If October is a month of transition, November is the month when we embrace the new season. Squirrels have been legal game for two months. The general firearms deer season will open in a week, and the duck and goose seasons will follow shortly behind. By the end of the month, the smallmouth and musky will be firmly in their wintering holes, and our trout and musky fisheries will be prime. Therein lies the dilemma.
As a devoted angler, I relish the opportunity to switch gears from a summer of smallmouth fishing to a months-long musky campaign, to quiet winter days in the mountains stalking trout. But the hunter and locavore in me yearns for the opportunity to acquire food—fill the freezer with a variety of game, and be a part of the process. There is only so much time, so many days, in the season, and it’s difficult for me to give up a day on the river.
Thankfully, the equally afflicted that came before us came up with the perfect solution to this dilemma—the “cast and blast.” The idea would come naturally to anyone floating down a river, watching meaty fox squirrels gnaw at walnuts along the riverbank, busting flocks of geese huddled on mid-river islands, and slowly swallowing the sometimes-monotonous grind of a musky hunt. But before you throw a shotgun in the boat and add a second objective to the day, there are a few things you need to know.
First off, it should be stated that all general hunting seasons, bag limits, and legal methods of harvest apply to hunts taking place from watercraft as they do to hunts occurring on land, including the need to attain landowner permission to harvest game from riparian landowners’ properties. However, there are some regulations that specifically apply to hunts from water.
The most common targets of cast and blasters are waterfowl, probably for the obvious reason that these tasty game birds congregate near water, but it’s worth knowing that there are other options. One of my favorite targets are also one of my favorite quarries on foot—squirrels, which often present opportunities while feeding in riparian walnut trees. The fact is, all game animals and birds except for deer can be legally hunted from a boat.
The important stipulation to this permission is that it is illegal to kill or cripple any nonmigratory game bird or animal and knowingly allow it to be wasted without making a reasonable effort to retrieve the game and retain it in possession. So, despite it being legal to shoot a bear from the water, you should only set out to harvest one if you have the intention and means to retrieve and possess the meat.
Shotguns are the obvious choice for those hunting waterfowl from a boat, but squirrel hunters who prefer .22 long rifles or air guns should take note. It is illegal to fire (or possess a loaded) rifle or pistol on or over public inland waters in Virginia. Licensed trappers may possess and use a rimfire .22 or pistol for the purpose of dispatching trapped animals, but shotguns are the cast-and-blaster’s best friend.
Furthermore, shotguns can’t be any larger than a 10 gauge, and must have a barrel length of at least 18 inches. Nonmigratory game birds cannot be hunted with shotguns capable of holding more than three shells at a time.
The many great rivers of the Commonwealth offer a bounty of opportunities to hunt from crafts moved by streamflow and guided by oars or paddles. But, should you choose to hunt from a boat outfitted with a motor, the motor must be completely shut off before shots are fired. It is furthermore illegal to use a motor-driven land, water, or air vehicle to corral or drive game.
Most public inland waters in Virginia permit hunting (as long as adjacent landowner permissions have been acquired). However, there are a handful of exceptions, including the portion of the New River surrounded by the Radford Arsenal, and the beat of the James River around Presquile National Wildlife Refuge. For a complete list of prohibited areas, consult the waterfowl hunting digest via the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (VDWR) website.
Hunting is also prohibited within 500 yards of a licensed stationary blind, unless permission is granted by the blind owner.
Before you toss a shotgun into the boat bag and set your sights on a meal of fresh game, consider these regulations and plan your hunt around them. Hunting from the river can add a spice of adventure to a regular cold-season float trip, and a welcome change of pace to classic sporting traditions.
*Originally published in The Rural Virginian