Migratory Game Bird Hunting Regulations

Framework Development

  • Governing Bodies: Federal and State government collaboration.
  • Regulatory Settings: Annual establishment by Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board.

Annual Update and Availability

  • Setting Period: Regulations set each spring.
  • Posting: Season and bag limit information updated on this page around mid-May annually.

Access to Regulations

Hunting Guide: Table of Contents

  • Special Hunts

    • Opportunities for unique or regulated hunts within the season
  • Hunting Hours

    • Legal start and end times for hunting activities
  • Required Licenses, Stamps, and Permits

    • Necessary documentation for legal hunting
  • Hunting Implements

    • Approved equipment for hunting game
  • Hunting Methods

    • Legal techniques and strategies for hunting
  • Blaze Orange and Life Jacket Requirements

    • Safety gear mandated for hunter visibility and water safety
  • Tagging, Transporting, and Reporting Requirements

    • Procedures for after-harvest activities including game tagging and transport
  • Hunting Prohibitions

    • Actions and practices that are not permitted while hunting
  • More About Migratory Game Bird Regulations

    • Extended information on laws governing migratory bird hunting

Special Waterfowl Hunts in Massachusetts

Youth Waterfowl Hunt

  • Eligibility:

    • Only waterfowl hunters ages 12–17 may participate.
  • Accompaniment:

    • All youth hunters must be accompanied by a licensed adult hunter with a valid MA waterfowl stamp.
  • Firearm Limitation:

    • One firearm only.
  • Adult Hunter Restrictions:

    • The adult hunter may not hunt and may carry a firearm only when unloaded and cased.
  • Regulations and Limits:

    • All regular season waterfowl hunting regulations and bag limits apply.

Active Military and Veterans Waterfowl Hunt

  • Eligibility:

    • Open for waterfowl hunting by members of the Armed Forces on active duty, including members of the National Guard and Reserve on active duty (other than for training), and veterans.
  • Veteran Definition:

    • Per section 101 of title 38, United States Code, a veteran is a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.
  • Proof of Eligibility:

    • Proof of eligibility is required and must be carried on the person while hunting.
  • Regulations and Limits:

    • All regular season waterfowl hunting regulations and bag limits apply.

Standard Hunting Hours and Early Goose Season

Standard Hunting Hours

  • Timing:

    • Hunting hours begin ½ hour before sunrise.
  • End Time:

    • Hunting hours end at sunset.

Early Goose Season

  • Timing:

    • During Early Goose Season, hunting hours are ½ hour before sunrise.
  • End Time:

    • Hunting hours extend until ½ hour after sunset.

Required Licenses, Stamps, and Permits for Migratory Game Bird Hunting

Waterfowl (Ducks, Geese, Sea Ducks) Requirements:

Massachusetts Residents

  • Hunting or Sporting License
  • Waterfowl Stamp
  • Federal Duck Stamp* (required to hunt ducks, geese, or brant)


  • Big Game License (includes all game) or Small Game License (includes all game except deer, bear, turkey)
  • Waterfowl Stamp
  • Federal Duck Stamp* (required to hunt ducks, geese, or brant)

*The Federal Duck Stamp is required for hunters ages 16 years and older. Unlike state licenses, which are valid from January 1 – December 31, the federal duck stamp is valid July 1 – June 30.

Other Migratory Game Birds (Woodcock, Snipe, Coot, Rails) Requirements:

Massachusetts Residents

  • Hunting or Sporting License


  • Big Game License (includes all game) or Small Game License (includes all game except deer, bear, turkey)

License/Stamp Requirement for Youth Waterfowl Hunters:

  • Minor Hunting License

  • State Waterfowl Stamp

  • Federal Duck Stamp

  • Ages 12-14: No specific license/stamp requirement

  • Age 15: State Waterfowl Stamp, Federal Duck Stamp

  • Ages 16-17: State Waterfowl Stamp, Federal Duck Stamp

HIP (Harvest Information Program):

  • Registration Requirement:

    • Hunters must register with the Harvest Information Program (HIP) every year by taking the HIP survey if they intend to hunt woodcock, snipe, coots, rails, ducks, or geese.
  • Automatic Registration:

    • When purchasing a state waterfowl stamp, waterfowl hunters are automatically registered with HIP.

Approved Hunting Implements for Migratory Game Birds


  • Gauge Limit:

    • Migratory game birds may be hunted with shotguns no larger than 10 gauge.
  • Shell Capacity:

    • Shotguns capable of holding more than 3 shells may not be used unless plugged with a one-piece filler. This filler must limit the gun’s total capacity to 3 shells and cannot be removed without disassembling the gun.
  • Non-Toxic Shot Requirement:

    • Waterfowl hunters must use non-toxic shot up to and including BBB shot while hunting ducks, geese, sea ducks, and coot.
  • Lead Shot Prohibition:

    • No lead shot may be in the hunter's possession while hunting ducks, geese, sea ducks, and coot.
  • Exception:

    • Non-toxic shot is not required for those hunting woodcock, snipe, or rails.

