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Getting Started: Waterfowl Hunting

Getting Started: Waterfowl Hunting

Stay Local. Stay Natural. Eat Wild Game.

Hunting is one of the most inexpensive and ethical ways to fill your freezer with natural, free-range meat. But taking up hunting can be challenging and intimidating. Don’t let this discourage you. We can help you with all the information and resources you’ll need to safely and responsibly hunt and harvest your own local food.

The basics of hunting waterfowl in Ohio is outlined below, and you can also get started learning with our interactive Introduction to Waterfowl Hunting online learning module. This content will cover the basics, including waterfowl ecology, rules and regulations, an overview of waterfowl hunting, and places to hunt … all at your own pace! A fact sheet, outdoor skills YouTube videos, and other resources are also available. After reviewing introductory information, we encourage you to attend a virtual or in-person learning opportunity with friendly and knowledgeable staff for hands-on experience.

Link: Introduction to Waterfowl Hunting Learning Module Link: Introduction to Waterfowl Hunting Fact Sheet Link: YouTube Playlist - Learn Outdoor Skills Link: Wild Ohio Harvest Community Events and Learning Opportunities Link: Wild Ohio Harvest Cookbook Link: Where to Hunt in Ohio

Basics of Waterfowl Hunting in Ohio

The Benefits of Learning to Hunt

Harvest Your Own Natural Food
Hunting is a source of natural, free-range and inexpensive food. Not to mention the meat is lean and healthy!

The Challenge
On a hunt, your senses are sharpened. Awareness of your surroundings is heightened. This is more than observing the environment – it’s active engagement. Hunting challenges the mind and the body. It demands skill, knowledge, and patience. 

Experiencing Nature
Hunting brings us closer to nature and understanding our natural environment.

Hunting in the United States is highly regulated, which helps make it a safe, sustainable and highly popular activity. The sale of hunting licenses, permits and stamps provides much-needed funds to wildlife research and management programs. Ethical hunters care about the environment. Without proper conservation, our wild spaces could be lost.

Ecological Balance
The Division of Wildlife manages healthy animal populations by implementing regulations, which are directly related to the need to manage species’ numbers. Without hunters, the carrying capacity, or the number of animals that the habitat can support all year, may be unsustainable, which would lead to damage for the wildlife or the habitat.

Learn more about how nature, local food, and a variety of motivations are linked through hunting in “Why Hunt?”, a publication of the Aldo Leopold Foundation. Established in 1982, this conservation organization works to inspire an ethical relationship between people and nature through the legacy of Aldo Leopold.

Why Hunt? A Guide for Lovers of Nature, Local Food, and Outdoor Recreation (Aldo Leopold Foundation)

Waterfowl Hunting Considerations

What Makes Waterfowl Hunting Different?
Waterfowl hunting involves the use of calling (mimicking waterfowl communications to ‘call’ birds into the area you are hunting) and decoys (artificial versions of the species the hunter is pursuing, used to visually entice a bird to come closer to the hunter). Waterfowl hunting is also different from pursuing big game in terms of the social interaction element. Waterfowl hunters don’t have to be as quiet and can hunt in groups and talk with each other during a hunt.

There are many species of waterfowl, including ducks and geese, and the setup that hunters use varies depending on the species being pursued. Being able to identify different species of waterfowl is essential, as there are different season opening and closing dates and daily limits on various species. Visit our Waterbirds of Oho Guidebook or the Ducks at a Distance Waterfowl Identification Guide from the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Waterbirds of Ohio Guidebook

The USFWS’s mission is to work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats. They are a bureau within the Department of the Interior.

Ducks at a Distance: A Waterfowl Identification Guide (USFWS)

It is important to note that waterfowl hunting will involve shots at a moving target, as opposed to hunting for bigger game, when you are typically taking a shot at a stationary animal. Trap and skeet ranges are excellent places to practice shooting at moving targets. When hunting for waterfowl, you can use a shotgun or a bow in Ohio though shotguns are the preferred choice. Lead shot is not legal to hunt waterfowl therefore steel shot or other non-toxic shot is legally required to pursue waterfowl. Learn more about firearms on our Getting Started: Firearms page. 

Getting Started: Firearms

Hunter Education and Safety

Hunter Education
To buy a hunting license in Ohio, you’ll first need to complete a hunter education course. Our courses cover firearms, archery, outdoor safety, wildlife management, conservation and more. Best of all, you can choose between instructor-led learning and home-study courses.

