Photo of Duck Hunter at Sunset courtesy of Larry Hindman - Wildlife & Heritage Service

A Guide to Maryland’s Laws and Regulations Related to Offshore Waterfowl Hunting

Introduction

Maryland's history and tradition of waterfowl hunting is as rich as any in the nation. No article on the early days of waterfowling is complete without mention of the Chesapeake region and places such as the Susquehanna Flats. The Maryland General Assembly passed the first state law concerning waterfowl hunting in 1833. Since then, numerous state laws and regulations have been passed to address hunting on the public waters of the state, often referred to as "offshore".

Unfortunately, many of these rules are difficult to interpret or even find, particularly if you are new to the state. The purpose of this summary is to provide a reference for landowners, waterfowl hunters and other interested citizens regarding the laws related to licensing offshore blinds and shoreline. If you have questions, please contact the Wildlife and Heritage Service at 410-260-8540. We also provide references to the specific laws governing these activities in Appendix 1.

Organization of this Guide

This document is organized by the types of offshore waterfowl hunting allowed in public waters of the state:

  1. Licensing Riparian Shoreline to establish a stationary blind or blind site.
  2. Hunting from an Anchored Boat
  3. Hunting while Standing on the Natural Bottom
  4. Hunting from a Boat that is Drifting or Being Paddled

Definitions

The following definitions apply to terms used in the text:

  1. Boat.- "Boat" includes any raft, canoe, floating blind, skiff, or other floating device.
  2. Offshore.- "Offshore" means any place on waters of the State below the mean high tide mark on tidal waters or below the mean high water mark on nontidal waters.
  3. Offshore blind. - “Offshore blind” means either an offshore blind site or an offshore stationary blind.
  4. Offshore blind site.- "Offshore blind site" means a specific location in the water where a person may hunt wild waterfowl from a boat that is tied to or anchored at a stake which has been licensed.
  5. Offshore stationary blind.- "Offshore stationary blind" means an offshore structure built on pilings or stakes that has been licensed and used for hunting wild waterfowl.
  6. Riparian landowner – “Riparian landowner” means a person who owns riparian (i.e., waterfront) property, or an assign or lessee of that person.

Licensing Riparian Shoreline to Establish Offshore Stationary Blinds or Blind Sites

Offshore stationary blinds and blind sites (see Definitions) may be located in public waters adjacent to licensed riparian shoreline in most areas of the state. These locations are licensed by the Department of Natural Resources. There are some parts of the state where no licensing may take place  (see Appendix 2 for area descriptions).

Licensing for Riparian Landowners

Any person owning riparian property in Maryland may license their shoreline, regardless of their state of residency. Persons owning property in Virginia that is adjacent to the tidal waters of the Potomac River may also license their shoreline. A riparian landowner may lease or assign their rights to license their riparian shoreline and establish offshore blinds. Any riparian landowner, regardless of how much shoreline they own, may license their shoreline to prevent the shoreline from being licensed at a later date by someone else. Once a stretch of shoreline is licensed, no other person may receive a license for the same shoreline, whether or not the original licensee establishes a stationary blind or blind site.

Riparian landowners wishing to establish an offshore blind must either own at least 250 yards of continuous shoreline or they must have written permission from adjoining neighbors to total at least 250 yards of continuous shoreline, except that a riparian landowner who does not own or have written permission for shoreline totaling at least 250 yards may still establish a blind site (but not a stationary blind) if no other shoreline is licensed within 125 yards of the blind site. If an applicant submits an application and the location of the blind fails to meet the 125-yard test, the shoreline will still be licensed only. There are some parts of the state in Baltimore and Kent Counties where no licensing may take place  (see Appendix 2 for area descriptions).

Conflict Among Applicants
In rare cases, conflicts may occur between applicants, usually because proposed stationary blinds or blind sites are too close. The Department will attempt to resolve such conflicts through negotiation. When they cannot be resolved, the applicant applying first shall prevail. If both applications arrive in the mail on the same day a coin toss shall determine which applicant shall prevail. The applicants may be present for the coin toss.

