Waterfowl hunting

Waterfowl hunting

Waterfowl hunting (also called wildfowling or waterfowl shooting in the UK) is the practice of hunting ducks, geese, or other waterfowl for food and sport. In many western countries, commercial waterfowl hunting is prohibited, and duck hunting is primarily an outdoor sporting activity.

Many types of ducks and geese share the same habitat, have overlapping or identical hunting seasons, and are hunted using the same methods. Thus it is possible to take different species of waterfowl in the same outing. Waterfowl can be hunted in crop fields where they feed, or, more frequently, on or near bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, ponds, swamps, sloughs, or oceanic coastlines.



Prehistoric waterfowl hunting

Wild waterfowl have been hunted for food, down, and feathers worldwide since prehistoric times. Ducks, geese, and swans appear in European cave paintings from the last Ice Age, and a mural in the Ancient Egyptian tomb of Khum-Hotpe (c. 1900 BC) shows a man in a hunting blind capturing swimming ducks in a trap. Muscovy ducks were depicted in the art of the Mochina culture of ancient Peru by 200 BC, and were likely hunted by many people of the Americas before then.[1]

Native Americans were using the bow and arrow to hunt ducks around the year 1000 as triangular stone points were found in archaeologic sites dating to this era, and also used cage-type traps or swam under water to capture swimming birds.

Rise of modern waterfowl hunting

Waterfowl hunting with shotguns began in the 17th century with the matchlock shotgun. Later flintlock shotguns and percussion cap were used. Shotguns were loaded with black powder and lead shot through the muzzle in the 17th century to the late 19th century. Damascus barrels shot only black powder charges. When smokeless powder was invented in the late 19th century, steel barrels were made. Damascus barrels which were made of a twisted steel could not take the high pressure of smokeless powder. Fred Kimble, a duck hunter from Illinois invented the shotgun choke in 1886. This is a constriction at the end of the barrel. This allowed for longer range shooting with the shotgun, keeps the pattern of shot tighter or looser according to which type of choke is being used.. Until 1886 shotguns had cylinder bore barrels which could only shoot up to 25 yards. So duck hunting was done at close range. After 1886, market hunters could shoot at longer ranges up to forty five yards with a full choke barrel and harvest more waterfowl. Shotguns became bigger and more powerful as steel barrels were being used, so the range was extended to sixty yards.

Pump shotguns were invented in the late 19th century and the semi automatic shotgun in the very early 20th century. Once waterfowlers had access to these guns, this made these men more proficient market hunters. These guns could fire five to seven shots, therefore hunters were having a bigger harvests.

Early European settlers in America, hunted waterfowl with great zeal, as the supply of waterfowl seemed unlimited in the coastal Atlantic regions. During the fall migrations, the skies were filled with waterfowl. Places such as Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, Barnaget Bay were hunted extensively.

As more immigrants came to America in the late 18th and 19th centuries, the need for more food became greater. Market hunting started to take form, to supply the local population living along the Atlantic coast with fresh ducks and geese. Men would go into wooden boats and go out into the bays hunting, sometimes with large shotguns. They would bring back a wooden barrel or two of ducks each day. Live ducks were used as decoys as well as bait such as corn or other grain to attract waterfowl.

The rise of modern waterfowl hunting is tied to the history of the shotgun, which can kill more reliably at greater ranges than a weapon that shoots a single projectile.[2] In the 19th century, the seemingly limitless flocks of ducks and geese in the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways of North America were the basis for a thriving commercial waterfowl hunting industry. With the advent of punt guns- massive, boat-mounted shotguns that could fire a half-pound of lead shot at a time, hunters could kill dozens of birds with a single blast. This was the four and six gauge shotgun. This period of intense commercial waterfowl hunting is vividly depicted in James Michener's historical novel Chesapeake.

Although edible, swans are not hunted in many Western cultures due to hunting regulations and swans were historically a royal prerogative. Swans are hunted in the Arctic regions.

