Waterfowl Hunter Frequently Asked Questions
What license(s) do I need to hunt ducks in Louisiana?
If you’re a resident or Louisiana native, you need a Louisiana hunting license of some kind (Basic Hunting, Lifetime, Senior, or Sportsman’s Paradise License.) Basic Hunting License holders also need a Louisiana Duck License.
If you’re a nonresident, you must either have:
- A Basic Hunting License and a Louisiana Duck License to hunt the entire season
- A Nonresident 1-day Small Game/Migratory Bird License for each day you intend to hunt.
Who is responsible for setting waterfowl hunting seasons in Louisiana, and when do they set them?
There are two steps to setting waterfowl hunting seasons. First, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in consultation with the Mississippi Flyway Council, sets framework regulations in late fall of each year. Framework regulations include the earliest the season can open, the latest it can close, the season length, and the bag limits for all species. The following January, LDWF proposes hunting season dates and regulations through a Notice of Intent which is then open for public comment for 90 days. LDWF holds public meetings around the state in February, and the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission accepts public comment and considers amendments at their February and March meetings. If no amendments are made in March meeting, the Commission makes a final decision on waterfowl hunting seasons at their April meeting. If there are amendments in March, the final vote is at the May Commission meeting.
How can I provide input on the season?
LDWF conducts public meetings around the state for the express purpose of gathering public comment on the proposed hunting regulations. All Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meetings are open to the public, and you are invited to speak here as well. You are also welcome to call, write, or email LDWF staff or the commissioners to share your views.
Where can I find information on places to hunt waterfowl in Louisiana?
Public waterfowl hunting is also available on a number of national wildlife refuges across the state:
Some species aren’t mentioned in the bag limit regulations. Is there a bag limit for these species?
All species have bag limits. Only species with bag limits of less than six are specifically mentioned in the regulations. All other species have a bag limit equal to the total daily bag limit for ducks, which is currently six per day. For example, up to six gadwall, green-winged teal, blue-winged teal, shovelers, ring-necked ducks and black-bellied whistling ducks can be taken in a total daily bag of six ducks.
What is a possession limit?
The possession limit is the maximum number of ducks that you may have in your possession at any one time—including in your freezer, at your camp, in your vehicle. and on your person. Once you reach a legal possession limit, you must consume or give away birds before you may take additional birds while hunting. The possession limit is currently three times the daily bag limit. From a practical standpoint, every member of your family at home may have a possession limit in your home freezer.
When do I have to tag migratory birds?
If you put or leave any migratory game birds at any place or in the custody of another person, you must tag the birds with the following information: your name, address, the total number of birds by species, and the dates the birds were killed. For example, if you leave birds at a duck-picker to be cleaned, give them to a family member to take home, or leave your birds with a hunting partner while you go fishing, you must tag the birds.
May I carry lead shot or buckshot for other game while hunting waterfowl?
No. You may only carry non-toxic shot while hunting waterfowl. It is illegal to possess lead shot or buckshot while hunting waterfowl.
Why do Texas duck hunters have a longer season and a higher mallard bag limit?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages waterfowl hunting by flyways. Flyways differ in the amount of habitat, number of ducks, and number of hunters. For example, the Pacific Flyway has a large duck population but has relatively few hunters compared to the Mississippi Flyway, which has lots of ducks but also a relatively large number of hunters. The USFWS sets season lengths and bag limits with an objective of harvesting approximately 12% of the drake mallards in each flyway. To achieve this objective, the USFWS current allows the Pacific Flyway a 107-day duck season with a seven mallard limit, the Central Flyway (which includes Texas) a 74-day season with a five mallard limit, and the Mississippi (which includes Louisiana) and Atlantic Flyways a 60-day season with a four mallard limit.
Why can’t the season be set later so we can hunt into February?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service framework regulations set the earliest date the season can open and the latest date it can close to safeguard the health of the duck population. Young ducks need time to fully grow, gain flight strength, and build up some reserves, and successful hens need to molt and regain body condition from raising young before making the fall migration. We don’t want to open the season before those things can happen. Likewise, ducks on wintering grounds have to survive, form pair bonds, regain body condition, and initiate molt before starting the spring migration toward breeding grounds—we close the season so they can more effectively accomplish these tasks. We have also learned from a number of radio-telemetry studies that once a duck survives to about mid-January, it will survive the winter unless shot by a hunter. Harvest in late-January and beyond would likely shoot into the breeding stock. A female that loses her mate in late-winter incurs additional harassment and energetic costs until she can re-pair, which may reduce her reproductive success. As a result, the USFWS has decided that the last Sunday in January is the latest the duck season can be open.