Requirements for Landowner's Offshore Blinds

Distance Between Offshore Blinds
Offshore stationary blinds and blind sites must be at least 250 yards apart from each other. Stationary blinds and blind sites must be at least 150 yards from any dwelling, unless the licensee has the written permission of the owner of the house.

Distance from Adjacent Landowners
For applicants with at least 250 yards of shoreline, offshore blinds must also be located at least 125 yards from the property line of adjoining landowners. So for example, if a licensee owned exactly 250 yards of riparian shoreline, a stationary blind or blind site would have to be located midway between the licensee's property lines. In the case of a small landowner (one who does not own or have written permission from adjoining neighbors totaling 250 yards), the blind site must be at least 125 yards from the nearest licensed shoreline.

Distance from Shore
Relative to the licensed shoreline, stationary blinds and blind sites must generally be located within 300 yards of the shoreline or one-third the distance to the opposite shore, whichever is less. If, for example, a creek is 600 yards wide, a licensee may not place a stationary blind or blind site more than 200 yards out in the creek from the licensed shoreline. An exception to the distance from shore rule, is that in the Chesapeake Bay in Anne Arundel and Calvert Counties, and in Prospect Bay in Queen Anne's County, stationary blinds and blind sites may be up to 800 yards from the shoreline.

Offshore Blind Marking Requirements
Both stationary blinds and blind sites must be marked. Offshore stationary blinds must be marked with the licensee's name and license number and marked on each side with at least 100 square inches of clearly visible reflective material attached to the stationary blind at least 3 feet above the high water mark. Offshore blind sites must be marked by a stake or buoy showing the licensee's name and license number.

The blind site stake must be marked on all sides with reflective material at least 4 inches wide located at least 3 feet above the high water mark. The requirement for reflective material on stationary blinds and blind sites is not in effect while the stationary blind or blind site is actually being used for hunting.

Hunting While Standing on Natural Bottom
Most hunting from licensed blind sites is done from a boat that is tied or anchored at the stake marking the blind site. However, hunters may also stand on the natural bottom at the stake marking the blind site. A licensee who allows another person to use a licensed stationary blind or blind site should provide the person with a copy of the license.

Possession of License Required
A licensee who allows another person to use a licensed stationary blind or blind site must provide the person with a copy of the license.

Any hunter or group of hunters hunting at a licensed stationary blind or blind site must possess at least one copy of the license issued by the Department for the site.

What if I miss the June 1st Deadline?
Landowners who miss the June 1st deadline for offshore blind and shoreline licensing may participate in the "open" licensing process that begins on the first Tuesday in August (or before, as scheduled by the Department). At this time, any resident of the state may apply in person to license up to 2 blind sites per day, if 250 yards of unlicensed shoreline exists and the site is 250 yards away from any already licensed offshore blinds. Landowners may license their entire shoreline during this time, under one license, if it has not been "divided" by a nonlandowner license. If it has been "divided", each segment will have to be licensed separately.

For the first two days of the licensing period, licenses can be obtained at an office established by the Department in each county. After the first 2 days, licenses must be obtained from the Department of Natural Resources Licensing and Registration Service Center that is handling the county for which you wish to obtain a license. A list of the offices and dates for licensing can be obtained by calling the Department at 410-260-8540. In Kent and Queen Anne's County and on the nontidal waters of the Potomac River and the tributaries to the nontidal portion of the Potomac River, only riparian landowners may license offshore blinds.

Licensing for Resident Nonlandowners

The law establishes that the owners of a particular stretch of shoreline have the first opportunity to license that shoreline and to locate an offshore stationary blind or blind site adjacent to the licensed shoreline, consistent with other requirements. The licensing period for landowners ends on June 1. By July 15, the Department is required to have maps available, in offices designated by the Department, showing the shoreline that is licensed to landowners. Note that there are areas of the state where no licensing may occur (see exceptions in Appendix 2.)