Conservation and the Duck Stamp Act

By the turn of the 20th century, commercial hunting and loss of habitat due to agriculture, lead to a decline in duck and goose populations in North America, along with many other species of wildlife. The Lacey Act of 1900, which outlawed transport of poached game across state lines, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which prohibited the possession of migratory birds without permission (such as a hunting license), marked the dawn of the modern conservation movement.

In 1934, at the urging of editorial cartoonist and conservationist J.N. "Ding" Darling, the U.S. government passed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act, better known as the Federal Duck Stamp Act. This program required hunters to purchase a special stamp, in additional to a regular hunting license, to hunt migratory waterfowl. This stamp cost two dollars in 1934 but today the price is fifteen dollars. The stamp is valid from July 1 to June 30 of each year. The stamp may be raised to twenty dollars in the near future. Revenues from the stamp program provided the majority of funding for conservation for many decades. The stamp funded the purchase of 4.5 million acres (18,000 km2) of National Wildlife Refuge land for waterfowl habitat since the program's inception in 1934. The Duck Stamp act has been described as "one of the most successful conservation programs ever devised."[3] Duck stamps have also become collectible items in their own right. Stamps must not be signed to be of value.[2]

Russia came out with its first duck stamp in 1992. The stamp features a male and female duck that look like hooded mergansers. The male duck is white with some black and the female has a dark back and white underbody. The stamp cost fifty rubles.

England sold it first duck stamp in 1991, featuring ten pintails flying along the coast of England. The stamp cost five English pounds.

Species of waterfowl hunted

In North America a variety of ducks and geese are hunted, the most common being mallards, Canada geese, snow geese. canvasback, redhead, pintail, gadwall, ruddy duck, harlequin, common, hooded and red-breasted merganser (often avoided because of its reputation as a poor-eating bird with a strong flavor). Also hunted are black duck, wood duck, blue wing teal, green wing teal, bufflehead, shoveler, widgeon, and goldeneye. Ocean ducks include oldsquaw, eider duck, and scoter.

Swans are generally protected in the United States and the UK (where they are historically considered a royal prerogative), but are hunted along with other wildfowl in many other countries.

Modern hunting techniques

The waterfowl hunting season is generally in the autumn and winter. Hunting seasons are set by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the United States. In the autumn, the ducks and geese have finished raising their young and are migrating to warmer areas to feed. The hunting seasons usually begin in October and end in January. Extended goose seasons can go into April, the Conservation Order by the U.S.F.W.S.

There are four large flyways in the United States that the waterfowl follow. The Atlantic, Mississippi, Mountain and Pacific Flyways.

There are several items used by almost all waterfowl hunters: a shotgun, ammunition, a hunting blind, decoys, a boat, and a duck or goose call. The decoys are used to lure the birds within range, and the blind conceals the hunter. When a hunter or hunters sees the waterfowl, he or she begins calling with the duck or goose call. Once the birds are within range, the hunters, rise from the blind and quickly shoot the birds before they are frightened off and out of shooting range. Duck or goose calls are often used to attract birds; sometimes calls of other birds will also be simulated to convince the birds that there is no danger.

Hunters position themselves in blinds near rivers, lakes, ponds or in agriculture fields planted with corn, barley, wheat or millet. Hunters build blinds to conceal themselves from waterfowl, as waterfowl have sharp eyes and can see colors. That is why hunters use camouflage. Waterfowl hunters also often use dogs to retrieve dead or injured birds in the water. There are many retriever breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, specifically bred for the task. Hunters also may use a boat to get downed birds. Some hunters use boats as blinds or float rivers in search of waterfowl. When the ducks see the hunters in the boat, ducks flush off the water and hunters shoot. Then birds are collected and placed in the boat.

Each hunter prefers a certain type of weather condition, depending on the type of hunting setting. Some hunters prefer sunny days vs cloudy or rainy days. However, ducks and geese fly more extensively and actively on cloudy days, rain or snow.