Learn more about completing Hunter Education

Review the Hunter Education Study Guide Online
Reading the Hunter Education Guide is a great way to get started learning about hunting, firearm safety and understanding wildlife. 

Hunter-ed is committed to hunter education safety and provides print and internet hunting safety courses for more than 45 states.

Hunter Education Study Guide (Hunter-ed)

If you’re learning to handle firearms or archery gear, or simply want to sharpen your skills, there are a number of public shooting and archery ranges available to you.

Getting Started: Firearms
Getting Started: Archery
Find Ohio Public Shooting and Archery Ranges
Public Shooting Ranges Contact Information & Buy Permits

Build Your Skills: Learning Opportunities

Buy an Apprentice License
Apprentice hunting licenses and apprentice fur taker permits allow new hunters and trappers, both adults and youth, to sample the experience of hunting and trapping under the mentorship of a licensed adult prior to completing a hunter or trapper education course.

Learn more about the Apprentice License

Participate in a Skill Session with Us!
There's no better way to learn than getting out in the field and giving it a try. If you don't know anyone who can take you out hunting, consider participating in a hands-on learning opportunity with the Division of Wildlife, with one of our Wild Ohio Harvest Community events. Division staff are committed to guiding you through the process of learning essential hunting skills in a patient and pressure-free environment. This can also be a great place to meet other new hunters!

Check out our calendar of upcoming Wild Ohio Harvest Community experiences, classes, and courses (virtual and in-person). These opportunities are provided by the ODNR Division of Wildlife and other skilled and knowledgeable conservation organizations across the state. 

Wild Ohio Harvest Community Calendar of Events

Participate in a Partner Event
Many conservation organizations and conservation clubs throughout Ohio such as Backcountry Hunters & Anglers offer learning opportunities for anyone to try their hand at hunting and other outdoor activities. These organizations are dedicated to instructing new and continuing participants, opportunities can range from beginner level to advanced, and some are specifically for new participants. This is also a great way to meet other people who are passionate about sharing their knowledge with new hunters.

Search Conservation Clubs in Ohio (Google)

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) advances positive change for wild public lands, waters, and wildlife.

Learn more about BHA

Other Learning Opportunities
Many businesses and organizations offer outdoor recreation courses seasonally and year-round in Ohio. L.L. Bean, Cabela's, and Field & Stream are just a few that provide opportunities at different levels to learn how to shoot, hunt, fish, and cook wild game in addition to other outdoor recreation courses.

Learning Resources: Preparing for the Hunt


Important parts of getting ready for a waterfowl hunting season include purchasing your hunting license and stamps, completing your harvest information program (HIP) survey, reviewing the most current version of the Ohio hunting regulations and local regulations, finding a place to hunt, spending some time before hunting season checking it to find good places to set up (scouting), reviewing shot placement, and making sure your firearm is ready.

Waterfowl are migratory birds, and hunters must possess a valid Ohio hunting license, harvest information program (HIP) certification, an Ohio Wetlands Habitat Stamp endorsement (those 18 and older), and a signed federal Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp (also known as a duck stamp, required for those 16 and older). Find more information about these stamps and the HIP certification process in the waterfowl and migratory bird hunting section of the hunting regulations. The resources listed below are also great places to start.

Introduction to Hunting Waterfowl Learning Module
Introduction to Hunting Waterfowl Fact Sheet
Wild Ohio Harvest Community – Outdoor Skills (YouTube)
Allowable Hunting Equipment
Hunting Regulations
Bi-Weekly Aerial Waterfowl Survey

Ducks Unlimited, Hunters Connect, & United States Fish & Wildlife Service Resources

Learn more about identifying waterfowl, waterfowl migration, hunting tips, duck calling, decoy strategies, shooting tips and more from Ducks Unlimited, or discover more about preparing for a hunt, developing skills, public and private land, and waterfowl-specific information in the Hunters Connect library. You can also find information on waterfowl harvest management reports, waterfowl population status reports, and hunting activity on the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) webpage.

Ducks Unlimited is dedicated to wetlands and waterfowl conservation. They are now the world’s largest private waterfowl and wetlands conservation organization.

Hunting (Ducks Unlimited)

Hunters Connect is part of the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) and is designed to offer a bridge between hunter education students graduating, buying their first hunting license, and going on their first hunt.

