15 Great Places to Hunt Waterfowl

When it comes to planning a waterfowl hunting trip, location is everything
By Matt Young

While good waterfowl hunting can be found across this continent from the Arctic to the Everglades, there are certain locations that regularly attract extraordinary numbers of birds. These are the places that waterfowl hunters dream about during the off-season and where many of us hope to hunt at least once in our lives. Over the years, Ducks Unlimited has sent correspondents to many of the hottest waterfowl hunting areas in the United States and Canada. The following reviews of great waterfowl hunting destinations (in no particular order) are based on their reports.

1. Southern Saskatchewan

By virtually any measure, Saskatchewan would rank high among North America’s best places to hunt waterfowl. The province is not only the continent’s most important breeding area for mallards, pintails, and other dabbling ducks but also a staging hub for Arctic geese and other waterfowl raised across the Far North. In certain areas of this province’s vast prairie-parkland region, it’s not uncommon to take large and small subspecies of Canada geese, white-fronted geese, light geese, mallards, and pintails in the same decoy spread. Public hunting is available on many large wetland projects conserved by Ducks Unlimited and its partners in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Freelance waterfowlers can also secure permission from farmers to hunt on private land.

When it’s hot: late September-October

Abundant species: mallards, pintails, canvasbacks, redheads, Canada geese, white-fronted geese, light geese

Contact: Tourism Saskatchewan sasktourism.com

2. Eastern North Dakota

Whether you are pursuing Canada geese, light geese, dabbling ducks, or divers, you can find them in abundance somewhere in North Dakota. Located in the heart of the prairie Duck Factory, this state supported more than 8 million breeding ducks in 2009 and hosts even larger numbers of staging waterfowl during the fall migration. Hunting access is available on a variety of public lands in the eastern half of the state, including federal waterfowl production areas, state wildlife management areas, and properties enrolled in the state’s Private Lands Open To Sportsmen (PLOTS) program.

When it’s hot: October-early November

Abundant species: mallards, pintails, gadwalls, green-winged teal, lesser scaup, Canada geese, lesser snow geese

Contact: North Dakota Game and Fish Department gf.nd.gov  

3. Central Valley of California

Acre for acre, the Central Valley of California supports more wintering waterfowl than anywhere else in North America. At peak times, this region hosts 5 to 7 million wintering waterfowl—more than 60 percent of the Pacific Flyway’s ducks and geese. As you would expect, the high ratio of birds to habitat results in some superb waterfowl hunting. This is especially true on private duck clubs in places such as Butte Sink, Suisun Marsh, and the Grasslands. Good public hunting is also available on several intensively managed national wildlife refuges and state wildlife areas in the region, which also support large numbers of wintering waterfowl.    

When it’s hot: late November-January

Abundant species: pintails, mallards, wigeon, green-winged teal, Aleutian cackling geese,
white-fronted geese, light geese

Contact: California Department of Fish and Game dfg.ca.gov

4. South Louisiana

Any survey of North America’s top waterfowl hunting areas would have to include Louisiana. America’s Wetland—as south Louisiana’s coastal marshes are collectively known—supports upwards of 9 million migrating and wintering ducks on average. Some of the state’s best duck hunting can be found on the Chenier Plain in southwest Louisiana. Freelancers equipped with shallow-running duck boats will find plenty of public hunting opportunities on the massive Sabine and Lacassine national wildlife refuges in Cameron Parish.

When it’s hot: late November-January

Abundant species: gadwalls, green-winged teal, blue-winged teal, pintails, mottled ducks, white-fronted geese, lesser snow geese

Contact: Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries wlf.state.la.us, Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex fws.gov/swlarefugecomplex

5. Peace River Country, Alberta

As the northernmost major grain-producing region in North America, the Peace River Country of northwestern Alberta is a magnet for migrating waterfowl raised across the boreal forest and Arctic. In September, waves of Canada geese, white-fronted geese, lesser snows, Ross’s geese, mallards, pintails, and other dabbling ducks descend on the region to gorge themselves on wheat, barley, lentils, and peas. As in other parts of Prairie Canada, visiting hunters can freelance by scouting the fields and asking permission from local landowners.

