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


Utah Rocks: Adventures Among The Arches And The Rapids (Part I)

You know how it feels when you witness something so astonishingly exquisite and surreal it literally takes your breath away, and all you can do is gasp in amazement?

Oops. I Meant To Say, Whatever You Do, NEVER Try To Pose For A Selfie With Bear Cubs While Mama Grizzly Is Watching, And Other Corrections

• Alert readers have correctly pointed out a slight flaw in my instructions for the proper rock climbing command when you have unclipped from your rope. You should loudly announce, "Rappel off," not "On rappel."...

Use It Or Lose It: Trails Disappear If Nobody Hikes Them

Nature really hates a vacuum when it comes to paths.

Plunging Through Plum Gut And Bongo Sliding Through The Race In A Kayak: Maybe There Is Such A Thing As Too Much Fun

So a rabbi and a psychiatrist are kayaking in the ocean when a giant wave crashes over them and knocks the rabbi unconscious. The psychiatrist manages to pull the rabbi ashore, where he regains consciousness.

Once Again, Pink Gloves (Plus a Clever Signal) Help Save The Day At The Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon

"On your left!" Phil Warner shouted from the bow of a tandem kayak, racing toward a buoy during the paddle leg of last Sunday’s Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon in Lenox, Mass.

It's Swallow Time Again On The Connecticut River

Early Thursday evening was a magical time to paddle on the lower Connecticut River near Lyme.

Rocks In Their Heads Again: Another Bunch Of Idiots Knock Over An Ancient Stone Formation, This Time In Oregon

"Every now and again people do something so monumentally destructive, dimwitted and dishonorable it belongs in a class of disgracefulness normally reserved for trophy hunters ... It’s almost as if they wake up one morning and say to...

Who Needs Bug Zappers When Dragonflies Are On The Prowl?

Citronella candles, bug zappers, insecticides – people go to elaborate and often poisonous lengths to combat mosquitoes, deer flies and other nettlesome insects as we move into the steamy weeks of late summer, but I’ve been letting...

Life's A Beach: Eavesdropping In The Sand

"Sweetie, do you know what that is?" No response. "Look at that bird! You know what they call it?" Still no response. "It’s a seagull!"

Surf’s Up! Hanging Ten In A Kayak

All right, technically my buddy Spyros "Spy" Barres and I weren’t hanging 10 toes off the end off boards while riding waves at Westerly’s Fenway Beach on Thursday, but we were surfing.

I'm Always Chasing Rainbows

All of us who have ventured atop mountains, out to sea, or simply into a nearby park have occasionally faced Mother Nature’s wrath – a sudden thunderstorm, pounding blizzard, gale-force winds, locusts …

Loading Your Backpack: Less Is (Usually) More

Some years ago, preparing to hike the Hundred Mile Wilderness – the final stretch of the fabled Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, I stuffed my backpack with what I initially considered to be the absolute bare minimum for a week in...

Sun, Sun, Sun Here It Comes (Enough Already!)

When I was a kid, the Fourth of July was one of the year’s high holy days, right up there with Halloween and the last day of school, because that was when my parents took my sister and me to the beach for the annual fireworks...