National Wildlife Refuge System

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Getting the Most From Your Hunting

State and Federal Regulations

  • Everyone who hunts on a national wildlife refuge must have the required state license(s). (State government links are provided under under the State Licenses tab.) Some refuges also require their own permits and/or user fees. These are noted in this guide.
  • Everyone over 16 years old who is hunting migratory waterfowl must have a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (Duck Stamp). Proceeds from these stamps are used to purchase wetland habitat for waterfowl. More than $700 million have been collected from the sale of Duck Stamps since 1934, leading to purchase of over five million acres of wetland. In some cases, state stamps are also required.
  • All state and/or refuge regulations for bag and possession limits must be followed, as well as those for tagging and checking in after the hunt.
  • Federal law (Title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations) allows only non-toxic shot for upland and waterfowl hunting in Waterfowl Production Areas and Wetland Management Districts. Most refuges ban toxic shot.
  • Follow state and/or refuge rules for wearing hunter orange.
  • In some cases, a boat will be required to access hunting areas. While refuges have different rules on boats, all require adherence to U.S. Coast Guard and state regulations.

Refuge Requirements

  • Hunting on refuges is permitted during certain time periods and in designated areas only, and these are subject to change. It is critical to contact the refuge for authorized activities and current guidelines before your visit.
  • You may only hunt species specified by the refuge.
  • The distribution of bait and/or hunting over bait is strictly prohibited.
  • Some refuges require hunters to have hunter education certificates or bow hunters to have completed the International Bowhunter Education Course. Check individual refuge regulations.
  • Dogs are permitted only in certain types of hunting, and, in a few cases, retrievers are required.
  • Vehicles are allowed only on roads designated as open. Unless stated otherwise, all terrain vehicles (ATVs) and off-roading are strictly prohibited.
  • Hunters may not use nails, wires, screws or bolts to attach a stand to a tree, nor may they hunt from a tree in which a metal object has been driven to support a hunter.
  • If portable blinds and/or decoys are permitted, they generally must be removed from the refuge each day.
  • The use of artificial light to locate or take an animal is prohibited.

Youth Hunters

  • Youth hunters must be supervised by an adult. Most refuges require supervising adults to be 18 years or older, but some specify 21. Refuge definitions of youth hunters vary. Check with the individual refuge.
  • Most refuges require youth hunters to complete a hunter education course.

Hunters With Disabilities

  • This guide notes special opportunities for hunters with disabilities; some refuges are universally accessible. Check with the refuge.

Personal Safety

  • Use or possession of alcoholic beverages is prohibited while hunting on national wildlife refuges.
  • If traveling, check local weather, travel conditions and road closures. Pack extra gear in case of sudden weather changes, especially if you are visiting a wildlife refuge in a remote area, and be prepared to stay longer than anticipated.
  • Share your travel plans with someone who can check your return.
  • Take appropriate safety precautions such as first aid kits, extra food and water.
  • In certain regions, notably Alaska, pack headnets and mosquito repellant.
  • Be prepared for potentially harmful plants or animals or dangerous environmental conditions. For example, there are bears on most wildlife refuges in Alaska. Poisonous snakes are found on many refuges. Hypothermia can pose a threat on some refuges at certain times of the year.
  • In remote areas, where getting lost is a possibility, it is a good idea to carry a compass or global positioning system (GPS) device.


  • If you have questions, call the wildlife refuge where you plan to hunt. Ask about hunting opportunities and regulations as well as accommodations or campgrounds, food sources, service stations and medical facilities. Determine the closest place to obtain a local hunting license. A national wildlife refuge may be several miles from a license outlet. Some information is available on individual refuge Web sites


  • Do not hunt or eat any animal acting abnormally.
  • Do not take an animal you find dead, even if it appears to have been killed by another hunter.
  • Use rubber or plastic gloves when handling uncooked meet. Keep raw meats tightly wrapped, separated from other foods, and frozen or refrigerated below 45?F.
  • Cook all game until well done.
  • Disinfect utensils used to prepare the meat; if cutting through antlers, bone, or spinal column, disinfect those tools before using them on the meat.
Last updated: November 21, 2012