...

A Whitewater Dream Taking Shape in Willimantic

Asked to name the best whitewater kayaking and canoeing stretches in Connecticut, most paddlers would single out a gnarly, 2.6-mile section of Class IV rapids on the Housatonic River from Bulls Bridge Dam to Gaylordville, or Diana's Pool...

My War With Canada Geese

Years ago I looked forward to autumn, not so much for the kaleidoscopic foliage but because the evening serenade of migrating Canada geese that lulled me to sleep.

Take A Hike Or A Paddle June 6-7 During Connecticut Trails Weekend

In a culture that celebrates virtually every pastime and passion – from National Kazoo Day Jan. 28 to Public Sleeping Day Feb. 28 to Moldy Cheese Day Oct. 9 – we outdoor enthusiasts finally get our day in the sun on June 6,...

A Fourth Straight Victory At The Essex Boat Race in Massachusetts: Paddling In A Small Division Pays Off

As Ian Frenkel and I paddled exuberantly toward the finish line last Saturday at the Essex River Race in Essex, Mass., I thought about what it had taken to pull off our fourth consecutive tandem sea kayaking victory.

Hiking The Continental Divide Trail From Mexico To Canada: 'It Is Fun Even When It's Miserable'

Applying the ancient Chinese proverb, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," Mystic native Hilary Sueoka and her boyfriend, Dan Stedman, should have taken three steps April 22 when they set out on their...

Turtles And Osprey And Otters, Oh My – So Much To See By Kayak

The turtle has an ill-deserved reputation for lethargy.