In the days of market hunting, four (4) gauge, six (6) gauge, eight (8) gauge and ten gauge shotguns were used in hunting. The four and six gauge were mounted to small boats. This was due to their weight and recoil. The eight gauge was hand held and weighed about fourteen pounds and shot about 2 and a half ounces of shot. The largest gun used today in the United States is the ten gauge shotgun, shooting a 3 and 1/2 inch shell that holds nearly 2 ounces of shot. These shotguns kill ducks up to 60 yards. Due to its heavy weight, about 12 pounds, and recoil; the 10 gauge is rarely used and the preferred shotgun is the 12 gauge shotguns. As the twelve gauge weighs seven and a half pounds (3 and a half kilograms) and has less recoil. Twenty gauge shotguns are less commonly used, and are preferred by hunters who do not like the weight of the twelve gauge. Twenty eight gauge and .410 shotguns are rarely used due to the guns inability to ensure clean kills at ranges of 40 to 50 yards. Some hunting guns have camouflage-patterned stocks and low-gloss finishes on the metal to reduce their visibility to waterfowl.

Although it is legal to use a bow or crossbow to take migratory waterfowl in many areas,[4] most hunters prefer taking migratory birds with a shotgun because of the great difficulty of striking a moving bird with an arrow. Taking migratory birds with a rifle is illegal due to the great distances rifle bullets travel, making them unsafe.

Shotgun ammunition

Since the 16 century, lead shot has been used in waterfowl hunting. Lead shot was originally poured down the barrel. Later, shells were made of paper and brass in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. In the early 1960s, manufactures began making shotshells of plastic. In the late 1960s, it was determined that lead shot poisoned waterfowl eating in shallow water areas where there was heavy hunting. In 1974, Steel shot shells was offered for sale to hunters at the Brigantine Waterfowl Refuge in southern New Jersey by Winchester at five dollars a box. These shells are marked "Experimental" and are orange in color.

Waterfowl hunting with lead shot, along with the use of lead sinkers in angling, has been identified as a major cause of lead poisoning in waterfowl, which often feed off the bottom of lakes and wetlands where lead shot collects.[5][6] In the United States, UK, Canada, and many western European countries (France as of 2006), all shot used for waterfowl must now be non-toxic, and therefore may not contain any lead. Steel is the cheapest alternative to lead. However, some hunters do not like its shooting properties, as steel is significantly less dense than lead. Therefore its effective range is decreased due to rapidly decreasing velocity of the shot: thirty to forty yards is considered its maximum effective range for duck hunting. Many companies have improved steel shot by increasing muzzle-velocity, by using fast burning powder such as rifle powder thus making more consistent 'shot' or pellet patterns. Steel shot now travels at 1400 to 1500 Feet per second. Within recent years, several companies have created "heavier than lead" non-toxic shot out of tungsten, bismuth, or other elements with a density similar to or greater than lead. These shells have a more consistent patterns and greater range than steel shot. The increase in performance comes at a higher cost. Shell boxes can cost up to thirty dollars a box for twenty five shells.

Hunters use pellet sizes 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, or BB for ducks, and 2, BB, BBB or T shot for geese. Buckshot is not allowed by law.

Waterfowl calls

Early duck calls were simple woodwind instruments, consisting of a barrel, a sounding board and a reed, used by hunters to attract birds by simulating their vocalizations. Later, a variety of other whistles and other devices were created that are simpler to use, but the basic design as a simple reed instrument remains the most common type.

The most prevalent and hunted duck in the United States, the mallard, makes the well known "quack" sound many associate with ducks. Other species make many different sounds, ranging from high-pitched whistles to very low, grunt-like quacks. There are calls for almost all species of ducks. Pintails, teal, wood ducks, diving ducks and other ducks including the calls of both the male, or drake and the female, or hen. In many species, the call of the drake (male) is different from that of the hen (female). Mallard drakes make a lower pitch, longer quack than the hen mallard, and is actually more of a buzzing sound than that of a quack. This call is often used while feeding and when a mallard drake is landing. It gives the other birds a heads up. The quack of a mallard drake can be replicated by a special whistle-like call. This whistle is often called a 6-in-1 whistle, due to the fact that it can replicate six different duck species sounds. In teal, the drakes make a call of short bursts of a high pitch whistle. The "teet! (pause) teet! (pause) teet!-teet!" or any other order of repetition. This call can be made by blowing short bursts of air into the "6-in-1" whistle. The (Greenwing) teal hen call resembles that of the mallard hen, but with a much higher pitch, and and faster, more staccatto rhythm.

