Frequently Asked Questions

Asking Questions 512_219



Maps, Permits, and Hunting Licenses


Is there a map of the refuge that is available? 

 Yes. You can find the “Maps” link on the right side of this page to access various maps.  Call (see the Contact Us page) and we will be happy to mail you a copy  .



Is there a difference between the State (Montana) and Federal (Bowdoin) hunting regulations?

Yes.  You can find Refuge-specific regulations under the “Visit” tab above, and the “Rules and Regulations” page, with a link on the left side of the menu. 


 How do I get a copy of a map and regulations? 

If you do not have access to a printer, you can contact the Refuge Office (406) 654-2863 and we will mail you a copy.



Are there special hunting licenses to hunt?

No.  There are no special hunting licenses; only state issued licenses and the Federal Duck Stamp are required.  Special Use Permits are required to hunt and trap coyotes, skunk, raccoons, and fox.  We do not sell licenses or Duck Stamps.



Are there any special requirements for hunting?

Yes.  Only non-toxic shot is allowed. Upland bird hunters must wear orange.  For additional requirements please read the Public Use Regulations for Bowdoin Refuge and for the Wetland Management District.



Is there any special hunting seasons?

 Yes.  In December the eastern closed portion of the refuge is opened to upland game bird hunting.  Please call the Refuge as it gets closer to December for exact dates.  The first two days of this opening season are reserved for youth only, ages 12-15.  The season closes on January 1.




What can I hunt?

During the state set seasons, hunters may hunt waterfowl (ducks, geese, tundra swans), upland game birds (sharp-tailed grouse, ring-necked pheasant, sage grouse, and gray partridges), and webless birds (sandhill cranes and mourning doves).  Snipe and big game hunting are not permitted at any time. 



Can I hunt or trap coyotes, skunk, raccoons, and fox?

A Special Use Permit is required to hunt and trap coyotes, skunks, raccoons, and fox.  Hunting and trapping permits are issued based on management needs, and are not an annual occurrence.   To request a Special Use Permit contact the Refuge office for more information.



When will birds start arriving?

Ducks and geese typically start arriving in late August, with larger numbers arriving in mid October to early November, coinciding with the arrival of Tundra swans.  Waterfowl are typically gone by early December when most wetlands have frozen over.  Migration is dependent on weather patterns, when colder temperatures from the north start to force the birds southward.  Upland game birds reside year round in the area.  Sharp-tailed grouse typically begin to congregate on the refuge after the first snowfall.



Where can I hunt?

The western portion and all areas south of the rail road track of the Refuge are open to hunting during the entire state hunting seasons.  The remaining eastern portion of the refuge is closed to hunting (except during the late-season upland game bird season, see above).  The administrative area around the office, shop, and residences is closed to hunting at all times.  See the map located in the Public Use Brochure.




When will the eastern portion of the Refuge open for upland game bird hunting? 

The purpose of the closed portion of the Refuge is to provide sanctuary to migratory birds (primarily waterfowl).  The eastern portion of the Refuge will open to hunting of upland game birds only, no earlier than December 1st.  Opening day is based on all wetlands being frozen and when all migratory birds have left.  A news release will be printed in the local paper announcing the exact date.  You may call the Refuge office (406) 654-2863 for further information and to find out the date of the opener.



When will Lake Bowdoin freeze? 

Freeze up it is completely dependent on weather but typically Lake Bowdoin freezes mid to late November.  Contact the Refuge office (406) 654-2863 for current conditions.



 Are there a lot of hunters on the weekend of an opening season?

It depends on what you plan to hunt.  The opener of the pheasant season is very popular, both during the regular season in October and during the late season opener in December in the eastern portion of the Refuge.  If you plan to hunt for pheasants during the openers, expect to see other hunters while you are here. 

Very few people hunt mourning doves and sharp-tailed grouse during the opening weekend of the season.  Sharp-tailed grouse hunting on the Refuge seems to be incidental to pheasant hunting.


The opening weekend of the waterfowl season can bring moderate numbers of hunters.  The number of waterfowl hunters is typically lower during week days and increases as the season progresses.