Why are there zones and splits? How are they set in Louisiana?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows zones and splits to provide separate hunting regulations in areas of states with different habitats, species composition, and migration chronologies. For example, in Louisiana, the first large flocks of migrant ducks appear in the coastal marshes in mid to late-October, but migrant ducks generally appear in the swamps and flooded forests of central and northeast Louisiana later in November or early December when flooding is more widespread. Similarly, species like pintails, shovelers, gadwalls, and green-winged teal typically migrate into coastal marshes earlier in the fall, where mallards, scaup, and canvasbacks show up later in the year.
Louisiana recently returned to two zones, East and West, to take advantage of a recent change in federal regulations that allows two splits in the season if no more than two zones are used. The zone boundaries as of the 2021 season are very similar to those used from 2001 through 2011 that combined the piney woods and large reservoirs of northwest Louisiana with the coastal prairies and marshes of south Louisiana. The map of current zone boundaries can be found online.
Each zone has one or two splits, or closed segments, to allow hunting on early migrants in early to mid-November as well as later migrants in late January. The first split is in early to mid-December when we expect birds to be moving into Louisiana from northern habitats; the split encourages them to stay as they are not pressured by gunfire during their arrival. The second split may be used later in the season, such as after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays when hunting pressure is very high, to create a rest period and extend the season to the very last day of the federal framework for duck hunting.
If managers say that hunting has virtually no impact on waterfowl populations, why do we have restrictions?
When waterfowl managers say hunting has virtually no impact on waterfowl populations, they mean virtually no impact within the bounds of historical hunting regulations. We have no experience with regulations outside of what we have set historically; for example, we do not know the impact of completely unrestricted or completely closed seasons. For all we know, longer seasons and larger bag limits than we have had might significantly impact waterfowl populations. Consequently, restrictions that balance providing hunting opportunity with maintaining waterfowl populations will remain.
If we have a daily bag limit, why are there additional rules regarding baiting, electronic calls, night hunting, more than three shells in your gun, etc.?
If all of the approximately one million duck hunters took a daily bag limit of six ducks during all 60 days of the waterfowl season (longer in the Central and Pacific Flyways), the kill would exceed the number of ducks we estimate to be in North America. The duck population is not only safeguarded by the daily bag limit or the season length, but also by the whole suite of hunting regulations that have historically constrained harvest rates to acceptable levels to both provide hunting opportunity and maintain the population.
Wood ducks and black-bellied whistling ducks and are common during the September teal season—why can’t we add them to the teal season bag limit?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the September teal season in the mid-1960s during a period of low duck populations to offer hunting opportunity on blue-winged teal, a species that migrated so early that they experienced very little harvest pressure. Florida, Tennessee, and Kentucky were allowed to add wood ducks to their teal season bag limits over 25 years ago, but in exchange, they were only allowed 5-day seasons instead of 9 or 16-day September teal seasons. In 2008, the USFWS increased the daily bag limit for wood ducks in the regular season from two to three per day so long as the harvest rate does not exceed a prescribed amount. Out of concern for overall wood duck harvest rates and in light of the original intent of September teal seasons, the USFWS will not consider any other states’ requests to add wood ducks to the teal season bag limit.
There are additional concerns regarding black-bellied whistling ducks in Louisiana. Including a “big duck” as opposed to just the much smaller teal in the September teal season bag limit would put other big ducks such as mottled ducks at risk. Mottled duck populations are declining in our state, and they are particularly vulnerable during September. The USFWS has made it clear they will not consider adding black-bellies, or any other species, to the September teal season bag limit.
Where are the ducks harvested in Louisiana raised?