The majority of duck sounds such as quacking people have heard and are familiar with comes from females, or mallared hens. Mallared hens are extremely vocal and this is probably why the number one call for duck hunting in North America is a mallard hen call. Many calls from the mallard hen include the feed call (when the hen has found food), the hail call (when the hen sees other ducks high in the air), and the comeback call (when ducks are disinterested or leery and the hen "on the water" and is agressively insisting that the ducks which have overflown her "change their mind" and return and light where she is).

Pintails and balpate widgeon are called with a simple whistle--short, monotone for the pintail; ornate and varied (not unlike a songbird)for the widgeon.

Quality duck calls are collectable, and older handmade calls can sell for considerable prices. In the United States, The Callmakers & Collectors Association of America has over 5,000 members.


Duck hunters in a hunting blind. Decoys are visible in the water to the right.

A hunting blind is a structure intended to conceal hunters, dogs, and equipment from the intended prey. Waterfowl have excellent eyesight and will not land in an area where they spot anything unusual or threatening. Blinds can be temporary or permanent.

A blind may be constructed out of plywood, lumber, large logs or branches, burlap fiber, plastic or cotton camouflage, or natural vegetation. Many of these permanent blinds look like a small shack with an opening that faces the water and a portion of the sky. Blinds can be as simple as natural vegetation piled onto branches, or they can be small outbuildings with benches, tables, heaters, and other conveniences.

Temporary blinds are common in protected and public areas where a permanent fixture blinds are forbidden. Many are tent-like "pop-up" blinds which are easy and quick to erect. Boat blinds are used to conceal a hunter while hunting from a boat. Boat blinds can be handmade or are available from manufacturers.

There are two common types of blinds for land and field-based waterfowl hunting: pit blinds and layout blinds. The pit blind can be a solid structure that is placed into a hole in the ground or on the bank of a waterbody. Since pit blinds rest below the top of the surrounding soil, some structural strength is required to prevent the soil from collapsing into the blind. Commercially available blinds can be made from fiberglass, polyethylene or even lightweight metals. Homemade blinds can also be constructed of wood, but typically cannot withstand the moisture of an underground habitat. Concrete walls are also constructed to form pit blinds typically on land owned or controlled by hunt clubs since this creates a permanent structure. Pit blind amenities can vary greatly from a basic blind with sticks or other temporary camouflage to elaborate multi-level blinds with small quarters for sleeping or cooking. Most pit blinds will have some form of movable door or slide that can be opended quickly when waterfowl are approaching while still allowing the hunters a good view while closed. Camouflage netting or screens are common materials for the movable top. One common drawback to pit blinds is their propensity to accumulate water. Especially in marsh or wetland areas, the soil can hold a large amount of moisture. Pit blinds are sometimes fitted with sump pumps or even hand operated pumps to assist the hunters in draining any water that has invaded the blind.

Layout blinds allow a hunter to have a low profile in a field without digging a hole. They are made of an aluminum metal frame and a canvas cover. Most modern commercial layout blinds are fitted with spring-loaded flaps on top that retract when the hunter is ready to fire. The layout blind allows the hunter to lie prone in the blind with only the head or face exposed to allow good visibility. Newer blinds also have a screen that provides a one-way view outside the blind to conceal the hunter, but allow him/her to observe the waterfowl. When birds are in range the hunter can open the flaps and quickly sit up to a shooting position. Layout blinds come in many different colors and patterns from plain brown to new camouflage patterns that simulate forage found in typical hunting locations. A favorite trick of savvy hunters is to use loose forage found in the specific field being hunted to camouflage the layout blind. Most blinds are fitted with canvas loops designed to hold stalks, grass or other material.