Licensing Procedures for Resident Nonlandowners

Beginning on August 1 (or thereabouts), any resident of the state may apply in person to license up to 2 blind sites per day. For the first two days of the licensing period, licenses can be obtained at an office established by the Department in each county where persons other than the landowner may license shoreline (commonly referred to as squatters). After the first 2 days, blind site licenses must be obtained from the Department of Natural Resources Licensing and Registration Service Center that is handling the county for which you wish to obtain a license. A list of the offices and dates for licensing can be obtained by calling the Department at 410-260-8540. In Kent and Queen Anne’s County and on the nontidal waters of the Potomac River and the tributaries to the nontidal portion of the Potomac River, only riparian landowners may license blind sites.

Each license issued to a nonlandowner applies to 250 yards of shoreline, with the blind site located in the middle. All blind sites must be at least 125 yards from previously licensed shoreline. Therefore, there has to be a stretch of shoreline of at least 250 yards that has not been previously licensed (to either a landowner or a resident nonlandowner) available at the time that you apply. Licenses expire on June 30, in the year after the license was issued.

Requirements For Nonlandowner’s Blind Sites

Nontidal Ponds
Blind site licensing in nontidal ponds is prohibited.

Distance Between Offshore Blind Sites
Blind sites must be at least 250 yards from any other blind site or stationary blind. Blind sites must be at least 150 yards from any dwelling, unless the licensee has the written permission of the owner of the house.

Distance from Shore
Relative to the licensed shoreline, blind sites must generally be located within 300 yards of the shoreline or one-third the distance to the opposite shore, whichever is less. If, for example, a creek is 600 yards wide, a licensee may not place a blind site more than 200 yards out in the creek from the licensed shoreline. An exception to the distance from shore rule, is that in the Chesapeake Bay in Anne Arundel and Calvert Counties, and in Prospect Bay in Queen Anne's County, blind sites may be up to 800 yards from the shoreline.

Offshore Blind Marking Requirements
Offshore blind sites must be marked by a stake or buoy showing the licensee's name and license number.

The blind site stake must be marked on all sides with reflective material at least 4 inches wide located at least 3 feet above the high water mark. The requirement for reflective material on the blind site stake is not in effect while the blind site is actually being used for hunting.

Hunting While Standing on Natural Bottom
Most hunting from licensed blind sites is done from a boat that is tied or anchored at the stake marking the blind site. However, hunters may also stand on the natural bottom at the stake marking the blind site. A licensee who allows another person to use a licensed stationary blind or blind site should provide the person with a copy of the license.

Possession of License Required
A licensee who allows another person to use a licensed stationary blind or blind site must provide the person with a copy of the license. Any hunter or group of hunters hunting at a licensed blind site must possess at least one copy of the license issued by the Department for the site.

Hunting from an Anchored Boat

Hunting from an anchored boat or while standing on the natural bottom is  legal at a licensed blind site (see definitions above) or in specified waters of the state. The specified waters of the state where hunting by this method is allowed are the 1) Sea Duck Zone, the 2) Offshore Waterfowl Hunting Zone (often referred to as the gunning rig zone), 3) the nontidal waters of the Potomac River, and 4) adjacent to certain DNR-owned properties.

A "gunning rig" license was formerly required to hunt from an anchored boat or while standing on the natural bottom, except when hunting at a licensed stationary blind or blind site This license has since been eliminated. However, in the Sea Duck Zone, Offshore Waterfowl Hunting Zone, or on the nontidal waters of the Potomac River, a nonresident may not hunt from a boat at anchor or while standing on the natural bottom unless accompanied by a Maryland resident.

