Living on Revere Beach or near the Rumney Marsh, there are a lot of unexpected surprises that emerge from nature and such things that go along with a serene landscape.
For example, there are coyotes on the Marsh.
People on the Beach occasionally see Bald Eagles.
But one might not expect quiet winter mornings on the Beach being punctuated by the occasional shotgun blast. That, however, is precisely what many residents on the Beach and those who abut the Marshes hear during duck season – which stretches from October through January and brings scores of hunters to the area for a prized Common Eider, Atlantic Brant or Scoter.
Since Colonial times, duck hunters have flocked to the shores of Revere Beach and into the marshes. Today’s hunters are still protected by laws drafted during that same Colonial period ensuring access to hunting and fishing grounds in tidal areas. Nevertheless, as hunting has waned locally in popularity and Revere has become less country and more urban, hunters and residents of the city’s coastline have had a much more difficult time sharing space.
“I am never looking to hurt the people who like to do this as a sport, but there is a difference between urban and rural areas,” said State Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein, who annually files a bill to try to ban the hunters from Revere, though it has never gone anywhere. “We’re very urban here now and have been built up with a lot of homes near the hunting areas. It’s not the old Rumney Marsh now. I respect the old laws put in place, but we have to move with the times. Revere hasn’t been that place for a long time.”
Adam Smith, on the contrary, has run a hunting guide service – called Perfect Limit – off of Revere for more than 20 years and knows the duck hunting areas here better than anyone in the Commonwealth.
He told the Journal that his clients come from as far away as South Africa to hunt ducks in Revere waters. Apparently, while the local sea ducks seem commonplace to those who have lived her for a lifetime, they are quite rare and prized to duck hunters from other ends of the Earth.
“There are people who come from all over the world to shoot these particular ducks,” he said in an interview on Monday. “I have had people from South Africa. I had a group this fall from the Island of Malta, two groups from France and one group from England. They come from everywhere…These are collectors that want to have the perfect collection of all North American waterfowl. To get the perfect collection, you have to come here because these ducks are not everywhere. They want to shoot the ducks, take them to a taxidermist, have them stuffed and then put them on their walls.”
Add that to the fact that ducks are a challenging bird to hunt, and you get a sport that draws great interest.
“Ducks have always been a very huntable bird because of the challenge,” he said. “They’re not the easiest things in the world to hit.”
The particular ducks that are so prized are the Eider, the Scoter and the Atlantic Brant. All are migratory ducks that come from Quebec and Nova Scotia and have learned over the centuries that Revere is a great place for a guaranteed meal and a few months of respite.
“The reason for all the ducks on Revere Beach is they’re finding something to eat there and they remember that and come back year after year,” he said. “What they’re finding is the immature sea clams and there are a lot of those around here.”
The laws allowing hunting in this area have, in fact, survived from the Colonial era and were put in place to ensure that the general public could not be excluded from having access to the ocean and, consequently, could not be excluded from taking food from those same waters. Basically, the old law says that any area where tides come in or out is protected for the public for the purposes of fishing, general access and fowling.
This has been a matter of fact that some Revere residents – particularly those in the Riverside and Point of Pines areas – have begrudgingly accepted as the laws have been tested and retested for years without any changes.
“The Colonial Ordinance is something that has been looked at by the courts no fewer than 20 times and each time it has been decided in favor of the hunters,” said Smith. “The judges will not even look at it anymore.”
Another law, though, which has not been tested is the Hunter Harassment Law. That law, Smith said, is about to be tested and involves a battle between the duck hunters and condo residents on Revere Beach, who in larger numbers are growing to dislike the barges and boats hunting within eyesight and earshot.
The Harassment Law sprung from a situation where deer hunters were getting their vehicles vandalized while on a special deer hunt sponsored by the state in the Quabbin Reservoir – a hunt that was to eliminate the burgeoning deer populations that were beginning to threaten the area’s largest water supply. Nevertheless, many were offended and attacked the property of the hunters.
That ignited an effort – ironically led by two prominent hunting clubs based in Revere – to pass the Law. It states that a person can complain once to the authorities, and if the source of their complaint is a legal hunting activity, then they cannot complain again or they risk being arrested for harassment.
Smith’s recent troubles started on Jan. 12th when – in an unprecedented move – the State Environmental Police wrote him a ticket for shooting live birds from a moving vehicle. State law prevents the hunters from shooting while the boats and barges are moving. They can only retrieve the ducks using engine power once they are shot. Smith said he always follows that rule.
“That law has never been tested, but it’s about to be,” he said. “The people in the condos on Revere Beach are complaining to the Environmental Police officer and driving him crazy. He actually wrote me a ticket that should have never been written. He wrote that ticket to get them off his back. I believe it will be thrown out immediately, no argument.”
Reinstein said she doesn’t want to make hunters upset, but she sympathizes with the residents – noting that she has received tons of video from Beach residents of the hunters’ near-daily excursions.
“Where people are hearing these gunshots near their homes, they are concerned about their safety and that of their children and pets,” said Reinstein. “I have to be responsive to my constituents and this is an issue for them. Each year I get a call asking me to look into this and to file the bill again.”
Smith said he understands that the shooting can put nearby residents on the alert, but he assures everyone that there is zero chance of anyone being hit.
Certainly, about 10 years ago and many years prior, there were verified stories and police reports of residents abutting the marsh having their house siding pelted with lead shotgun pellets. There have been other stories as well about stray blasts infringing on those walking the Beach. That, Smith said, is a thing of the past due to the fact that technology has changed the shotgun ammunition.
“The type of ammunition that is used now for hunting these ducks has half the velocity of the old lead shot,” he said. “On occasion, when someone has come up from nearby and complained to me, I just give them my gun and tell them that I’m going to walk 100 yards away from them and let them shoot right at me. Nothing will happen to me because it will not travel that far. We have laws saying you cannot discharge a firearm within 500 feet of a dwelling and we don’t do that. People who see us out there have zero chance of getting hit.”
Tom O’Shea, assistant director of wildlife in the state’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, said Smith and other duck hunters are heavily regulated and performing a legitimate activity on the state’s waterways.
He said that the duck season here stretches from October to Jan. 31st – just now concluding. Another Canadian Goose season continues until Feb. 15th. He said state and federal laws cover duck hunting regulations. Hunters have to be licensed by the state and have to get a ‘duck stamp’ from his division and the feds. Additionally, they have to have permits to carry a firearm and have to abide by all of the requirements related to discharging a firearm more than 500 feet from a dwelling. They also may not go past the high tide mark on the shore to conduct the hunting.
He added that the newer ammunition also adds additional safety for the environment and for those nearby the hunters – even though residents might still be able to hear the guns firing.
All in all, O’Shea said balancing the rights of the hunters and the rights of residents is about respecting one another.
“I think as long as people understand that hunting is a legitimate activity where people are licensed and have permission to be on the property they’re on and are following state statutes, the rest is having respect for each other,” he said. “It’s about the hunters being respectful of the property owners, the residents and minimizing impacts to property. It’s also about the property owners [and residents] respecting that the hunters have a right – as long as they are licensed – to perform this legitimate activity.
“We have close to 65,000 hunters in the state and the vast majority hunt without incident,” he continued. “I don’t see a conflict. I think it’s a legitimate activity. We have setbacks for a reason and that buffer is for the general public.”
Concluded Smith, “We follow the ducks. They will be here next year. These ducks are no going to forget there’s something to eat on Revere Beach.”