Is It Illegal to Shoot Ducks on The Water?

Is It Illegal To Shoot Ducks On The Water?

While it’s not illegal to shoot ducks on the water in the U.S., it’s not usually acceptable from an ethical standpoint. 

Ducks like to spend a lot of time on the water and it doesn’t always feel right or lawful to hunt them in their natural habitat. Ducks float and sleep on the water, which can make them easy targets, but you might not feel justified shooting them in these situations.

Let’s explore what you need to know about shooting ducks on the water. Are they fair game? Read on to find out. 


Legality Of Shooting Ducks On The Water

Legality Of Shooting Ducks On The Water

Some people think that you shouldn’t shoot ducks on the water because that’s where they seek refuge. Ducks are vulnerable when they’re here. But, is it really legal to shoot sitting ducks?

It’s perfectly legal to shoot ducks on the water. The hunting laws in the U.S. make no mention of it not being legal for you to shoot ducks if they’re on the water, even if they’re resting.

However, it’s important to note that shooting ducks on the water refer to when they’re floating on the water. This is different from engaging in pass shooting.

This is a duck hunting method that’s sometimes chosen by hunters when they don’t make use of decoys. They float in a boat along small bodies of water and surprise ducks that are hiding, so it’s like jump-shooting them. 

The Ethics Of Shooting Ducks On The Water

The Ethics Of Shooting Ducks On The Water

Although shooting a duck on the water is legal, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should do it. From an ethical standpoint, shooting ducks on the water is considered unethical. Here are some reasons why.

You can wound, instead of kill, the ducks.

If you’re shooting a duck in open water, you might wound it instead of killing it. As it’s in water, you won’t always be able to retrieve and kill it humanely, for example, by striking it over the head with a blunt object or using the cervical dislocation method.

The duck might swim away and suffer until it dies.

You have an unfair advantage over the duck

Another ethical concern is that shooting a duck on the water can be considered unfair to the ducks and unsportsmanlike. This is because when ducks are in their habitats, they are floating, resting, and pretty vulnerable, so it can seem unfair to shoot them. 

However, this is a gray area because you could argue that ducks are hunted in other vulnerable conditions, such as when they’re resting in vegetation or wetlands, or when they’re feeding in fields.

Shooting ducks that are on the water means that they don’t have a chance to escape. When you hunt ducks in other scenarios, such as when they’re moving around on land or flying, this gives them a chance of survival. 

It doesn’t require any real skill

Although you will need to ensure you have a steady hand and excellent shooting skills when hunting ducks on the water, for serious hunters, the thought of shooting a duck on the water isn’t an appealing one.

Hunting requires skills and should be a challenge. Shooting a sitting duck seems like a bit of a cop-out. 

The Dangers Of Shooting Ducks On Water

The Dangers Of Shooting Ducks On Water

Besides the ethical concerns of hunting ducks on the water, there are some dangers associated with this practice too. Here are some to consider and bear in mind the next time you go duck hunting.

  • When you shoot a duck on the water, your bullets can strike the water, skim across it, and hit another hunter within the vicinity. There may be tall grass or other vegetation along the water, hiding hunters.
  • If you’ve struck a duck but didn’t kill it, you’ll naturally want to ensure you find it and humanely kill it. If you try to retrieve a wounded duck from the water, this could put you in danger, especially if you move away from the shoreline.
  • You can disturb other ducks when trying to shoot one duck on the water. This can be upsetting for other hunters in the area, as you will scare off other ducks.
  • If you, or other hunters, have placed decoys on the water to attract flying ducks, you might end up shooting these instead. No one wants their expensive duck decoys to be destroyed!
  • When shooting a duck on the water, you risk wounding many ducks simultaneously. This is devastating and inhumane, as you’ll cause pain and suffering to many ducks, and you won’t be able to track them all to end their lives humanely.
  • Shooting a duck on the water is riskier than if you shoot it when it’s flying in the sky or moving around on land, especially if you’re not an experienced hunter. You won’t achieve a full shot pattern and this can make it more difficult to kill rather than wound.
  • Shooting a duck on the water makes it difficult to hit your target as you won’t have visual access to most of its body.

Related Questions 

Here, we’ve answered two common questions regarding shooting ducks.

Where should you aim when shooting a duck that’s close to the ground?

Where should you aim when shooting a duck that’s close to the ground?

If a flying duck is getting close to land, you should aim your gun at its feet. This is because you should always try to aim your gun a bit lower than the duck.

Is it better to shoot ducks when they’re flying away?

It’s actually more effective to shoot ducks when they’re flying towards you. This gives you a greater chance of striking them in the head and neck area. 


If you want to hunt ducks on the water, you might wonder if it’s legal to do so.

While there are no laws prohibiting hunters from shooting ducks on the water, there are some ethical concerns that you should be aware of, as these are quite common in hunting circles.

In this article, we’ve explored the ethical concerns you should bear in mind, as well as the dangers involved, when hunting ducks on the water. After reading this article, it’s clear that it’s simply not worth going down this route when hunting ducks.


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