Migratory Bird Hunting: Basic Tips for Planning Your Next Hunting Trip


March 24, 2024


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Waterfowl hunting

Migratory game bird hunting is well regulated to allow for the conservation of different species and their habitats. Read these tips to learn more about the regulations and the gear you will need to hunt migratory birds and waterfowl.


This article was written in collaboration with the FédéCP.

In this article, you will find information that will come in handy if you are taking your first steps toward migratory bird and waterfowl hunting:

  1. Basic information
  2. Essential Gear and Accessories
  3. Types of blinds
  4. Practicing with trapshooting

Migratory Bird Hunting: Basic Information

What is the difference between waterfowl hunting and migratory bird hunting?

In fact, they are the same type of hunt; they involve the same techniques and gear and require the same licences. The term waterfowl refers to species of migratory birds that live on and near water, such as ducks and geese. Migratory birds include snipes, woodcocks, mourning doves and waterfowl.

What licence do you need for migratory bird hunting?

To hunt migratory game birds, including waterfowl, you need a provincial small game hunting licence and a federal Migratory Game Bird Hunting Permit with the Canadian Wildlife Habitat Conservation Stamp. You must carry both licences when hunting.

The federal migratory game bird hunting permit can be purchased online or at select Canada Post branches.

You can find more information about the provincial small game hunting licence by visiting the websites of the Government of Quebec or the Government of Ontario.

What migratory birds can you hunt in Quebec and when is the hunting season?

The main species:

  • Ducks
  • Geese and Snow Geese
  • Cackling Geese and Canada Geese
  • Woodcocks
  • Snipe birds
  • Coot
  • Gallinules
  • Mourning doves

Hunting season dates:

The dates for migratory bird and waterfowl hunting vary by district, and the open season depends on the species. In general, migratory game bird hunting in Quebec takes place during the fall between September and December. For the snow goose, which is considered to be an overabundant species, there’s also a special conservation harvest period in the spring. The dates vary by district as well, but hunting usually takes place between March and June.

For more details, visit the section on migratory bird hunting in Quebec on the Government of Canada website.

What migratory birds can you hunt in Ontario and when is the hunting season?

The main species:

  • Ducks
  • Rails
  • Geese and Snow Geese
  • Cackling Geese and Canada Geese
  • Woodcocks
  • Snipe birds
  • Coot
  • Gallinules
  • Mourning doves

Hunting season dates:

The dates vary by district and the open season depends on the species, but in general, migratory bird and waterfowl hunting takes place during the fall between September and December in Ontario. There is also a special conservation harvest period in the spring for snow geese and Ross’s geese, which are considered to be overabundant species. The conservation hunt takes place between March 1 and May 31.

For more details, visit the section on migratory bird hunting in Ontario on the Government of Canada website.

What are the possession limits?

The possession limits for migratory game birds and waterfowl differ between Quebec and Ontario and vary depending on the species. You can find all the information for your hunting zone (district) by visiting the Migratory Birds Hunting Regulations section on the Government of Canada website.

If you’re hunting in Quebec, there’s also a mobile app called Zone de chasse (only available in French) that provides detailed information on dates, species, possession limits, and districts.

Essential Gear and Accessories

The right equipment for waterfowl hunting

What are the musts for waterfowl and migratory bird hunting?

One or more game calls that allow you to mimic the sounds of the species you want to harvest. Game calls are precious tools for migratory bird hunters; they can be very effective at attracting waterfowl and getting them to come closer. Don’t skimp on quality, and be sure to practise before the big day, as poorly executed calls risk making the birds wary and scaring them away.

A good number of decoys that closely imitate the species you’re targeting in order to attract actual birds. There’s a wide array of options available: male or female, real size or bigger for increased visibility, various plumage colours and positions, and of course, different species of ducks, geese, and so on. Aim for at least 12 high-quality decoys and set them up carefully to make the scene look as realistic as possible.

A hunting blind so you can disappear into the environment and wait for your prey without being seen. There are different types of blinds you can use for migratory birds, depending on where you’re hunting and which species you’re after (more on that later!)

A warm and weather-resistant hunting jacket that keeps you invisible to your prey and protected from the elements. Waterfowl have powerful eyesight, so you can never be too careful with camouflage. Choose a jacket that’s waterproof and insulated enough for cold (and often changing) transitional season temperatures, keeping in mind that there will be many moments of stillness during your migratory bird hunt.