Blinds are known by different names in different countries. In New Zealand, for instance, the term maimai is used for a permanent or semi-permanent hide or blind.[7]


Decoys are one of the most important pieces of equipment for the waterfowler. Using a good spread of decoys and calling, an experienced waterfowl hunter can successfully bag ducks or geese if waterfowl are flying that day. The first waterfowl decoys were made from vegetation such as cattails by Native Americans. In the 18th century, duck decoys were carved from soft wood such as pine. Many decoys were not painted. Live birds were also used as decoys. They were placed in the water and had a rope and a weight at the end of the rope so the duck could not swim or fly away. This method of hunting became illegal in the 1930s. By end of the 20th Century, collectors started to search for high quality wooden duck decoys that were used by market hunters in the late 19th century or early 20th century. Decoys used in Chesapeak Bay, Delaware Bay, or Barnegat Bay are highly sought after. Most decoys were carved from various types of wood that would withstand the rigors of many seasons of hunting. Highly detailed paint and decoy carvings that even included the outlines of tail or wing feathers turned the duck decoy into a work of art. Today, many collectors search estate sales, auctions, trade shows, or other venues for vintage duck decoys.

Modern decoys are typically made from molded plastic, that began in the 1960s. Making decoys of plastic, decoys can be made many times faster than carving from wood. The plastic allows a high level of detail, a resilient product and reasonable cost. Most are still hand painted. Most modern decoys are fitted with a "water keel" which fills with water once the decoy is immersed in water or a "weighted keel" filled with lead. Both types of keel help the decoy stay upright in wind or high waves. Weighted keel decoys look more realistic by sitting lower in the water. This also allows for decoys to be thrown into the water and the decoy to float upright. The obvious drawback to weighted keels are the added weight when carrying decoys for long distances. Decoys are held in place by some type of sinker or weight and attached via line to the decoy. Various weight designs allow the line to be wrapped around the decoy when not in use and secured by folding or attaching the lead weight to the decoy.

Decoys are placed in the water about 30 to 35 yards from the hunters. Usually a gap is in the decoy spread to allow ducks to land in the gap.

Recently, decoys have been introduced that provide life-like movement that adds to the attraction for waterfowl. Shakers are decoys with a small electric motor and an offset weighted wheel. As the wheel turns it causes the decoy to "shake" in the water and create realistic wave rings throughout the decoy spread. Spinning wing decoys are also fitted with an electric motor and have wings made of various materials. As the wings spin a optical illusion is created simulating the wing beats for landing birds. These decoys can be quite effective when hunting waterfowl and have been banned in some states. Other types of movement decoys include swimming decoys and even kites formed like geese or ducks.


Boats are used to set up decoys, pick up birds, and travel to hunting areas. They can also be covered and used as a blind. Some hunters use grass and others use burlap or other material to camoflauge their boats. Often painted brown, tan, green, and black, some boats are motor powered while others have oars. Most are flat bottomed to increase stability with keels made of wood or aluminum between 10 and 16 feet (3.0 and 4.9 m) long. Painted kayaks or canoes made of aluminum or fiberglass reinforced with kevlar are also used – these can navigate shallow streams or small narrow rivers in search of waterfowl. Care must be taken when shooting from boats, canoes or kayaks as hunters have in the past fallen out of such craft due to loss of balance when shooting at waterfowl. Whole boats have been known to capsize, tipping all hunters into the water. Sink boxes, boats that conceal the hunter under the water surface are now illegal to use.


Duck season takes place in the fall and winter where the weather can be harsh. Waterproof clothing is critical to duck hunting. Most duck hunters hunt over water, and they stand in water or in a boat. In order to stand in the water and stay dry the hunter must wear waders. Waders are waterproof pants (usually made of a neoprene like material) that have attached boots and are completely waterproof. Typical waders are chest high, but waist high and knee high waders are sometimes used in shallow water. Duck hunting is a cold sport and the hunter must be well insulated from the cold. Ducks also have great vision and can see color,so this is why hunters must wear clothing that is well camouflaged. Camouflage clothing is various shades of brown or green or brown and green combined. Therefore hunter wear camouflage similar to the area they are hunting so the ducks do not see the hunters. Face masks are often worn so the ducks do not see the hunters faces and camouflage gloves are also worn.

