Hunting in Kent County
There’s a thrill when you see it—when there are so many geese sweeping down on a marsh, their calls can be deafening, and their wings eclipse the sky. The expanses of river marsh and fields that make up the bulk of Kent County are right along the Atlantic flyway, a migratory funnel that siphons 29 species of waterfowl including geese, ducks and swans by the thousands. These birds fly up to 1,600 miles from their Arctic breeding grounds to here, where they spend the relatively mild winter feeding on underwater grasses, clams, mussels and fields of corn.
In 1666, an Englishman named George Alsop wrote about his experience in Maryland as an indentured servant under contract to serve his master for four years to pay off his passage from England. The waterfowl were so abundant, he wrote, “There was such an incessant clattering made with their wings on the water where they rose, and such a noise of those flying higher up that it was as if we were all the time surrounded by a whirlwind.”
Now, nearly four centuries later, sportsmen and women from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region flock to Kent County to continue the tradition of hunting since this area provides not only ample game, open fields, forests and marshes to hunt, but local expertise to guide the hunters to the prime hunting grounds.
Wayne Gatling is one of the many professional guides available in Kent County. “I was born and raised in Rock Hall,” says the outdoorsman. “I started guiding when I was 19; this is what I’ve done my entire life.
His regular clients come from all over the East Coast, including Pennsylvania, Baltimore, North Carolina and Virginia. Gatling provides the full experience in hunting ducks and geese, from grooming the cornfields to placing the decoys to calling in the birds and providing the Labradors to retrieve the game. “We even have a picking operation in town,” he says. “They pick them and when they’re done, it looks like a Christmas turkey.” So his clients can take their harvest home, fit for a banquet.
Guides are perhaps some of the best and most dedicated conservationists. “We manage our properties so they’re not over shot,” Gatling explains.
Kate Livie, an author and historian from Chestertown, wrote about the value of the sport of hunting to the conservation of natural resources in an article published by the Bay Journal News Service.
“This prominent reaping of waterfowl is not a violation of the environment at all,” she wrote. “These hunters, the licenses they buy for the privilege of harvesting waterfowl and the preservation organizations they support, represent arguably one of the best-managed, best-funded and oldest conservation programs in North America.”
Livie noted that prior to the strict enforcement laws enacted in 1918, “market hunters” would use huge, cannon-like shotguns to slaughter waterfowl by the thousands to provide feathers to decorate ladies’ hats or to provide meat for patrons dining at fancy restaurants.
“Since then, the harvest of Chesapeake waterfowl has been closely managed by strict bag limits and restrictions on hunting tools, gear, blinds and boats,” Livie wrote. “Some species, like swans in Maryland, have been removed from harvest altogether. Others, like Canada geese, have had long-term protective moratoriums over the years. But all are closely supervised by federal and state agencies that monitor the bird populations and dictate the number that can be taken annually.”
The strict management of these precious natural resources has worked well.
“Experts from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service counted more ducks, geese and swans in its aerial surveys (in 2017) than in 2016, resulting in a nearly 23 percent increase in the results of the annual survey,” reported by Stephanie Smith, the web content manager for the Chesapeake Bay Program. This article was published in the Bay Journal.
“Marshes, mudflats and shorelines—which offer plenty of fish, underwater grasses and aquatic invertebrates to feast on—make the Bay region a perfect winter stopover for migrating waterfowl,” Smith added.
But hunting in Kent County isn’t just about ducks and geese. There are plenty of opportunities to pursue upland game birds like doves, quail and turkeys, not to mention deer.
The Millington Wildlife Management Area is open for hunting during all established seasons. This 4,000-acre parcel is located in eastern Kent County and consists of hardwood forests with some pine stands, various types of wetlands, fallow-managed fields, meadow plantings and open agricultural fields. The land in Millington has a rich history and was once the home of the Lenni Lenape Native Americans. Millington fulfills several roles in managing natural resources, from protecting several endangered species of plants and animals to providing hunting and outdoor recreation to demonstrating wildlife management techniques. Migratory Canada Goose and spring turkey hunters must obtain a free Central Region Public Hunting Permit and reservation through the department's Gwynnbrook office (410-356-9272).
The Maryland Park Service oversees the Sassafras Natural Resources Management Area located along the scenic banks of the Sassafras River and Turner's Creek. Sassafras NRMA provides prime opportunities for hunting White-Tailed Deer during most of the legal hunting seasons. Small game species abound during a limited season. Waterfowl hunting from blinds is available via a lottery. Applications and information are available in the Maryland Hunting Guide or by calling the park office at 410-820-1668.
Another treasured hunting ground of Kent County sits on an island at the mouth of the Chester River. Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge boasts 2,285 acres of brackish marsh, natural ponds, upland forest, and grasslands where you can hunt for deer in the fall. Deer hunt brochures and applications are available mid-summer. Please contact the refuge office at 410-639-7056 for details. The refuge also hosts a spring youth turkey hunt.
And there are plenty of other resources to make a hunting excursion a pleasant and plentiful experience. Molly’s Place in Kennedyville is a full-service sporting goods store with a wide array of hunting supplies, clothing, decoys, game calls, and boots—in short, everything any hunter needs for any kind of hunting expedition. Molly's Restaurant welcomes hunters to the area with a rich array of farm-fresh cuisine and tasty delicacies.
Overnight amenities range from historic inns and bed-and-breakfast to moderately priced motels and hotels; all located within a 20-minute drive from any of Kent County’s hunting grounds.
Hunting is a part of the culture throughout Kent County. Decoy carvings have transcended from the utilitarian to become an art form in itself. The Betterton Heritage Museum, in the old church at the top of the hill above the beach, has a collection of decoys carved by the world-renowned local craftsman Charles “Speed” Joiner, one of many such exhibits at museums throughout the county.
Ready to hunt? Here are some resources to help you plan your hunting excursion in Kent County:
Accommodations and visitor information:
Information on Hunting Seasons & Regulations:
Hunting calendar 2020-2021:
For first-time hunters:
Public Land for Hunting:
Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge: