North Dakota Should Be on Your Duck Hunting Bucket List

Start planning your North Dakota waterfowl hunting trip today

© Avery Outdoors

This content is brought to you by North Dakota Tourism as part of a Sponsored Content program. Ducks Unlimited played no role in the creation of this content.

By North Dakota Tourism

It’s a common refrain from hunters the first time they see the North Dakota sky filled with migrating ducks and geese: “I’ve never seen anything like it.” The truth is, that awestruck feeling comes back every time.

The North American Central Flyway goes right through here. It is one of the busiest routes for birds of all feathers heading between northern Canada and the Gulf Coast or beyond. Every spring and fall, waterfowl come by the millions.

And hunters come, too. North Dakota has an excellent combination of waterfowl populations, wetlands and access. For those in the know, North Dakota is a prime duck hunting destination.

Find world-class hunting and fishing in North Dakota.

Habitat and Hunting Land

The landscape varies across North Dakota. The Red River Valley in the east is flat, fertile farmland – the bed of the ancient glacial Lake Agassiz. The west is more rugged with rolling hills and buttes where ranching rules. Both ends of the state have lakes, rivers and wetlands that provide an excellent hunting experience.

In the middle of the state, however, is the sweet spot for world-class duck hunting. This central to east-central region of North Dakota ranges from the eastern Prairie Coteau to the Missouri River with its year-round open water. The terrain comprises grassy, rolling prairie and croplands dotted with wetland habitat like the North Dakota night sky is dotted with stars.

Sloughs, ponds, small lakes and meandering creeks seem to occupy every section of land. (Water indexes statewide are 49% above the long-term average.) Tall reeds and cattails provide perfect waterfowl production nesting cover. Beyond the cattails, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land and newly-harvested grain fields offer not only food for waterfowl, but also wide landing strips for a break from the long migration.

Favorite hunting areas include the Missouri River corridor and the Prairie Pothole region between Highway 3 and the Sheyenne River/Devils Lake basin. Many landowners throughout the region welcome hunters who ask permission, treat the land with respect and close the gates when they leave.

Hunters also find plenty of lands open to the public, including wildlife management areas, PLOTS (Private Lands Open to Sportsmen), state school lands and more than 230,000 aces of waterfowl production areas. North Dakota Game and Fish publishes maps every year detailing the location of every parcel of land open to public hunting, available for free in print at retailers and information stands around the state or on the department’s website.

North Dakota has many duck species throughout the migratory season.

Large, Diverse Waterfowl Populations

North Dakota has a lot of birds. In fact in 2020, breeding duck brood numbers were 52% higher than the 1965-2019 average. The spring survey showed an index of nearly 4 million birds, up 18% from 2019. Survey results indicate numbers for all primary species were stable or up from their 2019 estimates, including ruddy ducks (up 87%), green-winged teal (up 66%) and blue-winged teal (up 58%). All species, with the exception of pintail, were well above the 72-year average.

Duck species are abundant, with daily and possession limits on mallards, scaup, wood ducks, redheads, pintails, canvasbacks, blue-winged teal and mergansers. Other species may include coots, wigeon, buffleheads, goldeneye, gadwalls, green-winged teal, northern shovelers, ring-necked ducks and ruddy ducks.

When duck season opens, hunters don’t have to wait around for the birds to show up. Species that summer in North Dakota are still around in full force. Those species include mallards, gadwalls, teal and widgeon. As the resident populations begin moving out, hunting remains strong as the species that nest farther north in Canada begin to arrive. Together, they make for a long, productive hunting season. The 2020 fall flight estimate was up 9% over the previous year.

Hunters also enjoy seeing the nearly 180,000 geese that either live in North Dakota or visit seasonally. The crisp fall air is often filled with the sound of honkers overhead as vast flocks of Canada geese, white-fronted geese, Ross’ geese and light geese (consisting of snow geese and blue geese) make their way south. It is a common sight to see stubble grain fields blanketed with geese as more circle in for a landing.

Tundra swans and sandhill cranes also have annual hunting seasons in North Dakota for resident or non-resident hunters. Special permits are required for both, and tundra swans have a bag limit of one tagged bird with a lottery-drawn license.

With this much retrieving to do, North Dakota might be a dog’s favorite place to go for a swim.

Hunting Seasons and Licensing

North Dakota’s non-resident regular seasons for ducks and geese typically begin in early October. With the early arrival of migrating Canada geese (as well as the resident bird population), an early Canada goose season typically opens in mid-August, depending on expected numbers. Official dates are published in August by North Dakota Game and Fish.

Along with waterfowl hunting, North Dakota is also famous for its upland game, which also have strong numbers. 2020 saw statewide population increases of 38% for ring-necked pheasants, 54% for sharp-tailed grouse and 45% for Hungarian partridge.

In broad terms, the best pheasant habitat ranges through the same central waterfowl corridor, extending to the northern, western and southern borders. Again, public and private lands offer excellent access to the wetlands, fields and grasslands that pheasants love.

For any waterfowl or upland game, every hunter is required to have a basic certificate with a general game and habitat license and small game license. Waterfowl hunters must have a federal duck stamp as well.

Across North Dakota, sporting goods stores and convenience stores alike offer licensing and printed resources on the spot. For convenience and the latest, most complete information, North Dakota Game and Fish offers online licensing, public lands maps, GPS maps, proclamations and guides available for download. The agency’s website is available at: Outfitters, lodging and more services are safely open and can be found on the state tourism website at:

This content is brought to you by North Dakota Tourism as part of a Sponsored Content program. Ducks Unlimited played no role in the creation of this content.