Facility Rules and Policies

Welcome to your National Wildlife Refuge. DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge provides a number of activities to enjoy nature throughout the year including hunting, fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, photography and canoeing. The refuge does have areas that are closed year round or seasonally to the public to provide important sanctuary areas for wildlife. To help protect and minimize disturbance to wildlife and its habitat, the refuge has other rules and regulations regarding activities on the refuge. To learn more about permitted activities, pick up a refuge regulation brochure when visiting or call refuge staff at 712-388-4800 with any questions.

Hours and Access

DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is open daily from a half hour before sunrise until a half hour after sunset.

The refuge has seasonally accessible roads, trails and public use areas. The South Gate Entrance, the East Gravel Section of Auto Tour Loop, Green Heron and Missouri Meander Trails, and off-trail exploration of the seasonal public use area are open from April 15 -October 14. They close to public use starting October 15 each year to minimize disturbance to migratory birds during the peak of the migration season. All other trails and sections of roads are open throughout the year.


DeSoto Lake and other inland refuge waters located in open areas are open to fishing from April 15 - October 14. Ice fishing on DeSoto Lake is permitted, when conditions allow, from January 2 - end of February. The Missouri River is open daily. An Iowa or Nebraska Fishing license is required on DeSoto Lake. See the regulation brochure for daily bag limits and minimum length limits. State and federal regulations apply. Additional fishing regulations include:

  • Digging or seining for bait is prohibited
  • Trotlines, bank lines, set lines and float lines are prohibited
  • No more than two lines and two hooks per line may be used, including ice fishing
  • Archery and spearfishing are permitted for rough fish only
  • Portable ice fishing shelters are permitted but must be removed daily
  • The take of turtles and frogs are prohibited
Boating and Paddling

Boating and paddling on DeSoto Lake is permitted in accordance with state regulations. Boating is limited to no-wake speeds, not to exceed 5 miles per hour. DeSoto Lake is open seasonally from April 15 - October 14.


Limited deer and wild turkey hunting allowed on refuge. ALL waterfowl hunting is PROHIBITED on DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge.

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 refuge regulations. All areas open to hunting, as outlined on the map of the hunt brochure, may be accessed by hunters holding a resident Iowa or resident Nebraska license. Hunters holding non-resident Iowa or Nebraska licenses may only hunt on land within the state the nonresident license is issued. 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. A complete list of the hunting regulations along with season dates is found in the annual refuge hunt brochure. An overview of hunt opportunities at the refuge include:

Turkey Hunting:

  • Archery hunters can hunt within the public archery hunt areas and must possess a valid Iowa or Nebraska permit. Spring and fall season dates are set each year in accordance with state seasons.
  • Each year the refuge hosts a weekend youth shotgun turkey hunt. The season date is set in late winter and interested youth hunters must apply for the hunt by contacting 712-388-4803.
  • Each year the refuge hosts a weekend mobility impaired shotgun turkey hunt. Season dates are set in late winter. Limited openings and must be mobility impaired; call 712-388-4803 for more information.

Deer Hunting:

  • Archery Deer Hunting: October 1 - January 10 archery hunting is permitted each year within the public archery hunt area on the refuge. Hunters must possess the refuge hunt brochure and valid state deer permits/license.
  • Antlerless Muzzleloader Hunts: Dates determined each year - the refuge hosts two weekend antlerless only muzzleloader hunts. These hunts require special permits based on state of residency (Iowa or Nebraska). Contact refuge for more information at 712-388-4803.

General Hunt Rules: 

