Locating Public Hunting Areas
Most states have management areas or refuges (state or federal) where waterfowl are concentrated and public hunting is allowed. These places are usually subject to special regulations (drawings for hunting spots, day or time restrictions, etc.) to control hunting pressure. More widely accessible public areas—natural lakes, reservoirs, and rivers, for example—may not be managed for ducks and geese, but the birds will frequent such habitat when conditions are right. Such places are typically open to public waterfowling in accordance with general statewide hunting regulations.
McGowen, Murrell, and Checkett offer the following advice on how to find good public waterfowling spots:
- Become Internet savvy. All state game and fish agencies provide information on their websites about public hunting opportunities, including locations, site maps, special regulations, and harvest figures. Also, browse waterfowl websites (including www.ducks.org) and hunting forums about public areas.
- Search for hunting possibilities on all public property. Major navigable rivers, Corps of Engineers and TVA reservoirs, BLM lands, U.S. Forest Service properties, national wildlife refuges, military reservations, municipal lakes, and other public lands are worth checking out for overlooked hunting possibilities. Pay special attention to finding access points where boats may be launched or where you can enter on foot.
- Call state wetland managers or wildlife biologists and ask where you can find good public hunting. Biologists monitor waterfowl numbers and activity on public areas, and they generally like hunters to take advantage of their management efforts.
- Use aerial photography and satellite imagery to look for small hidden wetlands on public areas that may be better known for upland game hunting. Waterfowl are sometimes drawn to such wetlands after a heavy rain because higher water levels can provide access to an abundance of new food.
- Scout for hidden wetlands from the air. Hiring an airplane and pilot can be costly, but an hour’s worth of scouting from a duck’s perspective may uncover opportunities that other hunters don’t know are there. If you fly, take maps and a GPS to mark spots and make notes on how to reach them.
- Scout as often as possible, both before and during hunting season. When searching for public hunting opportunities, the amount of scouting done is usually directly proportional to the number of leads uncovered. When it comes to finding public hunting spots, the best detectives uncover the best places.
“Good public hunting spots don’t just fall into your lap,” Checkett explains.
“You have to work to find them. But they’re out there waiting to be discovered by hunters who put in the time and effort to do so. The bottom line is that you don’t have to have your own lease or club to enjoy good waterfowl hunting. You just have to be good at utilizing the public opportunities that are out there.”