  • Sea Duck Zone
    A person hunting from an anchored boat or while standing on the natural bottom in the Sea Duck Zone must be at least 800 yards from shore, including islands and shore that emerges at low tide. You must also remain at least 500 yards from any road, bridge or causeway and at least 250 yards from all licensed offshore stationary blinds or blind sites or any other person hunting waterfowl offshore. The Sea Duck Zone is the only area where the special season and bag limits for sea ducks (scoters, eiders, and long-tailed ducks) applies.
  • Offshore Waterfowl Hunting Zone
    A person hunting from an anchored boat or while standing on the natural bottom in the Offshore Waterfowl Hunting Zone must be at least 800 yards from shore, including islands and shore that emerges at low tide. The only exceptions are in the waters of the Susquehanna Flats, the tidal waters of the Potomac River and the waters of Baltimore and Harford Counties where you must be at least 400 yards from shore to hunt in the Offshore Waterfowl Hunting Zone. You must also remain at least 500 yards from any road, bridge or causeway and at least 250 yards from all licensed offshore stationary blinds or blind sites or any other person hunting waterfowl offshore.
  • Nontidal Water of the Potomac River
    A person hunting from an anchored boat or while standing on the natural bottom in the nontidal waters of the Potomac River must stay at least 250 yards from all licensed offshore stationary blinds or blind sites or any other person hunting waterfowl offshore. However, there is no general requirement to remain a certain distance from shore. Keep in mind that there are a few areas on the nontidal Potomac where the bottom of the river is privately owned. You are not allowed to hunt from an anchored boat or while standing on the natural bottom in these areas unless you have the written permission of the landowner.
  • Adjacent to Certain DNR-Owned Properties
    Waterfowl hunters can now hunt from a boat at anchor or while standing on the natural bottom in public waters adjacent to certain lands owned and managed by DNR.

    No special permits or residency requirements apply to hunt waterfowl offshore of the state-owned properties listed below.
    However, there are some specific regulations that hunters must follow:

    1. Individuals must hunt from a boat at anchor or while standing on
      the natural bottom;
    2. Hunters must be at least 250 yards from the property line of any
      landowners adjoining the state-owned properties or 250 yards from where
      that line would be if it were extended perpendicular from the shoreline
      out into the water;
    3. Hunters must be not more than one-third the distance from the
      state-owned property to the opposite shore or a maximum of 300 yards
      offshore from the state-owned property, whichever is less;
    4. Hunters must remain at least 250 yards from any licensed
      stationary blind or blind site or another person or party hunting wild
      waterfowl; and
    5. Hunters must remain at least 125 yards from any licensed shoreline on the opposite shore. A person may not guide hunting parties for economic gain on the waters adjacent to these areas.
    6. The public waters adjacent to the following areas or sections of areas now open:

      • The portion of Deal Island Wildlife Management Area located north of Maryland Route 363
      • The portion of Fairmount Wildlife Management Area known as Hazard Island and the portion located north of Maryland Route 361
      • Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area
      • Isle of Wight Wildlife Management Area
      • Maryland Marine Properties Wildlife Management Area
      • Nanticoke River Wildlife Management Area
      • Pocomoke Sound Wildlife Management Area
      • South Marsh Island Wildlife Management Area
      • Taylor's Island Wildlife Management Area
      • Chesapeake Forest Lands Lewis Complex
      • Chesapeake Forest Lands Tom Tyler Complex
      • Monocacy Natural Resource Management Area
      • Janes Island State Park (excluding safety zone along Daugherty Creek Canal)

    Maps and area descriptions of these and other state-owned lands are available on DNR's website at http://www.dnr.maryland.gov/ or call 410-260-8540.

    Hunting while Standing on the Natural Bottom


    This method of hunting was formerly termed "body-booting". Hunting while standing in water on the natural bottom is legal at a licensed blind site (see above) or in specified waters of the state. The specified waters of the state where hunting by this method is allowed are the Sea Duck Zone, the Offshore Waterfowl Hunting Zone (often referred to as the gunning rig zone) and the nontidal waters of the Potomac River. Rules for hunting while standing on the natural bottom are the same as hunting from an anchored boat.

    Hunting from a Boat that is Drifting or being Sculled

    Hunting waterfowl from a boat that is drifting or being sculled (or paddled) was formerly termed "sneakboating". Hunting from a boat that is drifting or being sculled is legal only in specified waters of the state. The specified waters of the state where hunting by this method is allowed are the Sea Duck Zone, the Offshore Waterfowl Hunting Zone (often referred to as the gunning rig zone) and the nontidal waters of the Potomac River, Conococheague Creek and the Monocacy River.