What things should I know before hunting that is often overlooked?

Non-toxic shot is required for ALL hunting on the Refuge, even for upland game bird.  One article of blaze orange visible above the waist must be worn for upland game bird hunting.  Before traveling to the Refuge make sure to have these items with you, otherwise you may purchase them in the town of Malta.





Can I camp?

No.  Camping and any overnight stay is prohibited.  The Refuge is open from sunrise to sunset daily.  Camping is available at Nelson Park, by Nelson Reservoir, at Trafton City Park in Malta, and at RV sites in Malta.


Fishing and Boating


Can I fish?

No.  Fishing is not permitted. 



Can I use my boat for hunting?

Boating is permitted only during the waterfowl hunting season.  Boat motors are limited to a maximum of 25 horsepower. Boating is only allowed in the open-to-hunting portions of the Refuge.



Can I do recreational boating? 

Recreational boating (including canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, boats with motors, and any others) is prohibited at all times, except during the waterfowl hunting season.  Boating is allowed only in the open-to-hunting portions of the Refuge.  Boaters are limited to a maximum of 25 horsepower.



Are there any boat ramps available?

 Yes.  There are two boat ramps on Lake Bowdoin (one of which is handicap accessible) and one on Drumbo.  Water levels fluctuate during the year, dictating what type and size of boats you may be able to launch.  Contact Refuge staff at (406) 654-2863, to get up to date water level conditions and boat launching capabilities.


ATV’s, UTV’s, Bicycles, and Horses


Can I use my ATV or UTV?

ATV’s and UTV’s are permitted only on the Auto Tour Road and as long as they are street legal.  Driving off the Auto Tour Road, cross country, or on any other service roads is prohibited. 



Can I ride my bike?

Yes.  Bikes are permitted only on the Auto Tour road.  Bikes are not permitted cross country or any other Service roads.



Can I ride my horse?

No.  Horses are not permitted anywhere on the Refuge. 



Non-hunting Recreation


When do the birds start arriving?

Spring migration of birds can start as early as March, but most birds arrive in April and into May.  Shorebird migration starts in July for fall migration.  Most other bird species start fall migration in September and it continues through November/December, depending on when freeze up occurs.  



What kind of birds can I see?

See the Bird List, for the complete list of bird species.  Some examples are American avocet, marbled godwit, American white pelican, northern pintail, cinnamon teal, tundra swan, Franklin’s gull, white-faced ibis, Forster’s tern, bald eagle, golden eagle, Baird’s sparrow, and Sprague’s pipit.  Some winter residents are Bohemian waxwing, snowy owl and northern goshawk.   



When is the best time to visit?

It depends what you are looking for.  See above for when birds start arriving and for migration peaks.  Also look at “Seasons of Wildlife” on the top tab of this page. For peak migration, mid-May to early June, and mid-October to November.



Where can I hike?

There is one designated hiking trail around Display Pond, located near the refuge office.  It is 0.4 miles long.  Hiking is permitted on the refuge, except in the shop and residential area, and in the eastern closed portion of the refuge from September 1 to November 30.



Is there a place to picnic? 

There is a picnic table located along the Display Pond trail near the office.


What activities are there to do in the winter? 

Snow cover can be variable not only during a winter, but from one year to the next.  Cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating (Lake Bowdoin) are all options depending on the snow cover.


What should I bring? 

 Aside from binoculars and a camera, wear along clothing appropriate for the weather (layers).  The wind can be quite strong at times so a good wind breaker is ideal.  Spring and fall can go from near freezing mornings to sunny warm afternoons.  Mosquitoes are plentiful come summer, bug spray or netting is recommended.  Bring plenty of water and sunblock, as it can be hot and sunny. 




What are the road conditions like?

Old US Hwy 2 from Malta to the Refuge is a secondary paved road. During the winter snow and ice may cover the road.  The refuge Auto Tour Road is a 15 mile long, single lane gravel road in very good condition.  The Auto Tour Road is open year round, except during inclement weather conditions (significant snow accumulation, flooding), or during road maintenance.  Cars are able to drive the Auto Tour road spring through fall.