From banding studies between 1986 and 2012, we know that more than a third (36%) of the banded birds killed in Louisiana were banded in Saskatchewan. Smaller percentages were banded in North Dakota (15%), Manitoba (12%), Alberta (10%), Minnesota (8%), and South Dakota (6%). Keep in mind that we only have this information from ducks that are banded—many of the species commonly harvested in Louisiana, such as gadwalls, green-winged teal, and shovelers, are not banded very often. However, their breeding range largely overlaps that of more commonly-banded mallards and blue-winged teal, so this information is likely representative of them as well.
What is the source of funding Louisiana sends to Canada for breeding ground habitat conservation? Who decides how it is spent?
Since 1965, LDWF has sent money to Canada to restore, enhance, and protect breeding habitat for migratory waterfowl. Specifically, LA R.S. 56:104(A)(1)(b) states: An amount equal to 10% of the fees collected from the sale of hunting licenses shall be dedicated by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission to the development and preservation of breeding grounds for migratory waterfowl, the funds to be expended for such purposes through Ducks Unlimited, Inc. or under the direction of the Commission at its discretion. Per state law, the funding comes from hunting license fees, and the Commission decides who receives it and which projects it funds.
Are the duck population estimates reported each year accurate?
Accuracy is defined as the relationship between the estimate and the truth or reality. Unfortunately, we’ll never be able to determine the actual duck population—you just can’t count every one. However, by conducting an aerial survey using the same methods year after year across a large portion of the breeding habitat, we have a reliable index of population size that we can confidently compare across years and among locations within the surveyed area. For example, if we estimate 45 million breeding ducks in the traditional survey area, we can’t be sure there are actually 45 million breeding ducks, but we can be sure that there are more, fewer, or about the same number in the area as in past years.
Why is duck hunting not as good in Louisiana as it used to be?
This is a common complaint, but it may not be universally true as we get reports every year of both best ever and worst ever hunting seasons. However, given the changes in habitat quality in Louisiana, declines in duck hunting should be expected. Louisiana’s coastal marshes are the single most important wintering habitat in the state, but we continue to lose them at a rate exceeding 10 square miles per year. Rice agriculture, an important habitat for wintering ducks and geese, has declined in acreage in Louisiana but increased in states to the north. Invasive aquatics, like water hyacinth and giant salvinia, have reduced habitat quality and quantity in large areas of the state from reservoirs in the northwest to coastal forested wetlands in the southeast. Warming temperatures have left habitat available at the north end of the Mississippi Flyway longer into the winter. All of these factors reduce the capacity of Louisiana’s habitat to support waterfowl and have contributed to some species wintering in lower numbers in our state—as a result, duck hunting has declined.
Why are people allowed to grow grain crops specifically to attract waterfowl, flood them, and hunt over them, but we can’t put harvested grain in a marsh or field and hunt?
These two things are not the same. Growing grain and flooding is a form of habitat management, while dispersing grain to hunt over is baiting. Grain crops are grown in a finite place, and they provide habitat components other than food for waterfowl including thermal cover, protection from wind and predators, and a food base for invertebrates. They are also available 24-7 to any species of wildlife that choose to use them, they cannot be moved, and they cannot be replenished when they are gone. Growing grain and flooding is similar to how we artificially manipulate land and water in moist-soil impoundments, coastal marsh impoundments, or green-tree reservoirs—all common types of habitat management. In contrast, placing harvested grain is done strategically during times and in amounts that maximize use by waterfowl only and in optimal locations for hunters to kill birds. It is replenished when it runs out and provides no other habitat value other than to feed ducks for hunting.
I’ve shot some birds with rice-breast—are they safe to eat?
Yes, they are safe to eat. Rice-breast is a parasite, Sarcocystis, that is sometimes seen in mostly adult dabbling ducks in Louisiana. It forms white cysts in the breast muscle that resemble rice grains. In badly infested birds, the cysts may spread beyond the breast. Despite its unsavory appearance, the parasite is destroyed by cooking and there is no health risk from consumption.
Do I have to worry about avian flu or other bird diseases when duck hunting?
Generally, no. Hunters rarely encounter diseased birds and only few of these pose health risks. Avoid sick or dead birds. Take care when cleaning and cooking birds—use rubber gloves when cleaning birds, keep hands away from your face and mouth, wash your hands, knife, and cleaning area with soap and water, and cook birds to an internal temperature of 165°F. Be aware and use common sense, but enjoy your time in the field.