Hunting pants or waders so that you can roam the fields, walk in water, and move without difficulty, no matter the conditions. Focus on colours and patterns that blend well with your hunting environment and wear breathable layers underneath to stay warm and dry until your day is done.

The right firearms for migratory bird and waterfowl hunting

Hunters typically use a hunting shotgun when targeting migratory birds and waterfowl. You want a shotgun that feels comfortable and that you can easily and smoothly raise to your shoulder when you need to lock in your target and make a shot.

12-gauge shotguns are the most popular firearms for waterfowl hunting because they are powerful yet have moderate recoil. There’s also a wide range of ammunition to choose from when using this calibre. People who have a smaller frame or feel less comfortable handling a heavy recoil can also consider 20-gauge shotguns, but these have less power and therefore require a shorter distance between hunter and target.

As for ammunition, use 3 to 3.5 inches long steel shotshells. The use of lead shot is prohibited for migratory bird hunting in Canada, but other non-toxic options like bismuth and tungsten can also be used. Shotshell size will depend on the targeted species; you can use sizes #2 and #3 for duck hunting, sizes #1, #2 or BB for snow goose hunting, and sizes #1, #2, BB or BBB for Canada goose hunting, for instance.

Retriever dogs: a valuable asset for waterfowl hunting

A canine companion makes a fantastic hunting partner and can really increase your chances of success, no matter the type of game you’re targeting. For waterfowl hunting in particular, retriever dogs can be very helpful as they will eagerly jump in the water to retrieve your harvest. Hunting dog breeds like Labrador and Golden retrievers are enthusiastic companions who love water and have excellent skills for migratory bird hunting.

Types of Blinds for Waterfowl and Migratory Bird Hunting

There are three types of blinds for effectively hunting migratory birds. Adapt your installation to your hunting zone, using vegetation you find in the surrounding area to hide your blind from the very keen eyesight of geese and other waterfowl.

A-Frame type

These bunker-shaped blinds are usually installed in a ditch or on the edges of a field, and then covered with mud, brush, grass, etc. to seamlessly blend in with the hunting environment. Their poles and panels structure provides complete overhead coverage, which is a great advantage when you need to stay hidden from birds flying above your blind. With an A-Frame blind, hunters can also shoot standing up, similar to clay pigeon shooting, which allows for greater accuracy.

Bed type

Used specifically for snow goose hunting, these blinds are shaped like a seat and allow hunters to hide at ground level among their decoys. This is a more open type of blind, so you must make sure you lay lower than the decoys to stay as inconspicuous as possible. It’s worthwhile, too, as bed-type blinds make for amazing hunting experiences and give you breathtaking views of the birds as they approach.

Laydown type

Laydown blinds that stand close to the ground are great for waterfowl and migratory bird hunting because they’re easier to camouflage with brush and greenery in fields and areas with low vegetation. You want to make sure the blind has openings so you can maintain a full view and target approaching birds effectively before opening the top panel and sitting up to shoot. Birds will pick up danger almost instantly when that happens, so good preparation and quick action are crucial.

Trapshooting: A Great Practice for Migratory Bird Hunting

Clay trapshooting

Clay target shooting is a great way to sharpen your skills for migratory bird hunting, whether you want to get ready for the upcoming season or keep honing your technique during the off months. Waterfowl and migratory birds fly fast (especially ducks), so you need to be quick to get into position, aim, and shoot effectively. These are all skills you can perfect with trapshooting.

This form of clay pigeon shooting simulates the dynamics of waterfowl and migratory bird hunting with clay targets that move away from the shooter. Like the real hunt, it involves tracking the trajectory of flying targets and seizing the right moment to shoot with your hunting shotgun in motion. Point your shotgun at the starting point of the clay target, then follow its movement with your body and firearm, moving fluidly and accelerating slightly as you go. Pay attention to your position, stance, and foot placement to make sure you keep your balance.

Beyond refining firearm handling and aiming, trapshooting builds confidence and tests your abilities, offering valuable preparation for the actual hunt. It’s also one of the best things you can do to improve your chances of a successful harvest.

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