Many clothing manufacturers, such as Drake Waterfowl, Mossy Oak Brand Camo, Cabela's, Mad Dog, Under Armor and Whitewater Outdoors, have incorporated use of modern apparel technologies to provide added comfort and protection from the diverse weather elements to which waterfowl hunters can be subjected.


A duck hunter with three mallards. A Labrador Retriever and duck decoys are visible in the background.

Duck hunters quite often employ a dog to retrieve downed birds. Most often hunters use Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever or Chesapeake Bay Retriever to retrieve waterfowl. The use of a dog provides a number of advantages. As duck hunting often takes place in cold wet locations, the use of a dog frees the hunter from potentially dangerous forays into cold water to retrieve the bird. Such efforts can be dangerous for the hunter, but are managed by a dog quite easily. It also allows for the recovery of wounded birds that might otherwise escape. A dog's acute sense of smell allows them to find the wounded birds in swamps or marshes where weeds can allow a duck to hide. The use of a dog ensures that a higher percentage of the birds shot end up on the table. A disadvantage of having dogs in the duck blind, is that some dogs are not well-trained to sit still. They can potentially ruin a good hunt. Dogs that run into the water looking for birds when guns are fired, rather than waiting until sent or released create a hazard to the dog and hunters. Nevertheless, dogs are considered the greatest conservation tool known to waterfowlers.

Hunting Guides

Hunting guides are used by water fowlers who do not know an area. They will employ a guide for a half day or a whole day. The cost of hiring a guide varies from one hundred fifty dollars for a half day to four hundred dollars for a day. Guides have boats, blinds, decoys, and dogs for retrieving ducks or geese. They know flight patterns of game and know how to call ducks or geese in. They know how to set up decoys. Some guides specialize in certain types of waterfowl while others will be more generalists. Some guides specialize in sea hunting while others will specialize in bay hunting, river hunting, lake hunting or swamp hunting. Guides may have houses for hunters to sleep for the night. They may provide the service of cleaning the game and keeping it on ice in coolers or refrigerators. Guide may have coffin blinds or more fancy house blinds, that provide seats and heating. Guides are usually are registered with the state that they guide in.

Wildfowling in Europe and the UK

In British English, the term "hunting" is generally reserved for the pursuit of game on land with hounds, so the sport is generally known as "wildfowl shooting" or "wildfowling" rather than "hunting."

Wild ducks and geese are shot over foreshores and inland and coastal marshes in Europe. Birds are shot with a shotgun, and less commonly, a large single barreled gun mounted on a small boat, known as a punt. Due the ban of use of lead shot for hunting wildfowl or over wetlands, many wildfowlers are switching to modern guns with stronger engineering to allow the use of non-toxic ammunition such as steel or tungsten based cartridges. The most popular calibre is 12-gauge.

Only certain 'quarry' species of wildfowl may legally be shot in the UK, and are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. These are Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Shoveler, Pintail, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Canada Goose, White-fronted Goose (England and Wales only), Greylag Goose and Pink-footed Goose. Other common quarry targets for the wildfowler include the Common Snipe.

An intimate knowledge of the quarry and its habitat is required by the successful wildfowler. Shooting will normally occur during the early morning and late afternoon 'flights', when the birds move to and from feeding and roosting sites. The wildfowler is not looking for a large bag of quarry and his many hours efforts are rewarded by even a single bird. It is recommended that wildfowlers always shoot with a dog, or someone with a dog, to retrieve shot birds on difficult estuarine terrain. When a bird is in hand, wild ducks and geese make fabulous eating, but not all are available to buy. You cannot sell wild geese, for example, and ducks other than Mallard are difficult to find; but try farmers markets. The favourites on the table are Mallard, Wigeon and Teal.

