If you hear what sounds like an elk bugle coming from the marshes of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, you aren't imagining things. The shrill bugle is coming from a sika, a small Asian elk species that thrives at this refuge. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge offers fantastic hunting for sika and white-tailed deer during archery, muzzleloader and shotgun seasons. A refuge permit is required and can easily be obtained via the Recreation.gov website. Hunters have many options and can choose to hunt more than 12 weeks of archery from September through January, up to 10 days of muzzleloader, and up to eight days of shotgun. In addition, the refuge offers a special two-day youth hunt for hunters 16 and under. More than 16,000 acres are open to hunting across the refuge’s 20-plus hunt units, including two units that are designated for hunters with permanent disabilities. Parking is distributed throughout the refuge, and hunters access their units on foot. The refuge also offers boat-accessible waterfowl hunting October through January in both inland and Chesapeake Bay waters. Finally, turkey hunters can apply for a lottery for the refuge’s spring turkey hunt, which takes place in April and May, including a special day for youth hunters.
Learn about the "First Shot" mentored hunt program here!
Hunting and Fishing Plan
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released a final hunting and fishing plan for Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Complex in Maryland, which includes Blackwater and Eastern Neck NWRs. A draft plan was issued earlier this spring; during the 97-day public comment period, 24 comment letters were received. We are grateful to those who provided comments, which helped in developing the final plan.
A summary of all substantive comments, and our responses, can be found in Appendix E (Finding of No Significant Impact). No significant changes have been made between the draft and final versions of the Hunting and Fishing Plan. As part of next year’s proposed rule, Blackwater and Eastern Neck NWRs will propose a non-lead requirement, which will take effect on September 1, 2026. The Environmental Assessment analyzes the impacts of lead ammunition and tackle; based on the breadth of comments received on the plan to require non-lead ammunition and tackle by 2026, the Service intends to complete additional analysis and provide another opportunity to comment during next year’s annual rulemaking.
Other changes that are now in effect include the use of straight wall cartridges during shotgun hunts this fall, the incidental take of coyotes, and an early teal season in 2023.
We may begin to implement the Hunting and Fishing Plan for Chesapeake Marshlands NWR Complex upon publication of the final 2022-2023 Station-Specific Hunting and Sport Fishing Regulations in the Federal Register. The final plan can be viewed here.
Update, June 2023: Chesapeake Marshlands NWR Complex is seeking public review and comment on its Supplemental Environmental Assessment (EA) for hunting and fishing. Blackwater and Eastern Neck NWRs will eliminate use of lead ammunition for all hunting and lead tackle for fishing starting September 1, 2026. The draft document can be viewed here. The Service seeks comments from the public on the proposed rule for 60 days, beginning with publication in the Federal Register on June 23, 2023. The notice will be available at http://www.regulations.gov, Docket Number: FWS-HQ-NWRS-2023-0038. If you wish to comment, please note “Chesapeake Marshlands NWRC” in the subject line of an email, and address to HuntFishRuleComments@fws.gov.
Hunting at Blackwater
Unless otherwise stated in the refuge regulations for each hunt, Blackwater NWR follows State of Maryland hunting rules and regulations. In addition to the proper Maryland hunting license(s), those hunting at Blackwater NWR must obtain a refuge hunting permit that is issued through our contractor, Recreation.gov. Hunters are responsible for reviewing and abiding by all regulations established by the State of Maryland and the refuge.
The 2023 spring turkey hunt has ended.
You may still view the 2023 turkey hunt information on our Library Page. Note that this information is posted for reference only, as dates and regulations may change for the 2024 season.
The 2023-24 deer hunt regulations, dates, and map can be found below.
Deer hunting permits are available for purchase. Please note that you must apply for the deer hunt via an online application system located at recreation.gov. Hunters apply directly on the website or by calling the recreation.gov customer service number, 877-444-6777. Once you access the website, you will need to create an account and search for "Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Deer Permits". Instructions on the website will guide you through the application process.
New this year:
- Only one hunter per permit is allowed; group members may no longer be added to a permit. This change now allows hunters to present their valid hunting permit either electronically or on paper.
- Stands and blinds must be removed daily from the refuge. This rule now applies to all hunt units on the refuge, including U1.
- Hunters are reminded that deer drives are allowed during the January shotgun hunts only.
- The Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources now requires hunters who wish to take sika deer to have a "Sika Deer Stamp" on their hunting license. For more information, see the Maryland DNR Hunting License website.
Hunters are required to possess an electronic or printed copy of a valid Maryland hunting license and all required stamps, an original valid government-issued photo identification (no copies or photos), and a valid hunting permit issued by Recreation.gov electronically or on their person at all times during refuge hunting and scouting days.
Update, August 18: New 2023-24 waterfowl hunt regulations and an overview map can be found below.
Waterfowl hunting maps of each site and pictures of access points can be found on our Library Page.
Wayfinding Map for Smartphones
Wayfinding maps for Blackwater’s hunt units are now available using the AVENZA MAPS smartphone app. This free app uses your phone’s GPS to find your location, and works without a signal from your carrier. It is available for Apple and Android devices. Learn how to install the Avenza app here. After installing the app on your phone, download the Blackwater Avenza Hunt Unit Map below to use with the app while hunting on the refuge. Please note that any boundary markings you find on the ground trump boundary lines on the hunt unit map.