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Rules and Regulations

Boundary_Sign_512x219There are lots of fun, interesting, and educational activities you can do and enjoy on Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Keep in mind, if an activity is not wildlife related and doesn’t help in the protection or understanding of wildlife or their habitat, there are probably Refuge rules governing this activity. Please check with the Refuge management before participating in an activity that could harm the environment or yourself. Be safe and have fun!


Welcome to Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge (The Refuge) located in northeastern Montana in Sheridan and Roosevelt Counties.  The 31,702 acre refuge is part of a unique plains ecosystem that offers many different recreational opportunities for visitors.  These public use regulations will ensure that all of our visitors can have a quality experience regardless of how they participate in our many wildlife-dependent activities.  Any questions may be fielded by US Fish & Wildlife staff located at the Refuge Headquarters.

The following regulations apply only to the Refuge and its boundaries.  Visitors wishing to recreate on US Fish & Wildlife administered waterfowl production areas (WPA) may consult the Northeast Montana Wetland Management District Public Use Regulations.



The Refuge Headquarters is open 7:00 am – 3:30 pm, Monday-Friday, excluding federal holidays.  

The Refuge, recreation area, and Wildlife Drive are open sunrise to sunset – afterhours access is prohibited 

The Wildlife Drive is closed during the state waterfowl season and during inclement weather at the discretion of refuge staff

The diversion canal is closed to all public uses

The Refuge is closed to camping and overnight occupancy

Obey all state traffic, criminal, and wildlife laws

The speed limit on refuge roads is 25 MPH unless otherwise posted

Off-road vehicular travel is prohibited

Recreational vehicles (ATV, UTV, dirt bikes, etc.) may only be operated on public roads and must be registered in accordance with state law

Vehicles must be parked in designated parking areas or far enough off the roadway as not to impede other motorists

Mountain biking is permitted only on designated roads and trails

Snowmobiles are prohibited on the refuge

Pets must be kept on a leash at all times unless participating in a hunting activity outlined in the hunting regulations

Pet waste must be properly disposed of

The use of artificial lights of any kind to view or harvest wildlife is prohibited

The residential areas surrounding Refuge Headquarters are closed to the public

“Management trails” are closed to vehicular travel

The observation tower within the headquarters area is closed

Gas and charcoal-powered grills are permitted in designated parking areas

Open fires and campfire rings are prohibited

Vehicles and equipment including but not limited to:  artificial blinds, decoys, and stands; may not be left on the Refuge overnight

Photography on the refuge is encouraged; however, a special use permit and fee is required for commercial photography (43 C.F.R. 5.1)

Off-trail hiking and photography on the refuge is prohibited from May 15 through August 15

Harassment of wildlife is prohibited – do not approach within 50 yards of wildlife unless participating in a hunting activity outlined in the hunting regulations

Swimming in refuge waters is prohibited

Persons possessing, transporting, or carrying firearms on National Wildlife Refuge System lands must comply with all provisions of State and local law.  Persons may only (use) discharge firearms in accordance with refuge regulations (50 CFR 27.42 and specific regulations in 50 CFR Part 32).

Target practice is prohibited

Disposal of waste/litter on the Refuge is prohibited

Removal of artifacts or natural objects is prohibited



Medicine Lake and its islands east of the Highway 16 bridge and the Sandhills are designated wilderness areas

The islands within Medicine Lake are closed to the public (unless otherwise stated)

No mechanical or motorized equipment is permitted in the wilderness area.  This includes, but is not limited to:



Electric or gas powered ice augers and saws

Spinning wing decoys (mojos)

Wheeled devices such as bicycles and game carts (this restriction does not apply to mobility assistance devices)

All other equipment with a power source other than hand power

Horseback riding is prohibited in the wilderness areas



All boating on the Refuge must be conducted in accordance with state law

Non-motorized boats are permitted on:

Medicine Lake from November 15  to September 15

Gaffney Lake, Swanson Lake, and Lake Creek Flats during the state waterfowl season

Motorboats and sailboats are prohibited on all Refuge waters

Boats must be launched from designated boat launches (consult Refuge map for details)



All fishing on Medicine Lake must be conducted in accordance with state law

Medicine Lake is open to fishing from November 15 to September 15

Fishing is prohibited on all other units of the Refuge

Consult the Refuge map for fishing access points

Bank fishing is prohibited in the following areas (consult Refuge map and signs):

  • The north shore in the area of the Refuge Headquarters and residential area
  • The south shore from the eastern end of the recreation area to Tax Bay
  • All islands

All fish remains must be removed from the Refuge

Ice-fishing shelters are not permitted overnight



All hunting on the Refuge must be conducted in accordance with state law and bag limits

Hunters should make a reasonable effort to ensure adequate space between their hunting party and other unaffiliated parties

The possession and/or consumption of alcohol while hunting is prohibited

Dispose of all waste when cleaning animals.  Not all refuge visitors are hunters and animal remains may be offensive to some

Do not clean harvested animals in parking areas

Baiting for any species on the Refuge is illegal

The use of electronic or pre-recorded game calls on the Refuge is prohibited

Areas 1 and 3 are restricted to the hunting of upland game bird, deer, and pronghorn (when state season permits) from November 15 and continuing through the regular state season

Area 2 is open for ducks, geese, coots, upland game birds, jackrabbits, deer, and pronghorn in accordance with state established seasons

Swan and crane hunting on the Refuge is prohibited

The use of non-toxic shot is required for all bird hunting on the refuge

Field possession of toxic shot (lead) is illegal

Hunters must make a reasonable effort to pick up any shotgun cartridges and shell-casings while hunting

Hunting dog field trials are prohibited

The training of hunting dogs is prohibited outside the established hunting season

Shooting from, on, or across roads and road rights-of-way is prohibited

Commercial guiding and outfitting is prohibited

Retrieval of game from areas closed to hunting is prohibited without approval from a state or federal game warden (Federal Wildlife Officer)

Hunters are allowed one hour before and after legal shooting hours to access and return from hunting areas

Handicapped accessible blinds must be reserved and are on a first come first served basis

Other opportunities exist for accessibility hunts – check with refuge staff for details

Limited opportunities exist for predator and furbearer hunting - this requires a free permit and map which can be obtained at refuge headquarters



The refuge is currently closed to trapping

Consult refuge manager for details and future opportunities

Last Updated: Nov 04, 2015
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