Wildfowling has come under threat in recent years through legislation. Destruction of habitat also has played a large part in the decline of shooting areas, and recently in the UK "right to roam" policies mean that wildfowlers' conservation areas are at risk. However, in most regions, good relationships exist between wildfowlers, conservationists, ramblers and other coastal area users.

In the UK wildfowling is largely self-regulated. Their representative body, WAGBI (Wildfowlers Association of Great Britain and Ireland), was founded in 1908 by Stanley Duncan in Hull. This Association changed its name in 1981 to become the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and now represents all forms of live quarry shooting at European, national and local levels. There are also many wildfowling clubs around the coast of Great Britain, often covering certain estuary areas where wildfowl are found in large numbers.

Anyone wishing to try wildfowling is recommended to contact a local club or try the wildfowling permit scheme run by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC).

Regulations, sportsmanship, and safety

Waterfowl hunting is highly regulated in most western countries. Hunters are required to obtain a hunting license and face strict limits on the number of birds that can be taken in a day (bag limits), and the total number of birds a hunter can possess (possession limits).

There was no regulations on waterfowl hunting from when the Paleo Indians arrived in North America to the early 20th century. In the early 20th century large shotguns and rifles were used. Traps were used. Live decoys were used in front of blinds, as well as shotguns holding many shells. Hunting was done throughout the year. In 1913 the United States Congress passed the Weeks–McLean Act regulating waterfowl hunting, however the states were successful in arguing that the constitution gave no such regulatory power to the federal government, and the statute was struck down. In response, the U.S. negotiated the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 with the United Kingdom (which at the time was largely responsible for Canada's foreign affairs) covering the same substance, but would be constitutional because of the Supremacy Clause. The treaty was upheld by the Supreme Court in Missouri v. Holland.

In the United States, hunters must also purchase a federal duck stamp and often a state stamp. It is illegal to shoot ducks from a motor vehicle or a moving boat. Shooting sitting or swimming ducks is considered unsportsmanlike by some and possibly unsafe. Many practices that were once common in commercial duck hunting before the turn of the century, including laying baits such as corn, use of live ducks as "decoys," and use of guns larger than a 10-gauge, are now prohibited.[4] In most areas, shotguns that can hold more than three shells must be modified to reduce their magazine size. A wooden plug is installed in the hollow magazine of the shotgun. Legal hunting is limited to a set time period (or "season"), which generally extends from fall to early winter, while birds are migrating south.[8]

The Conservation Order established by the USF&WS allows for the hunted of snow geese in March and April. The reason for this is that snow geese populations have become so large that more hunting is needed to control their populations. as they are destroying their habitat. Shotguns can be loaded to full capacity for hunting these geese.

It is also considered good sportsmanship to make every possible attempt to retrieve dead or injured waterfowl the hunter has shot. Birds are shot within range to prevent cripples. Shooting before birds are within range is also considered poor sportsmanship, as this often merely injures the birds and may drive them away before other hunters can fire.

Many provinces in Canada and all States require hunters, including waterfowl hunters, to complete hunter safety courses before they can obtain a license. [3] Waterfowl hunters fire short-range shotgun rounds into the air over often deserted bodies of water, so accidental injuries are rarer than in other hunting activities such as big game or deer hunting.

Hunting areas

All states have public land for hunting. Some states call them fish and game lands. Other states call them fish and wildlife management areas. These are lands purchased from hunting license revenue. Water in bays or ocean are open area to hunting, as no one can own these areas. The problem is getting access to the ocean, bay, marsh or river. Hunters usually need boats to travel in these areas.


In North America, the routes used by migratory waterfowl are generally divided into four broad geographical paths known as flyways. Each flyway is characterized by a different composition of species and habitat.