When it’s hot: September-early October

Abundant species: mallards, pintails, wigeon, green-winged teal, Canada geese, white-fronted geese, light geese

Contact: Travel Alberta mywildalberta.com

6. Texas Panhandle

The Texas Panhandle lies in the heart of what is known as the playa lakes region, also encompassing parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. Much like the prairie potholes of the northern Great Plains, playas are dependent on seasonal precipitation, and in those special years when timely rainfall replenishes these unique wetlands, the Panhandle fills up with incredible numbers of waterfowl. Hunting pressure is light across much of this sparsely populated region. Freelance waterfowlers can often receive permission from landowners to hunt waterfowl on playas and private agricultural land.

When it’s hot: late November-December

Abundant species: mallards, pintails, wigeon, green-winged teal, Canada geese

Contact:
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department tpwd.state.tx.us

7. Eastern Arkansas

Known as the Duck Capital of the World, Stuttgart, Arkansas, has long been a favorite destination for waterfowl hunters from near and far—and for good reason. Extensive rice production, naturally flooded bottomland hardwoods, and intensively managed green-tree reservoirs make the broad alluvial plain surrounding Stuttgart a winter paradise for mallards—and duck hunters. For those willing to work for their birds, good public hunting is available on the nearly 34,000-acre Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area in Jefferson and Arkansas counties and the 160,000-acre White River National Wildlife Refuge, spanning nearly 90 miles in four counties.

When it’s hot: late November-January

Abundant species: mallards, pintails, wood ducks, green-winged teal, gadwalls, white-fronted geese, lesser snow geese

Contact: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission agfc.com

8. Great Salt Lake, Utah

The Great Salt Lake is an oasis for breeding and migrating waterfowl in the heart of the arid Great Basin. This 70-mile-long lake and associated marshes are among the continent’s most important staging areas for pintails and other dabbling ducks. Steeped in waterfowling tradition, Great Salt Lake is home to nearly 30 private hunting clubs, such as the Bear River Club—dating back to 1901—as well as the Chesapeake, North Point, Harrison, Rudy, Ambassador, and New State clubs. Public hunting is available on the lake itself and on several state waterfowl management areas along its shores.

When it’s hot: early October-November

Abundant species: pintails, mallards, wigeon, gadwalls, shovelers, green-winged and cinnamon teal

Contact: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources wildlife.utah.gov

9. Upper Mississippi River

During the 1930s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a series of locks and dams on the upper Mississippi River, creating a vast network of shallow open water, islands, and marsh along the borders of Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Not surprisingly, these wetlands attract droves of staging waterfowl during migration. At peak times, more than 50 percent of the continent’s canvasbacks as well as thousands of other ducks, geese, and swans gather on the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. Public hunting is allowed throughout much of this sprawling 240,000-acre area, and waterfowlers equipped for hunting big water have good success gunning from points and islands along the shoreline.

When it’s hot: late October-November 

Abundant species: canvasbacks, redheads, lesser scaup, mallards, Canada geese

Contact: Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge fws.gov/
midwest/UpperMississippiRiver, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources dnr.state.wi.us

10. Chesapeake Bay

The cradle of American waterfowling, Chesapeake Bay has a rich sporting heritage dating back to Captain John Smith, who first hunted in the region during the early 1600s. More than 400 years later, the region remains a good place to hunt a variety of waterfowl. The nation’s largest estuary is among the Atlantic Flyway’s most important migration and wintering areas for dabblers and divers. In addition, nearly the entire population of Atlantic Canada geese winters along Maryland’s Eastern Shore and surrounding areas. Public waterfowl hunting opportunities abound on the bay itself as well as on wildlife management areas and national wildlife refuges.