Entrance Fee:
  • Hunters may only enter the refuge if they also have a valid entrance fee permit (one per vehicle). Valid permits are DeSoto Annual Pass ($15.00), Federal Duck Stamp ($25.00), and Daily Permit ($3.00). Other passes are available at the Visitor Center for seniors, active military, and the permanently disabled. Contact DeSoto NWR for more details. 
Refuge Hours: 
  • Two hours before sunrise and two hours after sunset. Contact refuge law enforcement to remain after closing hours to retrieve or track wounded game.  
State Regulations: 
  • All state regulations apply including hunting methods, license, tagging, and reporting requirements. Additional Refuge-Specific regulations are outlined in this brochure and in Title 50 CFR. All commercial activities, including guided hunts, are prohibited. 
  • All areas are open to hunting, as outlined in the map of this brochure, may be accessed by hunters a resident Iowa or resident Nebraska license. Hunters holding non-resident Iowa or Nebraska licenses may only hunt land within the state of the non-resident license is issued. 
Stands, Blinds and Other Property:
  • Only portable stands and blinds may be placed on the refuge during applicable hunting season. Trail cameras are not allowed.  
    • We allow two portable tree stands/blinds per hunter within the Archery hunt area. Of those, only on stand/blind can be left on refuge from one week prior to the start of the designated hunt season to one week after the end of the designated hunt season.
    • Unattended stands and blinds must be plainly labeled with full name and/or hunting license number of the owner. Labels must be visible from the ground.
    • Spikes, nails, screw-in bow holders, and any items that penetrate the outer bark of a tree are prohibited.
    • Cutting or altering of tree branches or any vegetation is prohibited.
    • During any deer firearm season, ground blinds must display a 12 inch by 12 inch patch of solid blaze orange material visible in all directions.
    • Stands and blinds not in full compliance with these regulations are subject to removal.
  •  For muzzleloader deer hunts, Nebraska hunters need either a statewide muzzleloader (December Hunt), or Wahoo AOSC permit (December or January Hunts). Nebraska hunters can contact Peter Rea for more information on the muzzleloader hunts (peter_rea@fws.gov). Iowa hunters must apply for hunt through the refuge. Iowa Hunters can mail in or drop off a letter with their name, address, and the hunt dates they want to participate in. Mail to 1434 316th Lane, Missouri Valley, IA 51555. 
Muzzle Loader Scout Hunt Date:  
  • The scout day for both DeSoto Muzzleloader hunts is the weekend before the hunt weekend (for these dates reference the hunt brochure). On the outlined dates dates stands can be placed for the respective hunt weekend.
  • All firearms must be 1) unloaded and 2) entirely cased or broken down while in vehicles on refuge roads during refuge firearm hunts. A muzzleloader must be cased and is considered unloaded if the cap or priming charge is removed from the firearm.  
  • Crossbows are prohibited as archery equipment unless needed because of a physical disability. Contact DeSoto NWR for additional information.  
  • The use of two-way mobile radio transmitters to communicate location of game or coordinates movement of hunters is prohibited. 
  • Possession or use of alcoholic beverages while hunting is prohibited. 

Only legal hunters holding the proper state hunting license may enter and hunt the refuge hunting areas. Unlicensed companions are not permitted in the hunting area when not open to the general public.

Deer Drives:
  • Participation in organized deer drives is prohibited. 
  • You may not field dress any game within 100 feet of the centerline of any refuge road or parking lot. You may not dispose of an animal carcasses on refuge property. All ribbon & flagging must be removed by the end of the hunt season.  
Archery During Gun Seasons:
  • Hunting areas will remain open to archery deer hunting during the respective states firearms deer season. 
Blaze Orange:
  • All hunters (including archery) must display blaze orange that meets their respective states firearms season requirements during any DEER season in which firearms are allowed on the refuge (for firearm hunt dates please reference refuge hunting brochure). 
How to Obtain Permits:
  • Nebraska:
  • Iowa:
    • Spring and Fall Turkey: Purchase state permit from Iowa DNR license vendor.
    • Deer Archery Either Sex: Purchase state permit from Iowa DNR license vendor.
    • Deer Archery Antlerless Only: Harrison or Pottawattamie County Antlerless Archery tags valid in DeSoto Archery Area. Purchase from Iowa DNR license vendor.
    • Deer Muzzleloader Antlerless Only: Special Permit, Apply at DeSoto NWR by 9/15/2022.
Hunt Dates and Quotas:
  • Please reference the hunt brochure.

Printable Hunt Brochure

Mushroom Gathering

Mushroom gathering for personal consumption only is permitted in the open public use areas of the refuge. These public use areas open to public access (including mushroom gathering) from April 15 - October 14. See refuge regulation brochure for map of open areas.

Additional Regulations
  • Open fires are prohibited. Grills are restricted to picnic areas at South Gate, Cottonwood, Visitor Center, and Lakeview Drive
  • Camping is not permitted on the refuge
  • The use of artificial lights to take or locate wildlife is prohibited
  • Disorderly conduct or disturbance of the peace is prohibited
  • Illegal substances: Use or possession of alcohol by minors is prohibited. Use or possession of any illegal drug or drug paraphernalia is prohibited.
  • Unauthorized use of firearms, fireworks, air guns, and all other weapons are prohibited
  • Dogs are permitted only under physical restrictive control of a leash at all times. Leashes may not exceed 6 feet in length.
  • Horseback riding is prohibited on the refuge
  • Swimming is not allowed on the refuge
  • Trespassing into closed areas is prohibited
  • Collecting or destruction of plant and animal life is prohibited. Collecting shed antlers is prohibited. Searching for or removing artifacts or objects of antiquity is prohibited.
  • Use of motorized All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs, snowmobiles, etc.) is prohibited at all times
  • Abandoning, discarding or otherwise leaving any personal property is prohibited. All property brought onto a refuge must be removed at the end of each day. The exception is approved hunting blinds/stands during the designated dates for refuge hunt seasons (refer to refuge hunting brochure).
  • Launching, landing or disturbing of wildlife by aircraft (drones) on the refuge is prohibited. This includes for recreational or commercial purposes.