Tule Lakes NWR, California
One in a series of refuges on the California/Oregon border, Tule Lakes offers great opportunities for Canada and specklebelly geese. Mallards and wigeons also are abundant, and hunters might encounter gadwalls, pintails and a few divers.
Tule Lakes NWR consists of about 40,000 acres, with 17,000 acres in crops that provide excellent dry-field hunts. The rest of the refuge consists of shallow impoundments, deeper pools where boats are required, and grasslands. The refuge also allows pheasant hunting.
Contact: Tule Lakes NWR Website or (530) 667-2231
McKinney NWR, Connecticut
The Stewart B. McKinney NWR consists of ten tracts of tidal salt marsh totaling about 1,000 acres between New Haven and Hartford. Only one 165-acre unit, Great Meadows, is open to hunting, but opportunities can be good for such species as black ducks, mallards and brants, prized birds available only on the East and West coasts. Hunts are limited to three days per week, and hunters must have a free permit. There is no limit to the number of hunters allowed each day, but crowding is rarely an issue.
Access to the hunting area is by foot or boat.
Contact: McKinney NWR website or (860) 399-2513.
Rainwater Basin NWR, Nebraska
Rainwater Basin consists of 61 tracts totaling more than 23,000 acres in 14 counties. The wetlands are part of the refuge system’s waterfowl production areas. Not all of the pools have water, which can limit the number of waterfowl on federal lands at any given time. Still, those that do have water hold lots of ducks and geese in fall.
Canada geese are frequent visitors in the fall, and hunting for them either over water or harvested grain fields can be outstanding.
State and federal regulations apply, but there are no special permits or restrictions to hunt these areas otherwise.
Contact: Rainwater Basin NWR website or call (308) 236-5015.
Bear River NWR, Utah
One of the most unique waterfowl opportunities is limited to just a handful of states, and Utah is one of the few that allows tundra swan hunting.
Although not all of the 74,000-acre refuge is open to swan hunting, success rates can be quite good. Hunters must have a permit, available through the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources by drawing.
Bear River also has a good number of ducks, including a strong cinnamon teal population in the early season, on the 41,000 acres of wetlands.
Because it’s just a short drive from Salt Lake City, Bear River does get its share of hunting pressure.
Contact: Bear River NWR website, (435) 723-5887.
Prime Hook NWR, Delaware
Located on the coastal marsh of Delaware, Prime Hook NWR offers 27 permanent blinds on both federal and state land. Hunts are restricted to four days a week, and blind drawings are held each morning two hours before sunrise.
Pressure can get heavy, but it tails off toward the end of the season and is lighter during the week.
Contact: Prime Hook NWR website, (302) 684-8419.
compiled by David Hart
Fergus Falls Wetlands Management District, Minnesota
With 216 waterfowl production areas covering 44,500 acres, finding a few birds of your own shouldn’t be a problem here. Success rates depend on water levels, and some marshes can go dry.
The areas don’t receive too much pressure because they aren’t close to any major metropolitan areas. Hunters are required to walk to hunting areas, which can also reduce pressure.
Contact: Fergus Falls Wetland Management District website, (218) 739-2291
Audubon Wetlands Management District, North Dakota
The 120 tracts that make up the Audubon WMDs cover 31,000 acres in three west-central North Dakota counties. A variety of waterfowl, including ducks, light and dark geese and sandhill cranes, pass through the area, and hunters who scout can enjoy some fantastic shooting.
State regulations apply, and no additional permits are required.
Contact: Audubon Wetlands Management District website, (701) 442-5474.
Montezuma NWR, New York
Snow and Canada geese are abundant at this 8,000-acre Finger Lakes region refuge, but they tend to avoid 400-acre Tschache Pool where hunting is permitted. However, duck hunting can be very good as Montezuma also holds thousands of mallards and black ducks, with as many as 100,000 mallards passing through the refuge on their way south.
Hunters at this Finger Lakes region refuge are required to possess proof of passing a waterfowl identification course, and hunting is by a phone-in lottery system. Hunters are assigned a parking area, where they can launch non-motorized boats to find a place to throw out some decoys.
Contact: Montezuma NWR website, (315) 568-5987.
Iowa Wetlands Management District, Iowa
Covering 22,000 acres across 17 counties in north-central Iowa, the 200 tracts that make up the Iowa Wetlands Management District offer a variety of waterfowl hunting for a wide range of species.
Some properties have grain fields, offering dry-field hunting opportunities for geese and ducks, while some include larger lakes that hold good numbers of divers and puddle ducks.
Hunters are not required to have any special permit and are subject to state regulations and license requirements.
Contact: Iowa Wetlands Management District website, (515) 928-2523.
McNary NWR, Washington
Located in the famed Columbia Basin, this 15,000-acre refuge draws mallards by the thousands and offers great hunting opportunities under both a lottery system on selected units as well as a walk-in system on other parts of the refuge.
Contact: McNary NWR website, (509) 546-8300.
compiled by David Hart
The White River Refuge
Located in Desha, Monroe, Arkansas and Phillips counties in the state of Arkansas, White River Refuge covers 160,000 acres and truly lives up to the reputation that Arkansas has for waterfowl hunting. In fact, the refuge occupies 90 of the lower 100 miles of the White River.
During the winter, the Refuge is home to the largest concentration of migrating mallards on the Mississippi flyway, as well as large concentrations of snow and Canada Geese. It offers good hunting due to its location and the fact that the Refuge is managed with waterfowl in mind.
It is open to waterfowl hunting during November, December and January.
