October 5, 2009
The Wings of Autumn
Fulton resident Dave Rath bagged these birds near one of Oswego County's many wetland areas.
Anybody who knows anything about the Northeast's outdoors knows Oswego County boasts the best fishing in the country. But fish aren't the only critters that rely on water for a living. Migratory waterfowl use it, too. And when autumn stirs the urge to fly south into their bird brains, massive quantities take the flight path over Oswego County, making it the most hunter-friendly place under the Atlantic Flyway.
You see, Oswego County enjoys the most important ingredient in fowl hunting: location. Like an island, there's water in every direction. The county wraps around Lake Ontario's southeastern corner. Oneida Lake and River lap its south shore. The Oswego River runs the length of its west side. Even its relatively dry east side is watered by the Salmon River, numerous lesser streams, reservoirs, lakes and ponds.
While the abundance of clean water alone draws enough birds in autumn to fill an avid hunter's fantasies to the bursting point, Oswego County has another, equally important thing going for it: fowl food. Swamps, lowlands, agricultural fields and all manner of productive habitats keep waterfowl around until winter's ice and snow bury the crops beyond reach. This cornucopia endows the place with the longest productive hunting in the state.
Finally, the human element comes into play. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is charged with enhancing the state's wildlife. And it does its job particularly well in Oswego County.
The proof is in the county's state forests and state wildlife management areas. Not only does the DEC improve habitats through clear cutting, building ponds, planting mast crops, and similar projects, it keeps things in balance by providing access sites to one of its most important wildlife management tools, hunters. From the Deer Creek Wildlife Management Area on the shore of Lake Ontario to the Three Mile Bay and Big Bay WMA on Oneida Lake and the inland Happy Valley WMA, the department has built easy access--with parking--to some of the best duck haunts around.
Without a doubt, the best places to go to get the most duck and goose for your hunting dollar are the WMAs on Lakes Ontario and Oneida where you can hunt diving ducks, dabblers (aka puddle ducks) and even Canada and Snow Geese.
Bear in mind that Oswego County's big waters fall into the Northeast Zone, the first to open to hunting. As a result, according to Tom Bill, a senior wildlife biologist with the DEC, “the hunting is good but it gets a lot of pressure from out-of-region hunters.”
A good way to avoid crowding in the early weeks is to find secluded ponds and small lakes. Bell suggests “hunt the creeks and man-made and beaver ponds in Happy Valley WMA.” The 8,600-plus acre preserve is located between NYS Route 104 in the towns of Albion and Williamstown, and County Route 26 in the towns of Parish and Amboy.
And then there's always the Oswego and Oneida River. Both have islands, stretches of undeveloped shoreline, and, most important of all, swamps.
Straddling the line between the northeastern and western waterfowl hunting zones, Oswego County offers more open duck and goose shooting than the vast majority of counties. Just think of the hunting satisfaction you'll enjoy by starting in the earliest season and hunting way into next year.
Waterfowl hunting seasons weren't set when the New York State hunting guide was published. For a list of the seasons go to http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/28888.html
If you need details on the locations of the northeastern and western zones, call 607-753-3095.
Spider Rybaak is an award-winning outdoor writer who has been published in more than 20 periodicals. He is the author of “Fishing Eastern New York” and “Fishing Western New York” guide books that cover 429 streams and lakes in New York State. Contact him by . Check out his blog.
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