What Is Waterfowl Hunting?

If upland hunting is the "head" side of the bird-hunting, water hunting is the "tails." Like upland hunting, waterfowling happens across the country, but with a crucial difference. Waterfowling depends on water. While you may find ducks and geese away from it at times, you'll find most of them in it, or in areas right along it, throughout the hunting season.

Waterfowling also differs from upland hunting because it has flyways. These are the north-south routes ducks and geese migrated along every year. There are four major flyways in North America: Pacific, Central, Mississippi and Atlantic. Some types of waterfowl live and travel along all of them. Others concentrate around just a few. And while these flyways contain many different types of waterfowl, a few species are the most common:

Someone Say "Ducks"!

  • When people talk about ducks, they're usually talking about Mallards. With the male's emerald-green heads, Mallards are one of the most widely recognized—and widely distributed—ducks in North America. The spend springs and summers across the norther third of the U.S. and into Canada. In the fall, they migrate to the Southern states and into Mexico. The way they feed is called "dabbling." That's why they're categorized as "Dabbling Ducks."
  • Canvasbacks are another common duck. With their chestnut-red heads, males are as distinct looking as Mallards. But unlike their green-headed cousins, Canvasbacks are not as widely distributed across the country. Instead, they tend to concentrate in Mississippi Valley waterways and in the mid-Atlantic regions, summering in prairie-potholes far into Canada and migrating to the south-central U.S. and into Mexico come winter. Because of the way they dive to feed, Canvasbacks are classified as "Diving Ducks."

Along with these species, there are many other kinds of ducks, including Teal, Pintails, Widgeons, Buffleheads, Mergansers and Eiders. Part of the fun of waterfowling (and one of your responsibilities as a duck hunter) is to learn the key markings and common characteristics of these birds. Come fall, this knowledge will help you hunt more successfully—and in line with state and federal regulations.

Going For Geese

  • When it comes to these birds, the Canada (not "Canadian") goose is king. While their numbers were dangerously low a century ago, these geese are numerous today and found throughout Canada, the U.S., and into Mexico. Like their population numbers, the average size of a Canada goose is also big. The largest ones can weigh around 20 pounds. To help control their excessive populations (and help hunters take home a hefty meal) many areas offer long seasons for Canada geese along with generous daily limits.
  • Snow geese are another common type of goose. Mostly white except for their black-tipped wings, these birds have exploded in population in the last several decades. In the fall and into the winter, they congragate in huge flocks which can contain thousands of birds. This, along with the average Snow Goose's long life, makes them difficult to hunt. The massive flocks give them thousands of eyes to spot potential predators. And because they live so long (a decade or more), they quickly learn the telltale signs of anything trying to hunt them—whether it's has four legs or two.

Of course, the Canada goose and the Snow goose are just a few of the types of geese out there. Hunters also pursue other species, including the White-fronted Goose, the Ross's Goose, and Brants.

For More Than Just Approval

Another way waterfowl hunting differs from upland hunting is the way these gamebirds are managed. The population and conservation of most upland birds—pheasants, quail, grouse—is managed by the states. That's why the rules and regulations vary as you travel across the country.

But because waterfowl migrate from region to region, they're are overseen by the Federal government. And one of the Fed's requirements is that anyone 16 years of age or older has to buy a Federal Duck Stamp to hunt these birds. On top of this, some states offer their own stamps aimed at raising funds to conserve migratory waterfowl.

Before you head into the field, be sure to check your state's laws regarding waterfowl hunting. Doing this well help you keep you from running "afoul" of any of these requirements or regulations.

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