Video Library (Hunters Connect)

The United States Fish & Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) mission is to work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats. They are a bureau within the Department of the Interior.

Waterfowl Adaptive Harvest Management Reports (USFWS)
Waterfowl Population Status Reports (USFWS)
Migratory Bird Hunting Activity & Harvest Reports (USFWS)

Buy Your Hunting License and Permit

Hunting Licenses and Permits
All hunters, regardless of age, must carry a valid hunting license to hunt or trap game in Ohio. Hunting deer, turkey, waterfowl, or hunting or trapping of furbearers also requires the hunter to possess an additional game-specific permit or stamps. Hunting licenses and permits are available at all authorized license sales agents and online. Ohio’s license year begins March 1 and ends the last day of February.

Buy Licenses and Permits Online
Waterfowl Permit & License Finder - Not sure which permit & license to purchase? Use this handy flow chart to find out.

Review Statewide and Local Hunting Regulations

Statewide Regulations
Hunting in Ohio is seasonal and regulated to protect animal populations. Make sure you understand the right time to pursue game and the correct methods to do so.

View the Ohio Hunting Regulations

Ohio laws in their entirety can be found by consulting the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) or the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC). These laws are subject to change. It is your responsibility to be aware of the most current laws when shooting firearms.

Ohio Revised Code (ORC)
Ohio Administrative Code (OAC)

Local Regulations
Be aware of local hunting regulations (e.g. city regulations) before hunting.

Special Regulations by Wildlife Area in Ohio

If you plan to hunt waterfowl in a wildlife area, be sure to consult the special regulations for those noted below:

Special Regulations at Wingfoot Lake Wildlife Area [jpg]
Special Regulations at Shenango Wildlife Area [pdf]
Special Regulations at Killbuck Wildlife Area [pdf]
Special Regulations at Walborn & Deer Creek Reservoirs
Waterfowl Hunting on Sandusky Bay [pdf]
Waterfowl Hunting on the Ohio River [pdf]

Find a Place to Hunt

Public Wildlife Areas
The Division of Wildlife owns and allows public hunting on wildlife areas across the state. 

Find a Place to Hunt
Public Hunting & Wildlife Area Maps (printable)
Ohio's Public Lands & Facilities Interactive Map
State Owned Lands Designated as Public Hunting Areas [pdf]

Controlled Hunting Access Lotteries
The Division of Wildlife conducts annual hunts on a number of areas that are normally closed to hunting. All applicants (adults and youth) must possess a current hunting license to apply for controlled hunts. Participation is determined by random computer-generated drawings.

Controlled Hunting Access Lotteries

Permission to Hunt on Private Land
The landowner's written permission is required for hunting and trapping on private land, regardless of whether the land is posted. Permission slips are available at all Ohio Division of Wildlife district offices, in the Ohio Hunting and Trapping Regulations, or it may be downloaded below.

Permission to Hunt Form [pdf]

Equipment Preparation & Shot Placement
Take some time to familiarize yourself with your firearm, to ensure you know the effective range for your implement, can place accurate shots, and feel comfortable with it. Test out different distances and consider wearing the same clothes you would on the hunt.

Learning where to place a shot for an ethical harvest on waterfowl and how to ‘swing through the shot’ (a technique for success in hitting moving targets) are essential skills. Learn more in our Introduction to Waterfowl Hunting learning module. Be sure to practice with moving targets at the range before heading into the field.

Introduction to Hunting Waterfowl Learning Module

Learning Resources: Hunting Equipment

Using the Right Equipment
If you are thinking about taking the next step into hunting after learning to shoot, it is important to know that only certain kinds of hunting equipment may be used when hunting different wildlife species.

Allowable Hunting Equipment
Introduction to Waterfowl Hunting Online Learning Module

Learning Resources: Hunting Waterfowl

Know Your Wild Game
Only certain species can be legally hunted in Ohio and each has a specified hunting season. As a good hunter, it is also important to know as much as you can about the species you are hunting.