When it’s hot: December-January

Abundant species: mallards, black ducks, green-winged teal, canvasbacks, Canada geese, greater snow geese

Contact:
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries dgif.virginia.gov, Maryland Department of Natural Resources dnr.state.md.us

11. Southern Ontario

This narrow strip of land in the heart of the Great Lakes is a little piece of heaven for waterfowlers in one of North America’s most densely populated areas. During the peak of the fall migration, large concentrations of divers and dabbling ducks gather at such storied locations as Long Point, the St. Clair Flats, and the Thousand Islands. Layout hunters equipped to safely hunt offshore have especially good success when the divers are in. Less adventurous waterfowlers can also find good public hunting for dabbling ducks on coastal and interior marshes.

When it’s hot: October-November

Abundant species: lesser scaup, canvasbacks, redheads, ring-necked ducks, mallards, black ducks, Canada geese

Contact: Hunt Ontario gohuntinontario.com

12. Mississippi Delta

Birthplace of the blues, the Mississippi Delta has an equally rich waterfowl hunting tradition. When winter rains flood low-lying cropland and bottomland hardwood forests, this broad alluvial plain can rival neighboring Arkansas as a wintering ground for mallards, wood ducks, and a variety of other waterfowl. Freelance hunting is available in Delta National Forest and on several national wildlife refuges and state wildlife management areas in the region.

When it’s hot: December-January

Abundant species: mallards, pintails, gadwalls, wood ducks, green-winged teal, white-fronted geese, lesser snow geese

Contact: Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks home.mdwfp.com, Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge Complex fws.gov/yazoo

13. ACE Basin, South Carolina

Encompassing the watersheds of South Carolina’s Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto rivers, the ACE Basin is one of the most important waterfowl wintering areas in the south Atlantic Flyway. A mix of freshwater and brackish marsh, seasonally flooded bottomland hardwood forest, and intensively managed wetland impoundments draw large numbers of wintering dabbling ducks to the Palmetto State’s Lowcountry every year. Some of the best waterfowl habitat—and duck hunting—are found on this region’s historic rice plantations, which are privately owned and intensively managed for waterfowl and other wildlife. But the ACE Basin also has an abundance of public water open to hunting, and a small number of high-quality draw hunts are held on state wildlife management areas in the region.  

When it’s hot: December-January

Abundant species: green-winged teal, blue-winged teal, pintails, ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls

Contact: South Carolina Department of Natural Resources dnr.sc.gov


14. Missouri Confluence Area

Many of the Mississippi Flyway’s waterfowl—including at least 14 million ducks—pass through this narrow corridor formed by the Illinois, Mississippi, and Missouri rivers just north of St. Louis. The “Confluence” floodplain in Missouri’s St. Charles and Lincoln counties is home to more than 200 duck clubs, some of which were established during the early 1800s. More than 40,000 acres of public land exist on national wildlife refuges, state conservation areas, and tracts owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the surrounding four-county area. Many of these properties are intensively managed for waterfowl and provide good public hunting opportunities for residents and nonresidents alike.  

When it’s hot: late October-early December

Abundant species: mallards, green-winged teal, wood ducks, Canada geese

Contact: Missouri Department of Conservation mdc.mo.gov

15. Northwestern Washington

When Lewis and Clark explored the Pacific Northwest in 1805, they encountered almost unfathomable numbers of ducks, geese, and swans. Today, the region continues to support a great abundance of waterfowl. At peak times, more than 500,000 dabbling ducks winter on Puget Sound, and many of these birds gather along Washington’s northwestern coast in Samish, Padilla, and Skagit bays. Good public hunting is available on several state wildlife areas in Whatcom and Skagit counties as well as on Puget Sound.

When it’s hot: November-January

Abundant species: mallards, pintails, wigeon, green-winged teal, long-tailed ducks, scoters

Contact:
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife wdfw.wa.gov