|Waterfowl Hunting and Baiting|
Waterfowl and other migratory birds are a national resource protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Hunting waterfowl is a popular sport in many parts of the country. Federal and State regulations help ensure that these birds continue to thrive while providing hunting opportunities.
Federal baiting regulations define key terms for hunters and land managers, and clarify conditions under which you may legally hunt waterfowl. As a waterfowl hunter or land manager, it is your responsibility to know and obey all Federal and State laws that govern the sport. State regulations can be more restrictive than Federal regulations.
Waterfowl baiting regulations apply to ducks, geese, swans, coots, and cranes.
Federal regulations are more restrictive for waterfowl hunting than for hunting doves and other migratory game birds. You should carefully review the Federal regulations. You may also want to check our information on dove hunting and baiting.
What Is Baiting?
You cannot hunt waterfowl by the aid of baiting or on or over any baited area where you know or reasonably should know that the area is or has been baited.
Baiting is the direct or indirect placing, exposing, depositing, distributing, or scattering of salt, grain, or other feed that could lure or attract waterfowl to, on, or over any areas where hunters are attempting to take them.
A baited area is any area on which salt, grain, or other feed has been placed, exposed, deposited, distributed, or scattered, if that salt, grain, or feed could serve as a lure or attraction for waterfowl.
The 10-Day Rule
A baited area remains off limits to hunting for 10 days after all salt, grain, or other feed has been completely removed. This rule recognizes that waterfowl will still be attracted to the same area even after the bait is gone.
Waterfowl Hunting on Agricultural Lands
Agricultural lands offer prime waterfowl hunting opportunities. You can hunt waterfowl in fields of unharvested standing crops. You can also hunt over standing crops that have been flooded. You can flood fields after crops are normally harvested and use these areas for waterfowl hunting. Hunting waterfowl over a crop that has not been harvested but that has been manipulated (rolled/disced) is considered baiting under current regulations.
The presence of seed or grain in an agricultural area rules out waterfowl hunting unless the seed or grain is scattered solely as the result of a normal agricultural planting, normal agricultural harvesting, normal agricultural post-harvest manipulation, or normal soil stabilization practice.
The Service’s regulations on baiting specifically recognize the role of USDA’s State Cooperative Extension Specialists (CES) in recommending to farmers the normal planting, harvesting, post-harvest manipulation, and soil stabilization practices for each crop grown in their state. Hunting over crop fields managed in accordance with these CES recommendations is generally not considered baiting.
The CES provides to farmers a wide range of recommendations on a case-by-case basis, but not all of their recommendations may be considered “normal” planting, harvest, post-harvest manipulation or soil stabilization practice for the purposes of determining whether or not hunting over crop fields could be considered baiting. Please contact USFWS Law Enforcement for further clarification.
Normal agricultural plantings do not involve the placement of seeds in piles or other heavy concentrations. Relevant factors include recommended planting dates, proper seed distribution, seed bed preparation, application rate, and seed viability.
A normal soil stabilization practice is a planting for agricultural soil erosion control or post mining land reclamation conducted in accordance with recommendations of the Cooperative Extension Service.
Lands planted by means of top sowing or aerial seeding can only be hunted if seeds are present solely as the result of a normal agricultural planting or normal soil stabilization practice (see section on wildlife food plots).
Harvesting & Post-Harvest Manipulation
A normal post-harvest manipulation first requires a normal agricultural harvest and removal of grain before any manipulation of remaining agricultural vegetation, such as corn stubble or rice stubble.
To be considered normal, an agricultural planting, agricultural harvesting, and agricultural post-harvest manipulation must be conducted in accordance with recommendations of the Cooperative Extension Service (i.e., planting dates, application rates, etc.). However, the Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to make final determinations about whether these recommendations were followed.
Hunters should be aware that normal harvesting practices can be unique to specific parts of the country. For example, swathing wheat crops is a part of the normal harvesting process recommended by the Cooperative Extension Service in some areas of the upper Midwest. During this process, wheat is cut, placed into rows, and left in the field for several days until it dries. Hunting waterfowl over a swathed wheat field during the recommended drying period is legal. It is illegal to hunt waterfowl over swathed wheat that becomes unmarketable or that is left in the field past the recommended drying period because these situations are not normal harvests.
Manipulation of Agricultural Crops
Manipulation includes, but is not limited to, such activities as mowing, shredding, discing, rolling, chopping, trampling, flattening, burning, or herbicide treatments. Grain or seed which is present as a result of a manipulation that took place prior to a normal harvest is bait. For example, no hunting could legally occur on or over a field where a corn crop has been knocked down by a motorized vehicle. Kernels of corn would be exposed and/or scattered.