Archery Equipment:

  • Broadheads:

    • Expanding broadheads are legal for hunting migratory game birds.
  • Crossbows:

    • Crossbows may be used by certain permanently disabled persons, but a permit is required.
  • Prohibitions:

    • Poisoned arrows, explosive tips, and bows drawn by mechanical means are strictly prohibited.

Approved Hunting Methods for Migratory Game Birds


  • General Use:

    • Dogs may be utilized in the hunting of migratory game birds.
  • Restriction During Deer Shotgun Seasons:

    • Note that during the shotgun seasons for deer, including Youth Deer Hunt Day, dogs can only be used for waterfowl, snipe, rail, and falconry hunting. This restriction applies specifically to coastal waters and salt marshes.


  • Species Eligibility:

    • Ducks and coot may be taken by falconry.
  • Exclusion:

    • Geese are not permitted to be taken via falconry.
  • Closure on Sundays:

    • Falconry activities related to migratory game birds are closed on Sundays.

Wanton Waste:

  • Retrieval Effort:

    • A reasonable effort is required to retrieve all migratory birds killed or crippled.
  • Wounded Birds:

    • Wounded birds should be killed immediately.
  • Retention Requirement:

    • All harvested birds, including wounded ones, must be retained by the hunter as part of the daily bag.

Blaze Orange and Life Jacket Requirements for Waterfowl Hunters

Blaze Orange Requirements:

  • General Exemption:

    • Waterfowl hunters are generally not obligated to wear blaze orange.
  • Exception 1:

    • An orange hat is mandatory for hunters in WMAs stocked with pheasant or quail during the pheasant and quail season.
  • Exception 2 (During Certain Deer Seasons):

    • During the Shotgun Deer Season and Youth Deer Hunt Day, waterfowl hunters must wear both a blaze orange hat and vest while in transit to their blind or boat. The requirement can be lifted once inside the blind or boat.

Life Jacket Requirements for Canoe or Kayak Users:

  • Mandatory Period:
    • From September 15 to May 15, individuals in a canoe or kayak must wear a life jacket or vest.

Tagging, Transporting, and Reporting Requirements for Migratory Game Birds

Reporting Requirement:

  • Reporting Exemption:

    • Migratory birds do not require formal reporting by hunters.
  • Banded Birds:

    • Hunters who recover banded birds are strongly encouraged to report them at www.reportband.gov for scientific monitoring and data collection.

Tagging and Transportation:

  • Tagging Requirements:

    • Migratory game birds not in the possession of the hunter must be appropriately tagged. The tag should include the hunter's signature, address, total number of birds by species, and the dates of harvest.
  • Custody of Birds:

    • No person may receive or have in custody migratory game birds without proper tagging by the hunter.
  • Field Dressing:

    • During transportation to the hunter's residence, preservation facility, or port of entry, each migratory game bird must retain its head and one fully-feathered wing.

Shipping Instructions:

  • Package Marking:
    • When shipping packages containing migratory game birds, the exterior must be marked with the sender's and recipient's name and address. Additionally, it should indicate the number of birds by species contained inside.

Hunting Prohibitions for Migratory Game Birds


  • Prohibition:

    • No person shall take migratory game birds by baiting, which involves placing corn or any other food as a lure or enticement.
  • Baited Area Duration:

    • An area is considered baited for 10 days after the removal of the bait.
  • Ignorance Not a Defense:

    • It is not necessary for the hunter to know that the area is baited to be in violation.

Motorized Vehicles & Boats

  • Hunting Prohibition:

    • Hunting migratory game birds from or in connection with a motor-driven land conveyance, aircraft, or any kind of motor or sailboat used in concentrating or driving birds is prohibited.
  • Exceptions:

    • Paraplegic hunters may take game birds from a stationary motor vehicle, and certain activities are allowed in coastal waters.


  • Prohibition:
    • Driving or herding migratory game birds from or with the aid of a motor vehicle or other motor-driven land conveyance or aircraft is not allowed.

Electric Calls

  • Prohibition:
    • Taking migratory game birds using pre-recorded calls or sounds, or any electronic imitations of calls, is prohibited.

Other Prohibited Devices

  • Devices Prohibited:
    • Use of rifle, pistol, air gun, swivel gun, punt gun, battery gun, machine gun, trap, snare, net, fish hook, sinkbox, poison, drug, explosive, or stupefying substance is prohibited.

Live Decoys

  • Prohibition:

    • Hunting migratory game birds with live decoys or domesticated fowl is not allowed.
  • Pre-Hunting Confinement:

    • Fowl used as decoys must be removed for 10 consecutive days before hunting and must be confined in a manner that reduces audibility and conceals them from the sight of migratory waterfowl.

More about migratory game bird regulations

This page is to be used as a reference, it is not the entire law and is subject to change. You can refer to the Migratory Game Bird Hunting regulations in the Code of Massachusetts Regulations, 321 CMR 3.02(2), the Code of Federal Regulations, 50 CFR 20 et seq and to several other provisions of the Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 131 for information about migratory game bird laws and regulations. 

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