'You don't mess with the duck police'

By Cody Calamaio
The Gazette
Thursday, February 3, 2011

Barbara Brown knows that waterfowl hunting season has begun when the sound of gunfire interrupts her Saturday slumber.

Brown, 65, lives on Admirals Way in Potomac, near the C&O Canal National Historic Park, in a house she had thought was far enough south of the legal hunting zone to avoid hearing shotgun blasts. Her home sits just inside a boundary that designates the urban area in which it is illegal to discharge a firearm for hunting, according to Montgomery County's weapons law.

Despite that boundary, police continue to cite people for hunting waterfowl within the urban area near the Potomac River. Officials say their main reason for enforcing the law along the river is to preclude hunters from accidentally shooting someone.

With the extension of the hunting season into early spring, Brown said, she is concerned that hunters might clash with kayakers or others enjoying the river.

Waterfowl usually are hunted with a 12-gauge shotgun, which has a range of about 40 yards, said Larry Hindman, waterfowl project leader with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

National Resources police, who patrol the river, have charged four hunters with discharging a firearm below the boundary line this winter, spokesman Sgt. Brian Albert said. Police charge an average of four to six hunters a year.

The department estimates that 300 to 400 people hunt waterfowl on the Potomac in Montgomery every year. The hunting season varies by type of game and location but is concentrated from November to January.

Waterfowl hunting from boats is legal north of the Watts Branch tributary on the Potomac, Albert said. Hunters could receive a warning if they say they did not know about the boundary.

The penalty for discharging a firearm in an urban area is six months in prison or a $1,000 fine, Albert said. The urban area encompasses the densely populated regions of the county roughly bordering Watts Branch on the Potomac to the south, Germantown and Montgomery Village to the north and the border with Prince George's County and the District in the east.

The Potomac isn't a popular place to hunt ducks and geese, said Larry Hindman, waterfowl project leader with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

"Most people who hunt the river understand that they cannot hunt below that line," he said.

Waterfowl hunters usually abide by hunting laws because they have too much time and money invested in the sport to risk losing their license, said Scott Barmby, owner of Black Duck Outfitters in New Market, which guides group waterfowl hunts in Maryland, North Dakota and Canada.

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