Mississippi flyway

Waterfowl flyways of North America

The Mississippi flyway is a migration route used by waterfowl to travel from central Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, flying along the route of the Mississippi River and its tributaries. In the Midwest and central United States, wildfowl hunting generally occurs on lakes, marshes, swamps, or rivers where ducks and geese land during their migration. Cornfields and rice paddies are also common hunting grounds, since geese and ducks often feed on the grain that remains in the field after harvest. In some areas, farmers rent or lease hunting rights. Some farmers or hunters form hunt clubs, which can cover thousands of acres and have resort-like amenities, or be as simple as a shallow pit blind dug into a field. On the East and West coast of America and many parts of Europe, waterfowl hunters often focus on the seashore.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains millions of acres as National Wildlife Refuges open to public hunting. All States have public Hunting and fishing areas. States publish maps of these areas.

Atlantic flyway

The Atlantic Flyway is a migration route used by waterfowl flying from northern Quebec to Florida in the autumn and back in the springtime. This is where duck hunting first started in North America when Europeans arrived. Ducks and geese are born in the tundra of Quebec and fly south in autumn to Chesapeak bay, North and South Carolina, and Georgia for the winter. The St Lawrence River, the coast of Maine, Long island harbors, Barnegat Bay, Great Egg Harbor, Little Egg Harbor, Absecon Bay, Delaware Bay, and Chesapeak Bay have been known for centuries for great waterfowl hunting.

In the Chesapeake Bay area until the 1950s one of the biggest threats to waterfowl was local poachers using flat boat boats, mounting huge 1700 12 foot black powder swivel guns. Most of these ancient weapons have been confiscated and are in museum. Although a few families have hidden theirs as family keep sakes.[9]

Mountain(Central) Flyway

The Rocky Mountain Flyway is used by waterfowl of that region to fly from Alberta and Saskatchewan Canada to Texas, the Gulf Coast, and western Mexico.

Pacific flyway

The Pacific flyway is a migration route from central Alaska to southern Mexico. It is used by nearly all waterfowl species in that region.

Waterfowl conservation

Due to extensive market hunting from the 18th century to the early 20th century, waterfowl populations dropped drastically. In the 1930s there was a severe drought, in which waterfowl populations declined severely. Waterfowl are indigenous to marsh and wetland areas, which are shrinking at alarming rates due to the draught and farmers draining wetland areas to plant crops. Wetland conservation and restoration is critical for the continuance of waterfowl hunting. Organizations such as Ducks Unlimited are making a concerted effort to maintain and expand waterfowl and marshland conservation to ensure safety and expansion of the sport. Ducks Unlimited buys land or converts land into waterfowl habitat. Ducks Unlimited started in 1937 in Sullivan County New York when a hunter went hunting along a river and could not find any wood ducks. This hunter and others formed Ducks Unlimited. Now Ducks Unlimited has thousands of members that donate millions of dollars for buying waterfowl habitat in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Ducks Unlimited has many dinners and other fund raisers throughout the year in each state.

See also


  1. ^ Waterfowl Ecology and Management (1994) by Guy A. Baldassarre, Eric G. Bolen, D. Andrew Saunders, Pp. 3-6.
  2. ^ Waterfowl Ecology and Management (1994) by Guy A. Baldassarre, Eric G. Bolen, D. Andrew Saunders.
  3. ^ "Artistic License- The Duck Stamp Story." Smithsonian National Postal Museum.
  4. ^ a b State of California. "Selected 2006 Waterfowl Hunting Regulations."
  5. ^ Sanderson, Glen C. and Frank C. Bellrose. 1986. A Review of the Problem of Lead Poisoning in Waterfowl. Illinois Natural History Survey, Champaign, Illinois. Special Publication 4. 34pp. full report from scholar.google.com (cache)
  6. ^ A.M. Scheuhammer and S. L. Norris. 1996. "The ecotoxicology of lead shot and lead fishing weights" Ecotoxicology Vol. 5 Number 5 pp. 279-295
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ TPWD:2006 2006-2007 Texas Hunting Season Dates, Grouped by Animal
  9. ^ "Poaching Made Big Business", October 1933, Popular Science middle of page

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