Season Dates and Bag Limits

General Resources

Getting Started Learning to Hunt (Locavore Guide)
Field Processing Wild Game (Locavore Guide)
The Modern Carnivore
Wild Game: A Nutrition Guide (Outdoor Life)

Waterfowl Hunting 

Introduction to Waterfowl Hunting Online Learning Module
Introduction to Waterfowl Hunting Fact Sheet [pdf]
WOHC YouTube: Learn Outdoor Skills
Ducks Unlimited Migration Map (Ducks Unlimited)
Duck Calls (Ducks Unlimited)
Flyways.us (USFWS)
Waterfowl ID Tips (USFWS)
Bi-Weekly Aerial Waterfowl Survey (ODNR) 
Waterfowl Adaptive Harvest Management Reports (USFWS)
Waterfowl Population Status Reports (USFWS)
Migratory Bird Hunting Activity & Harvest Reports (USFWS)

Special Regulations by Wildlife Area in Ohio

Special Regulations at Wingfoot Lake Wildlife Area [jpg]
Special Regulations at Shenango Wildlife Area [pdf]
Special Regulations at Killbuck Wildlife Area [pdf]
S pecial Regulations at Walborn & Deer Creek Reservoirs
Waterfowl Hunting on Sandusky Bay [pdf]
Waterfowl Hunting on the Ohio River [pdf]

Learning Resources: After the Hunt

Field Dressing and Meat Processing

After you have harvested waterfowl, you will need to remove the internal organs to cool the meat and process it (the process of separating the meat into desired cuts for consumption). You can learn about processing and cooking wild game in our Wild Ohio Harvest Cookbook.

Wild Ohio Harvest Cookbook: Processing & Cooking Wild Game
Wild Ohio Harvest Cookbook: Waterfowl Recipes

Find additional resources on proper field dressing and handling of wild game by visiting Penn State Extension or find information on plucking a goose or duck for a whole bird presentation in an article from Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook.

Penn State Extension is an educational organization dedicated to delivering science-based information to people, businesses, and communities.

Proper Field Dressing and Handling of Wild Game (Penn State Extension)

Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook is a website run by Hank Shaw, a former restaurant cook who writes cookbooks related to fishing, foraging, and hunting.

On Plucking Birds (Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook)

Cooking - Make Your Culinary Experience Wild!

Wild Ohio Harvest Cookbook
And now for the most rewarding part - creating a delicious, healthy meal. We love cooking at the Division of Wildlife and have compiled many fish and wild game recipes over the years. Search for wild game recipe ideas in our online Wild Ohio Harvest Cookbook! 

Wild Ohio Harvest Cookbook: Waterfowl Recipes
YouTube: Wild Ohio Harvest Cookbook Recipes

Other Wild Game Cooking Resources
There is a lot more information out there about cooking wild game, along with creative recipes to try. Here are a few of our favorite resources.

Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook is a website run by Hank Shaw, a former restaurant cook who writes cookbooks related to fishing, foraging, and hunting.

Hunter. Angler. Gardener. Cook.

Modern Carnivore is focused on reconnecting people to healthy meat options and introducing them to a lifestyle of “direct harvest” including foraging, hunting, and fishing.

Modern Carnivore: Recipes

Stay Informed and Support Your Wild Ohio

There's More to Come!
The Division of Wildlife works hard to keep Ohioans informed of all the latest wildlife-related happenings around the state, provide opportunities to participate in outdoor recreation and teach the importance of wildlife conservation. Don't lose touch - follow us on social media, get the Wild Ohio Magazine, and sign up for email alerts. We are planning more opportunities for beginning hunters in the very near future!

Wild Ohio Harvest Community Instagram

ODNR Division of Wildlife Facebook
Your Wild Ohio - Angler Facebook
ODNR Division of Wildlife Instagram
ODNR Division of Wildlife Twitter
ODNR Division of Wildlife LinkedIn
Wild Ohio Magazine
ODNR Division of Wildlife Weekly Email Updates

Support Ohio's Wildlife
We can't manage wildlife populations without you! The Division of Wildlife does not receive general tax dollars to manage Ohio's native wildlife, so contributions are always appreciated. Here are some ways your dollars can support wildlife conservation in your Wild Ohio:

  • Your annual fishing license or hunting license
  • An Ohio Wetlands Habitat Stamp
  • An Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp
  • Wildlife license plates
  • Make a donation, or give through the tax check-off program

Donate to Ohio's Wildlife Conservation
Purchase a Specialty Wildlife Conservation License Plate
Purchase an Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp
Make a Tax Donation
Make a Memorial Donation

Help a Biologist and Report Wildlife Sightings

Report your wildlife sightings online and help Ohio biologists track a number of different species, including black bear, bobcat, river otter, ruffed grouse, turkey and more.  For more information on how you can help, please follow the link below.

Report Wildlife Sightings Online