North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

General Waterfowl & Migratory Birds Hunting Information

How Waterfowl Seasons are Set


The hunting of all migratory game birds (waterfowl, doves, rails, etc.) is regulated by the federal government under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Each year, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services establishes hunting season guidelines or frameworks. These include season length, bag limits, shooting hours, and the range of hunting dates. States may set their seasons within these frameworks. Although the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) has ultimate authority for establishing seasons, the process is a collaborative one involving state game and fish agencies as well. For many years, the annual regulations cycle was divided into two components.  The early cycle involved the setting of waterfowl seasons that begin prior to late September (September Canada goose and September teal seasons) and seasons for many webless species (doves, rails, woodcock). The late regulations cycle includes the traditional waterfowl seasons occurring after late September. Starting with the 2016-17 seasons, the process has changed and occurs much earlier.  Now, regulatory decisions for all species will occur on the same schedule and seasons will be set in the spring of each year prior to the upcoming hunting seasons.

This collaborative process occurs primarily through the various Flyway Councils and the USFWS with input from various conservation organizations and other groups. North Carolina is part of the Atlantic Flyway and our regulatory communication is handled through the Atlantic Flyway Council and Atlantic Flyway Technical Section. The Atlantic Flyway Technical Section is comprised of biological staff from the various member states. This group works closely with biological staff from the USFWS and others reviewing population survey data (population size, harvest, survival rates, harvest rates, etc.). After review of annual and long-term datasets and formulation of harvest strategies, the Technical Section recommends hunting season guidelines to the Atlantic Flyway Council. The Council is generally comprised of agency directors (or their designees). The Council takes under consideration the recommendation of the Technical Section and may either approve, modify or disapprove them. The Council then forwards their recommendations to the USFWS for their consideration. The Service Regulations Committee (as part of the USFWS) then formulates annual season regulations considering input from all 4 Flyway Councils. As a final step, proposed regulations are then issued and can be commented on by any agency, group, or individual before they become final.

License Requirements

To hunt waterfowl in North Carolina, individuals must possess various licenses, permits, stamps, and certifications. Specifically, hunters must obtain the following:

  • A state hunting license. There are several types available.
  • North Carolina Waterfowl Privilege*
        For resident hunters, this additional privilege and fee is not required if you hold a Sportsman’s license (lifetime, disabled, or annual), or a Comprehensive Hunting license (lifetime or annual). You are required to purchase this additional privilege for all other license types. For non-resident hunters this fee is not required for Lifetime Sportsman’s license holders, but is required for those non- residents holding a short-term or basic non-resident hunting license.
  •     Federal Duck Stamp
  • HIP (Harvest Information Program) Certification. Certification is free of charge. Please note that HIP certification is required for each state that you hunt. Non-resident hunters that have been certified in another state, must be HIP certified in North Carolina as well.

Please see the current North Carolina Inland Fishing, Hunting and Trapping Regulations Digest for additional information regarding license types and costs.

* Hunters are no longer required to carry the North Carolina duck stamp while hunting for waterfowl; however, the current year’s duck stamp will be available for collecting purposes. Call 1-888-248-6834 for more information.

Non-Toxic Shot Requirements

Non-toxic shot is required for hunting waterfowl and coots. In addition to this general requirement; on posted waterfowl impoundments on Game Lands, it is unlawful to hunt with or have in possession any shotgun shell containing lead or toxic shot while hunting, except shotgun shells containing lead buckshot may be used while deer hunting. Nontoxic shot is also required for the taking of captive-reared mallards on shooting preserves, in field trials and during bona fide dog training activities.
For a listing of non-toxic shot approved by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service see:

Public Waterfowl Hunting Opportunities

Download the PDF:
Public Waterfowl Hunting Opportunities (PDF - 80KB)

Reporting Banded Birds

Why Report Bird Bands?

Bird banding data are often critical components in both waterfowl research and management. Individual marking of birds makes possible studies of dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, harvest and survival rates, reproductive success and population growth. Reporting bands makes this data available to waterfowl managers, and is an integral part of the regulation process.

Please report all bands by calling 1-800-327-BAND (2263) or online at

Waterfowl Baiting Laws

Baiting as it applies to waterfowl hunting is a controversial and often misunderstood subject. Therefore, it is incumbent upon every waterfowl hunter to understand all baiting laws, both state and federal, as they pertain to waterfowl hunting.

Both state and federal law prohibit the take of migratory game birds by the aid of baiting (placing feed such as corn, wheat, salt or other feed to constitute a lure or enticement), or on or over any baited areas. Hunters should be aware that a baited area is considered to be baited for 10 days after the removal of the bait. Although state law prohibits take of migratory game birds within 300 yards of a baited area, federal law prohibits take on or over any baited area which could serve as a lure or attraction. This “zone of influence” may extend a much greater distance. Substantial penalties for violations apply. For questions, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Resident in Charge in Raleigh, N.C. at (919) 856-4786.

Hunters should refer to the current North Carolina Inland Fishing, Hunting and Trapping Regulations Digest for additional information regarding baiting and waterfowl hunting. For additional information on federal baiting regulations click here.

Waterfowl ID

Learn about hunting and West Nile Virus

Please Report Bird Bands.

Call Toll-Free 1-800-327-BAND (2263)  You keep the band. We will send you a certificate with information about the bird.