If, for whatever reason, an agricultural crop or a portion of an agricultural crop has not been harvested (i.e., equipment failure, weather, insect infestation, disease, etc.) and the crop or remaining portion of the crop has been manipulated, then the area is a baited area and cannot be legally hunted for waterfowl. For example, no waterfowl hunting could legally occur on or over a field of sweet corn that has been partially harvested and the remainder mowed.
Wildlife Food Plots
Other Agricultural Concerns
Hunting Over Natural Vegetation
Natural vegetation is any non-agricultural, native, or naturalized plant species that grows at a site in response to planting or from existing seeds or other propagules.
Natural vegetation does not include planted millet because of its use as both an agricultural crop and a species of natural vegetation for moist soil management. However, planted millet that grows on its own in subsequent years is considered natural vegetation.
If you restore and manage wetlands as habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds, you can manipulate the natural vegetation in these areas and make them available for hunting.
Natural vegetation does not include plants grown as agricultural crops. Under no circumstances can you hunt waterfowl over manipulated crops prior to a normal harvest. Nor can you hunt waterfowl over manipulated wildlife food plots or manipulated plantings for soil stabilization.
Feeding Waterfowl and Other Wildlife
In some areas, it is a legal hunting practice to place grain to attract some State-protected game species (i.e., white-tailed deer). But these areas would be illegal for waterfowl hunting, and the 10-day rule would apply.
What is Legal?
You can hunt waterfowl on or over or from:
What is Illegal?
Some examples of areas where you cannot hunt waterfowl include:
These examples do not represent an all-inclusive list of waterfowl baiting violations.
The Hunter's Responsibility
As a waterfowl hunter, you are responsible for determining whether your proposed hunting area is baited. Before hunting, you should:
If you prepare lands for hunting, participate in such preparations, or direct such preparations, it is important for you to know and understand what practices constitute baiting. You should know what activities constitute baiting and when lands or other areas would be considered baited before such areas are hunted. If you bait or direct that an area be baited and allow waterfowl hunting to proceed, you risk being charged with an offense that carries significant penalties.
Overview of Other Regulations
Additional Federal and State regulations apply to waterfowl hunting, including those summarized below.
Illegal hunting methods. You cannot hunt waterfowl:
(The latter two restrictions do not apply during light-goose-only seasons in certain authorized areas of the Central and Mississippi Flyways.)
Shooting hours. You cannot hunt waterfowl except during the hours open to shooting.
Closed season. You cannot hunt waterfowl during the closed season.
Daily bag limit. You can take only one daily bag limit in any one day. This limit determines the number of waterfowl you may legally have in your possession while in the field or while in route back to your car, hunting camp, home, or other destination.
Wanton waste. You must make a reasonable effort to retrieve all waterfowl that you kill or cripple and keep these birds in your actual custody while in the field. You must immediately kill any wounded birds that you retrieve and count those birds toward your daily bag limit.
Tagging. You cannot put or leave waterfowl at any place or in the custody of another person unless you tag the birds with your signature, address, number of birds identified by species, and the date you killed them.
Rallying. You cannot hunt waterfowl that have been concentrated, driven, rallied, or stirred up with a motorized vehicle or sailboat.
Dressing. You cannot completely field-dress waterfowl before taking them from the field. The head or one fully feathered wing must remain attached to the birds while you transport them to your home or to a facility that processes waterfowl.
Dual violation. A violation of a State waterfowl hunting regulation is also a violation of Federal regulations.
Duck stamp. If you are 16 or older, you must carry on your person an unexpired Federal migratory bird hunting and conservation stamp. You must validate your duck stamp by signing it in ink across the face before hunting.
Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program (HIP). Unless exempt from license requirements in the State where you are hunting, you must enroll in the HIP and carry proof of current enrollment while hunting.
Protected birds. Federal law prohibits the killing of non-game migratory birds. Protected birds that you could encounter while waterfowl hunting include songbirds, eagles, hawks, owls, vultures, herons, egrets, and woodpeckers.
Banded birds. Waterfowl hunters are encouraged to report banded birds to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service toll-free bird band report hotline at 1-800/327-2263.
Excerpts from Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 20.21(i)
No persons shall take migratory game birds:
For More Information
If you have additional questions about waterfowl hunting and the law, contact the nearest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement office or one of the Service’s regional law enforcement offices listed below. You should also consult the appropriate State conservation agency to determine what State regulations apply.
CA, HI, ID, NV, OR, WA, GU, AS, CM
AZ, NM, OK, TX
IL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, OH, WI
AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, PR, VI
CT, DE, DC, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT, VA, WV
CO, KS, MT, NE, ND, SD, UT, WY
Last updated: February 14, 2013