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


Autumn Berries: A Succulent Reward During A Long Bike Ride

While biking through the hills and along the shore of Mystic and Stonington the other day with my friend Spyros "Spy" Barres and son Tom, I began to regret that I neglected to bring along a water bottle.

The Rites – And Wrongs – Of Autumn

It’s finally happened: I’ve grown so accustomed to the roar of the leaf blower that I now longer recoil and curse at the first sonic blast of fall, but simply shake my head and sigh.

Privacy/Preservation: The Roads Not Taken At Fishers Island And Other Enclaves

Imagine strolling to the tip of one of Connecticut’s most magnificent natural habitats, Bluff Point Coastal Reserve in Groton, and instead of gazing at tidal marshes, salt ponds and sweeping, unspoiled view of Fishers Island Sound,...

Part II: Serenity, Solitude And Soggy Socks In The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

When we last left Tom and Steve, they were paddling through muck and mire (though mostly sparkling water) in northeastern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Here is the second and final installment describing...

Serenity, Solitude And Soggy Socks In The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Gusty blasts that shook our tent during the night blew away thick clouds and rain showers, bringing morning sunshine that sparkled on Cherokee Lake when my son Tom and I crawled from sleeping bags last week.

The Continental Divide Trail: 'Overall It's Amazing, But You Have To Be OK With Getting Lost'

After tramping more than a month some 700 miles along the fabled Continental Divide Trail, Mystic native Hilary Sueoka and her boyfriend, Dan Stedman, who started hiking April 22 at the U.S.-Mexican border, finally rambled from the...

The Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon: Racing Is The Easy Part.

By the time Phil Warner and I hit the water in his lightning-fast tandem kayak last Sunday for our team’s leg in the Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon in Lenox, Mass., we had already spent a good part of the morning lugging gear...

There’s No Accounting For Taste When It Comes To Favorite Mountains, Or Tacos

En route to a hiking expedition in Nepal’s Himalayas a number of years ago, my wife and I took a detour to India and spent a day bouncing along on a bus from New Delhi to Agra to tour the Taj Mahal.

Mount McKinley Renamed Denali: Better Than Mount Reagan

Three cheers for the Obama Administration’s decision this week to officially restore the name of North America’s tallest mountain to Denali, which is what early inhabitants called the 20,310-foot peak in the Alaska Range.

The Endless Summer: Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Remember when you were a kid how your mom wouldn’t let you have ice cream every day even though nothing in the world tasted better on a hot day than a double scoop of butter crunch?