Rules and Regulations

Bowfishing on DeSoto Lake

Welcome to your national wildlife refuge. Discover new places to hunt, fish, take pictures, watch wildlife, canoe, and hike. Enjoy spending time outdoors alone or with friends and family. Please consult the Refuge at 712/388/4800 if you have questions. We may post additional site-specific regulations.

To ensure your safety and protect wildlife and habitat, please be aware of these regulations.

General Restrictions

  • Access to the refuge is open from 1/2 hour before sunrise until 1/2 hour after sunset unless otherwise posted or stated in hunting regulations.
  • All visitors must possess a refuge entrance pass to access the refuge.  Day passes are available at self-service iron rangers at refuge entrances.  Annual and Interagency Passes are available at DeSoto Visitor Center.

We prohibit:

  • Trespassing into closed areas
  • Target shooting.
  • Swimming on any refuge waters.
  • Horseback riding.
  • Collection shed antlers.
  • Training pets and allowing pets off leash.
  • All types of motorized vehicles on all refuge land (to include on frozen bodies of water) except on designated parking areas, access roads and public roads.
  • Camping, open fires and overnight parking. 
  • Abandoning, discarding or otherwise leaving any personal property. All property brought onto a refuge must be removed at the end of each day. This includes all common items like vehicles, boats, geo-caching items, photography equipment, ice fishing shelters and trash. The exception is approved hunting blinds/stands during the designated dates for refuge hunt seasons (refer to refuge hunter brochure).
  • Destructing, defacing, disturbing or unauthorized removal of any natural object, artifact, cultural resource or government property.
  • Introducing, liberating, or placing plants or animals or their parts taken elsewhere on refuge lands or waters. 
  • Disposing of animal carcasses, trash, refuse, rocks, wood or other debris.
  • Cutting, mowing, sawing, digging, collecting, injuring or removing vegetation.
  • Launching, landing or disturbing of wildlife by aircraft (drones) on the refuge. This includes for recreational or commercial purposes.
  • Commercial enterprise without a special use permit.
  • Use or possession of any illegal drug or drug paraphernalia is prohibited.



  • Hunting opportunities at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge are available on a regulated basis. Deer and wild turkey hunts are available yearly. All hunting occurs at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge within the state seasons, follows the regulations of the state and special DeSoto NWR regulations. 
  • In addition to state hunting permits, all hunters are required to possess a valid entrance pass and must read and sign the Refuge Hunting Regulations and Permit Brochure listed below.
  • We prohibit the use or possession of alcoholic beverages while hunting.
  • We prohibit distribution of feed or bait, or hunting over bait. This includes salts and minerals.
2021 Spring Turkey Hunting
  • Turkey (Spring Archery) - April 15 - May 16, 2021

  • Youth Turkey Hunt (Shotgun) - April 10-11, 2021 - Limited openings and must apply for hunt; call 712-388-4800 for more information

  • Mobility Impaired Turkey Hunt (Shotgun) - April 17-18, 2021 - Limited openings and must be mobility impaired; call 712-388-4800 for more information

2021 Spring Turkey Hunting Archery Regulation and Permit Brochure 

2021-2022 Fall/Winter Deer Hunts

  • Deer (Muzzleloader - Antlerless Only)- December 4-5, 2021
  • Deer (Muzzleloader - Antlerless Only)- January 8-9, 2022
  • Deer (Archery - Either Sex) - October 1, 2021 - January 10, 2022

Muzzleloader Hunt Information Nebraska Hunters: Nebraska Hunters need a statewide muzzleloader (Dec. hunt only) or Wahoo AOSC (Dec. or Jan. Hunt) permit and may only harvest antlerless deer. Hunters also need to print and sign the 2021-2022 DeSoto Hunting Regulations and Permit brochure found below. Have these permits printed and signed to participate in the weekend hunts. Contact refuge for more information: 712-388-4803

Muzzleloader Hunt Information Iowa Hunters: Iowa Hunters must apply in person or mail (DeSoto NWR, Attn: Antlerless Hunts, 1434 316th Lane, Missouri Valley, IA 51555) or email ( directly to the refuge. If applying through mail/email, include muzzleloader hunt weekend you wish to participate in along with name, address and phone number. A letter will then be sent out with instructions on how to obtain the special antlerless deer permit.

Complete list of refuge hunting information and regulations can be found in the below Refuge Hunting Regulations and Permit Brochure:

 2021-2022 Refuge Hunting Regulation and Permit Brochure


  • Anglers are welcome on DeSoto Lake from April 15 to October 14.
    State and federal regulations apply. An Iowa or Nebraska license is required.  
    Archery and spearfishing are permitted for roughfish only.
  • We prohibit all types of motorized vehicles on frozen water bodies.


  • Boating and paddling operation is permitted in accordance with state regulations.  
  • Boating is limited to no-wake speeds not to exceed 5 mph. 
  •  DeSoto Lake closed October 15-April 14.

Mushroom Gathering

  • Mushroom gathering for personal consumption only is permitted in open areas of the refuge from April 15 through October 14. 
  • Refer to Regulations Brochure for map of areas open to mushroom gathering.

Artificial Lights 

  • You may not use a spotlight, headlight or other artificial light to spot, locate or take any wild animal in a refuge.

Additional information

  • The above information is a partial list of rules and regulations. Consult the DeSoto Regulations Brochure for more details.
  • Special-use permits may be issued for compatible secondary uses upon approval of the refuge manager. Contact the refuge office for application information at 712-388-4800.

DeSoto Regulations Brochure