Duck Hunting Laws & Rules

Duck Hunting Laws & Rules

Avoiding trouble is always a good thing to do, and with duck hunting, there are a lot more rules and laws surrounding it than you might think.

While the act of duck hunting doesn’t have to be too difficult preparing for it can be egregious: there’s a lot you need to know before you even buy your camo hunting mask, or make plans with your best friend for next weekend.

Stop what you’re doing, and read this.


What Time Should I Duck Hunt?

Hunting Before Sunrise

Duck hunting rules vary from state to state, which is why there’s no consistent answer to this question.

Even if we combed through all fifty US states and found their regulations on duck hunting, it could change at any time, even though they usually only update them in the few weeks prior to the start of the season.

It’s better to just look at your own state government for official times so you can avoid citations.

However, if we’re basing it off of what’s average, and the fact that half the states don’t change their hunting times throughout the year, then we can assume that the best time will always be thirty minutes before sunrise.

While sunrise can change depending on the day and season, (and please do remember to count daylight savings time), a good duck hunting app can tell you when sunrise is throughout the entire week so you can prepare for it.

Just before dawn is generally perceived to be the best time to hunt any waterfowl.

You’ll find a lot of pro hunters that talk about early evening or even afternoon hunts.

Those are fine, but you should never just assume that one time of day is better because it comes out of someone’s mouth, and that goes for what you’re reading here.

I like to hunt in the morning. I like to have the first shot as the times allow it.

Most states operate on the thirty-until-sunrise rule, but it’s important to look it up prior to heading out.

When Can You Start Shooting Ducks in the Morning?

Shooting On Ducks

Half an hour until sunrise, in most instances.

Over time, some communities that were once primarily rural become developed: people buy up the land, build cul-de-sacs, and then you have all these associations trying to “keep the peace” and mess with your hunting.

Know your rights.

Know what your town and state allow for these times so you can avoid any busybodies who see you heading out in the early morning to take your first shots.

The reason that you can’t shoot before then is that it disturbs the peace, and it can disrupt the natural way that nearby animals gather food and avoid predators.

Your gunshot sound travels for miles, startling all wildlife nearby.

Can You Shoot a Duck on the Water?

I mean, you can, but you shouldn’t. If that sounds a bit odd, just let me explain.

The whole point of waterfowl hunting is to catch them off-guard and nab them while they’re in the air.

It’s not just for the fun of it, but it allows you to get a crack at a few different ducks in the same flock.

If you shoot one on the water, you’re not aligned to aim at the sky. The flock goes flying, then you’re not prepared to take that second shot.

Not only that, but it’s just not good form.

If you shoot a duck in the water, you’re not hitting them where you need to.

Shooting On Ducks In Water

Granted, a shotgun shell is going to tear through a duck whether they’re on the water or in the air, but it won’t be a clean kill.

When you hit the duck from underneath, you’re hitting them straight in the vitals, and you know where the shot went in.

It’s usually a one-hit kill. Send the pup to retrieve your bird, or find it on your own, and you’re good to go.

Easy to clean, easy to cook.

When you shoot them in the water, it’s anybody’s guess what angle you’re really going to hit them from.

They can turn on a dime in the water, or suddenly raise their wings and start taking off. They can only do so many maneuvers while they’re in the air.

It’s funny because so many people believe that there’s some federal law against shooting ducks in the water or something to that effect.

It’s not standard duck hunting etiquette, but it’s acceptable.

If you shoot the duck while it’s in the water, you’re likely disposing of the bullet (if it’s a clean shot) in the water, and it’s not good to just leave those around.

Also, if you’re hunting with a bud, then you’re going to have a limited number of angles if you shoot them while they’re in the water.

Once they’re airborne, you can take a crack at them and just let the chips fall where they may. Plenty of ducks to go around.

Is it Illegal to Shoot a Duck on the Water?

Hunting Ducks


It’s not illegal to shoot ducks while they’re on the water if you’re just with a friend or two or hunting solo, and you’re just there for the sportsmanship.

Of course, you’ll cook and eat what you kill, but as long as you’re not killing tons of ducks to sell them, then you’re fine.

There are some laws against certain ways you can kill a duck, but these usually come down to punt gun use, baiting, live decoys (yeah, people used to use live decoys), and ambushing.

In ambushing, you would literally sneak up behind a flock of ducks, and use any means necessary to kill as many as possible.

This is where the myth of water shooting comes from because, over the years, the laws have been pushed around so much that most people don’t know where they came from.

Marketing hunting is illegal.

You cannot kill tons of ducks for the sake of a sale unless you own a duck farm.

It is sportsmanlike to wait until the ducks are airborne to avoid any potential claims of market hunting, though it would be very difficult to be convicted of market hunting if it’s just you, and a shotgun that follows the rules outlined below.

How many Shells can You Have While Hunting?

Putting Shell In Shotgun

In another effort to curb market hunting, there are stipulations on what you’re allowed to bring with you when you go hunting.

While this varies from state to state, it doesn’t differ by a whole lot.

You can have three shells in your shotgun.

If your shotgun has four chambers, you must use a permanent filling to plug up the fourth chamber, and any number of chambers higher than that.

This sounds like a pain, but you’re likely only using your shotgun to hunt waterfowl anyway, and even if it’s in your home for self-defense, three shotgun shells are enough.

So what does this do?

It prevents market hunting because you’re not bringing along a whole case of shells and twelve of your closest friends to make a profit.

If you are accused of market hunting, and you only have three shells loaded up (and a clean gun so it doesn’t look like you’ve just been discarding the shells), then you’re going to be good to go.

I advise against what many hunters in online forums suggest. Some of them carry an extra fourth shell in their vest, sometimes up to three extra shells.

You don’t need to do that, though; it’s unnecessary, and in the extremely rare scenario where you have to prove your intentions, it would work against you.

Understanding Bag Limits and Possession Limits

Ducks In Bag

Duck hunting season changes.

Not by much, but the exact starting date in your state might not be the same as last year.

Some states will have daily bag limits of three ducks, but this will change as time goes on.

Be careful to pay attention to the daily bag limit, but also the total possession limit.

Again, this is in place to thwart attempts at market hunting.

If the possession limit is three times the bag limit (commonplace), then you can’t have three friends with you and have all of you hit the daily bag limit.

In your party, there’s more than the possession limit, and it can be seen as market hunting.

Getting Down to Business

No matter how often you hunt, you need to be aware of the rules and regulations.

If you’re not following them, it’s only a matter of time before someone figures it out.

Heck, half the time, you might encounter issues even if you are following the rules, but at least you’ll be able to innocently get your way out of that situation.

Apart from following state and federal laws, it’s also just good to have unquestionable etiquette when hunting to respect nature and respect the hunt.

Get grinding, guys.

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