by Wade Bourne

Most waterfowl hunting regulations are straightforward and easy to understand. If, for example, you exceed the daily bag limit for ducks or geese, you're breaking the law and can be subject to heavy fines and other penalties. Other laws tend to be less obvious, but in the eyes of wildlife officers and the court system, these regulations are just as important and enforceable as the rest.

"It is each hunter's responsibility to know and abide by all the laws governing the hunting of migratory waterfowl," says Stephen Clark, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) resident agent in charge for Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama. "And most hunters do this. There's just a small minority who make it necessary for us to be out there patrolling and encouraging hunters to stay on the right side of the law."

Clark offers the following situations in which hunters might unwittingly violate waterfowl hunting regulations and subject themselves to criminal penalties:

  • Shooting a Group Limit Each hunter is entitled to harvest only his or her personal daily bag limit
    You are not allowed to help others obtain their limit or to continue shooting until everyone in the blind gets a limit. When you take your limit, you must stop shooting and become an observer while hunters who don't have a full limit continue to hunt. In addition, hunters must maintain possession of their own birds in the blind. Retrieved birds should not be piled together but immediately distributed to the hunters who harvested them. You should possess only the birds you shot. (A good idea is for each hunter to have his or her own game strap, so birds can be kept in possession of those who shot them.)
  • Not Maintaining Possession of Your Birds
    When the hunt is over, some hunters routinely pile their birds in a boat or on an ATV to transport them from the field. This is a game law violation if the birds aren't separated into individual bags and accompanied by the hunters who harvested them. Hunters must also be able to identify which birds they shot.
  • Not Assigning Birds Properly
    If ducks or geese are given to or transported by another hunter (which is only allowed after you've left the field), or if the birds are left with a picker, they must be properly tagged to show legal ownership. Each tag should include the donor's name and address, total number and species of birds taken, and the date the birds were harvested. The tag must then be signed by the hunter who shot the birds.
  • Not Providing for Proper Identification
    When transporting waterfowl, the head or one fully feathered wing of each bird must be left intact for purposes of identification. The head or wing, and in some states both, must remain intact until the bird is transported to the hunter's home or until the bird is otherwise utilized (cooked in the field, for example).
  • Not Signing a Duck Stamp
    A hunter is required to sign his or her federal duck stamp (in ink across the face of the stamp) before going hunting. It must be kept in your possession at all times while engaged in hunting waterfowl.

  • Using an Unplugged Shotgun
    Shotguns must be "plugged" to prevent them from firing more than three rounds before reloading. Removing the plug from a semiautomatic or pump gun's magazine to enable it to hold more than three shells (one in the chamber, two in the magazine) is a blatant violation of the law. It doesn't matter if the gun came from the manufacturer without a plug installed and you forgot to check it before taking it to the field; you're still in violation of the law.

For more information about federal waterfowl hunting regulations, visit the USFWS Office of Law Enforcement at