BRADENTON – As duck hunters prepare for the opening of season on Nov. 23, they say they want to assure residents surrounding Perico, Neal and Robinson Preserves that they are not at risk.
Last season, and during this year’s early nine-day season in September, preserve neighbors complained to Manatee County commissioners about safety concerns after hearing gunshots at dawn and dusk.
“It ruffles my feathers,” said Polk County resident Travis Thompson, a waterfowl guide, charter fishing captain, host of a podcast and an occasional hunter at Perico Preserve.
“I’m not going to shoot across their house, but I didn’t ask them to build their house there, either,” he said, pointing to increasing development as the problem at the root of what some call incompatible land uses.
“The contention we’re feeling is the development encroaching on wild places,” he said.
Coastal areas, including the perimeters of county preserves bordered by residential developments, attract ducks and duck hunters. But hunters who follow the rules are not placing residents at risk, Thompson said.
“There is some concern about a stray bullet hurting someone. I understand someone being scared when they hear gunfire. But waterfowl hunters are bound by law to steel shot, which loses its efficacy at 60 yards,” unlike a bullet from a rifle, he said. “On a migratory species, you are constrained to only having three shells in your gun.”
If hunters are not following the rules or are shooting over their homes, people should report them to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) or local law enforcement, he said.
“I understand that people who live near the water do not like to be woken by gunshots,” Tampa duck hunter Peter Arcuri agreed. “The thing is though, that even though they live close to the water, they do not own the water. The general public owns the water. Duck hunters are free to duck hunt on public water just as much as fishers are allowed to fish, jet skiers are allowed to jet ski, and so on and so forth. People have been duck hunting in these waters for years; long before houses and apartments were ever there. Someone could say, ‘Why can’t you just go someplace more secluded? Why do you have to hunt right next to a neighborhood?’ Trust me, all hunters would love to hunt someplace more secluded, but those places are getting more and more hard to come by in Florida. 1,000 people move to Florida a day and developers are doing all they can to develop every square inch of our state. People that move here and live on the water need to understand that duck hunting, as long as it’s done in a safe and legal manner, is something that will continue to take place on public water.”
Hunters also contribute to the survival of native duck species, Thompson said.
“Hunters love ducks more than anybody,” he said, adding that they must purchase state and federal stamps to hunt, which fund wildlife management efforts.
And hunters target feral mallard ducks in preserve areas, a non-native species that otherwise could take over the native mottled duck population, he said.
“A lot of hunters are in tune with the environment, and through their fees they pay for environmental work,” agreed Ann Paul, a biologist with Audubon’s Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries.
“We live in a much more highly, densely developed area than we ever have before, and I think local leaders need to take this up to make sure that people are safe while providing opportunities for hunters,” she said. “We need to find the right balance for today’s world.”
Thompson suggests that all who share coastal areas avoid “demonizing” each other.
“One-sixth of the year you might hear a gunshot at sunset,” he said. “Look at the grand scheme of things. That hunter’s family may have been hunting there for 50 years.”
The next duck season is Nov. 23 through Dec. 1, followed by Dec. 7 through Jan. 26, according to the FWC.