Contact: White River Refuge website
The Waubay Wetland Management District
Located in six South Dakota counties, this gem offers great waterfowl hunting. Within its borders are 40,000 acres and 300 waterfowl production areas. The waterfowl production areas have been purchased with duck stamp money and are scattered all over the six counties. They range in size from three acres to over 1300 acres and everything in between. Since the Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs) are spread out over six counties, hunting pressure is often minimal.
Larry Martin of the Waubay Refuge says the area is a great place to hunt waterfowl for a variety of reasons. “We offer waterfowl hunters mallards, gadwall, teal, canvasback and more,” Martin said. “One of the great things about the area is that the WPAs are spread out. I often see hunters who will head to one production area and see hunters sitting on a pothole, so they will head to another one down the road. Because there are so many production areas, hunters don’t have to be elbow-to-elbow. They can simply drive down the road and walk into the next pothole and hunt. A fair amount of the production areas can be reached on foot. Hunters enjoy hunting here because it doesn’t require lots of walking or a boat. A lot of the potholes are fairly close to roads.”
To maintain great hunting and habitat, the refuge does controlled burns and reseeding and fills in ditches to restore natural wetland habitat. The only problem with waterfowl hunting in South Dakota is getting a waterfowl hunting license. According to Martin, non-resident hunters need to be patient. “Most guys I talk to who come here from out of state say they get drawn about every other year. Some guys say it has taken them three years to get drawn. If you do get drawn, you can plan on having some great hunting,” Martin added. The South Dakota waterfowl season typically runs from October to December.
Contact: Waubay Wetland Management District
The Sacramento Wildlife Refuge Complex
Located in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California, the Sacramento Wildlife Refuge Complex is actually a system of six unique refuges, and only a small amount of the total complex acreage is open to waterfowl hunting. However, the land that is open offers great hunting, largely due to the fact that wetlands are quickly disappearing in California. The Refuge offers waterfowl one of only a few areas they have left to go.
The Sacramento Refuge is more than 10,000 acres. Of that, over 7000 acres is wetland, making it a perfect place for waterfowl to hang out. On the Sacramento Refuge, duck hunters will find 46 pit blinds set up for waterfowl hunting. Hunters can only hunt on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, a regulation that helps keep the birds from being hammered so hard that they leave the area. A drawing process takes place to see who gets to hunt. A refuge hunting permit must be purchased to hunt. If you are fortunate enough to draw a permit to hunt, you can expect to see white front, snow and Ross’ geese. As far as ducks go, you can plan on seeing large numbers of mallards, greenwing teal, gadwalls, shovelers and cinnamon teal.
According to Greg Mensik, deputy manager of the complex, the Delevan Refuge, one of the six refuges in the complex, is by far the most popular refuge when it comes to waterfowling. It consists of over 4000 acres of wetland and generally offers the best hunting of the six refuges. However, it also offers the most pressure. “Delevan is very popular and has a lot of waterfowl, but getting a permit to hunt it can be difficult,” Mensik said. “In addition to the Delevan, other refuges within the system can be great, too, like the Colusa and Sutter Refuge.
The beauty of hunting any of the refuges in this area is they all see hundreds of thousands of migrating waterfowl and hunting can be superb.” The waterfowl season usually runs from mid-October though the end of January.
The Noxubee Refuge
Located in Mississippi, this often-overlooked gem is largely upland forest, but it does contain a couple of lakes that are managed for waterfowl. This refuge is by no means Arkansas-class waterfowl hunting, but since its lakes are managed expressly for waterfowl, it does offer good hunting. Waterfowl hunting on the Refuge is only open on Wednesdays and Saturday mornings during the normal Mississippi waterfowl season., ensuring that the lakes aren’t over-hunted. Presently, the majority of their waterfowl hunting takes place on 150 acres of floodable timber called Green Timber Reservoir Number One. The flooded timber is created by the Refuge each year. They flood the area early in the waterfowl season, which offers hunters great wood duck hunting. The flooded reservoir is only a few feet deep. Hunting is done by hugging the trunk of a tree and waiting for waterfowl to pitch in. The Refuge takes it one step further by clearing holes in the canopy so waterfowl have a large place to set down and waterfowlers have a great place to put decoys and shoot birds. They have twelve of these locations, and they are fairly spread out so hunters are not on top of each other.
Each hunting day, 12 permits are issued for hunters. It is a draw process, so hunters will need to apply for a permit in order to hunt. “Our controlled hunts are pretty good. The flooded timber offers wood ducks and other waterfowl a great place to go, and it offers hunters some great hunting,” said refuge biologist Dave Richardson. “Last year, we took more than 800 birds off the Refuge. Beside wood ducks, hunters can plan on killing mallards as well. We are not on a major flyway, but because we are able to control the flooding, we can offer some good hunting.”
Contact: Noxubee Refuge website
The San Bernard Refuge
This Lone Star state honey-hole is part of a refuge complex that includes San Bernard, Brazoria and Big Boggy refuges. Of the three, San Bernard offers great snow goose hunting largely due to the fact that the refuge is full of saltwater marshes and fresh water wetlands. If your idea of fun is seeing thousands of snow geese and not being able to hear your buddy talk over the sound of thousands of wings, this refuge is for you.
Due to the large number of geese on this refuge during the heat of the season, a hunter must draw a permit in order to hunt here. The best way to hunt the refuge is by boat, but there are established blinds that are within walking distance of the parking lot. There is public access on Cedar Lake Creek for hunters who have a boat. The other refuges within the refuge complex do not require a special permit to hunt. There are also a few waterfowl hunter blinds located on the refuge. “Snow goose hunting can be great here, and thousands upon thousands come through during the migration,” said Jennifer Wilson of the Mid Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “Gadwall and teal are also very common. Most successful hunters are pass-shooters, and the best time to be hunting for geese is during December and January.”
Contact: San Bernard Refuge website
compiled by Tracy Breen