    A person hunting waterfowl from a boat that is drifting or being sculled in the Sea Duck Zone must be at least 800 yards from shore, including islands and shore that emerges at low tide. A person hunting waterfowl from a boat that is drifting or being sculled in the Offshore Waterfowl Hunting Zone must also be at least 800 yards from shore, including islands and shore that emerges at low tide. However, there are three exceptions. In the waters of the Susquehanna Flats, the tidal Potomac River and the waters of Baltimore and Harford you must be at least 400 yards from shore to hunt in the Offshore Waterfowl Hunting Zone. You must also remain at least 500 yards from any road, bridge or causeway and at least 250 yards from all licensed offshore stationary blinds or blind sites or any other person hunting waterfowl offshore.

    A person hunting waterfowl from a boat that is drifting or being sculled in the nontidal waters of the Potomac River, Conococheague Creek and the Monocacy River must stay at least 250 yards from all licensed offshore stationary blinds or blind sites or any other person hunting waterfowl offshore. However, there is no general requirement to remain a certain distance from shore. There are some areas on the nontidal Potomac River and most of Conococheague Creek and the Monocacy River, where the bottom of the river is privately owned. You may float over these privately owned areas but you may not walk on the bottom unless you have the written permission of the landowner.

    A "gunning rig" license was formerly required to hunt from a boat that is drifting or being sculled. This license has since been eliminated. Under current law, in the Sea Duck Zone, Offshore Waterfowl Hunting Zone, or on the nontidal waters of the Potomac River, Conococheague Creek and the Monocacy River, a nonresident may not hunt from a boat that is drifting or being sculled unless accompanied by a Maryland resident.

    Where to Call with Questions

    For applications or general questions, call the Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife and Heritage Service at 410-260-8540, or send an e-mail to customerservice@dnr.state.md.us

    For specific questions, call the Natural Resources Police Office in your area:

    • Garrett, Allegany, Washington, and Frederick counties: 301-777-7771
    • Cecil, Harford, Baltimore, Carroll, Howard, and Montgomery counties: 410-356-7060
    • Charles, Calvert, St. Mary’s, Anne Arundel, and Prince George’s counties: 301-888-1601
    • Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Talbot, and Queen Anne’s counties: 410-758-2890
    • Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester counties: 410-548-7070

    Appendix 1

    Maryland’s laws related to shoreline and offshore blind licensing are contained in the Natural Resources Article, Title 10 Wildlife, Subtitle 6 Wildlife Waterfowl, Section 10-601 through 10-615. These can be obtained at public libraries or online at www.mlis.state.md.us (scroll down to “Statute Text”, select Department of Natural Resources, then start with section 10-601).

    Appendix 2

    Offshore stationary blinds or blind sites may not be erected, maintained, or licensed in the following waters:

    1. Offshore from lands owned or managed by the Department except the Department may locate and construct offshore stationary blinds or blind sites and make the blinds or blind sites available to the public;
    2. Where the use of the blinds may present a risk to national security or the health and safety of the hunters as determined by the Department;
    3. Where the location of the blinds interferes with the safe operation of an airport;
    4. In Baltimore County on:
      • The Middle River and its tributaries, westerly or towards shore from a straight line drawn from the tip of Wilson Point in a southwesterly direction to the northwest corner of Cape May Beach;
      • Frog Mortar Creek from a straight line drawn from the tip of what is known as Strawberry Point in a southeasterly direction across the creek to the tip of what is known as Galloway Point and extending 1,500 yards northeast up the creek to the point where Glenwood Road approaches the creek shoreline;
      • Back River and its tributaries west of the Eastern Avenue bridge; or
      • Bird River and its tributaries extending from the head of tide at Whitemarsh Run and Windlass Run and going generally easterly or towards a line that runs in a northerly direction from the northernmost tip of a peninsula called Stumpfs Marsh to the opposite shoreline, but excluding an area that lies between Stumpfs Marsh and a line 150 yards from the shoreline of Stumpfs Marsh; or
    5. In Kent County on:
      • Turner's Creek; or
      • Chester River and its tributaries, except in those waters lying between Durding's Creek and Deep Point or between the property line of Wickliffe Farm and Cedar Point Farm near the point known as Pine Tree Cove and Graveyard Point in Spencer Hall Farm on Eastern Neck Island and the Chesapeake Bay between the north end of Wilson's Point on Trumpington Farm and the mouth of the Chester River.

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    Electronic Offshore Blind and Shoreline License Maps