Game Bird Hunting
Ruffed grouse are the most widely available upland game in Vermont. Good numbers of “partridge” can be found wherever brushy forest stands provide nesting cover, protection from predators and food in the form of berries and buds. Overgrown apple orchards, abandoned hillside farms and regenerating clear cuts covered with hardwood thickets are all grouse hot spots. Although grouse are found statewide, the Northeast Kingdom offers some of the best grouse hunting.
The following are classified as game birds: quail, ruffed grouse, chukar partridge, woodcock, pheasant, common snipe, coot, wild ducks, wild geese, and wild turkey (which is classified as big game). Other wild birds including spruce grouse and Hungarian partridge have no open season.
The Syllabus of State and Federal Hunting Regulations for Migratory Birds in Vermont will be available on the VTF&W website and from license agents.
Both Vermont and federal waterfowl stamps are required to hunt migratory waterfowl for hunters 16 and older. Federal stamps are sold at post offices. Vermont State Migratory Waterfowl (“Duck”) Stamps are available on the Fish & Wildlife website, from Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department offices and license agents for $7.50. A state waterfowl stamp is good for the calendar year and no longer needs to be signed by the hunter. Note that the federal waterfowl stamp must be signed.
Before you start waterfowl hunting, make sure you have the following four things:
- A valid Vermont hunting license.
- A Federal duck stamp, available at most post offices
- A Vermont state duck stamp, available wherever Vermont hunting licenses are sold
- A H.I.P. number, available at www.vtfishandwildlife.com or at 1-877-306-7091
(State and federal duck stamps are required only for hunters 16 and older)
A Youth Waterfowl Hunting Weekend for residents and nonresidents is usually held in late September for hunters 17 and under. Check the migratory bird hunting rules syllabus for details.
Waterfowl blinds may not be placed on or in the waters of the state earlier than the first Saturday of September of any year.
Anyone who places a blind must have their name and address permanently and legibly affixed on the blind by waterproof paint or rustproof tag.
Waterfowl blinds located on or in any waters of the state except Lake Champlain must be removed, together with contents and any surrounding debris, on or before May 15 of the following year. A waterfowl blind located on or in Lake Champlain must be removed on or before February 15 of the following year. Also see Tree Stands and Ground Blinds sections.
Placement of signs for the purposes of claiming duck blind locations has no basis in law and is unenforceable.
The use of Phragmites or other invasive plants in duck blinds is prohibited. This does not apply to non-invasive plants used for camouflage such as corn stalks or cedar.
It is illegal to take a group or combination of waterfowl/coots and other species in Vermont while possessing loose shot or shot shells loaded with any shot other than nontoxic shot. Shot should be of a size no larger than size T.
Woodcock are found statewide. “Timberdoodles” feed primarily on worms, and they favor areas with moist, rich soils covered with dense stands of woody shrubs and sapling-stage hardwoods. Alder swales, regenerating clear cuts and abandoned pastures covered with thickets of dogwood, sumac, birch and aspen are all likely woodcock covers. Locally hatched native birds provide hunting early in the season, but the best shooting is in mid to late October, when large numbers of migratory birds are pushed out of Canada by cold weather. The best hunting is generally in the Champlain Valley and Northeast Kingdom.
Set annually, see 2017 Waterfowl Syllabus.
Woodcock and common snipe are migratory game birds. Migratory game birds, including waterfowl, may be taken only by shotgun with a one-piece plug or manufactured to restrict it to three-shot capacity. State and federal duck stamps are not required for woodcock or snipe hunting. A H.I.P. number is required to hunt woodcock and common snipe.
For a mountainous state, Vermont offers surprisingly good hunting for a variety of waterfowl. To maximize hunting opportunities, Vermont is divided into three waterfowl zones: the Lake Champlain Zone, which includes Lake Champlain and the adjoining Champlain Valley lowlands, the Interior Zone, and the Connecticut River Zone.
Seasons are set in late August in accordance with migratory bird hunting frameworks established by the federal government.
During the October portion of duck season, most hunting is for “puddle ducks” on shallow-water marshes, beaver flows, ponds, and rivers. The most common species are mallards, wood ducks, black ducks and greenwing teal. As the season progresses and marshes begin to freeze in November, open water hunting for migrating “diving ducks” on Vermont’s larger lakes swings into full gear. Goldeneyes, lesser scaup, ringnecks, and buffleheads are the most common diving ducks. Excellent hunting for goldeneyes and late-migrating mallards and black ducks can often be had from mid-November though the close of the season in December.
Canada geese and snow geese are found in areas with farm fields that provide waste grains and green grasses as food. Snow goose seasons are liberal, reflecting the record number of greater snow geese in the Atlantic Flyway. A September Canada goose hunting season offers an opportunity to hunt resident Canada geese that have increased in numbers in recent years. An October season for Canada geese is open when additional geese are migrating through the state.
The best waterfowl hunting opportunities are in the Champlain Valley, where numerous public wetlands provide excellent hunting for ducks and geese. Elsewhere, good waterfowl hunting can also be had in the Northeast Kingdom on and along Lake Memphremagog and its tributary rivers.
Spruce or Ruffed Grouse?
Know the Difference
Spruce grouse occur in the Nulhegan Basin near Moose and Yellow Bogs on the Conte National Wildlife Refuge and Wenlock Wildlife Management Area (WMA). They also are found in Victory Basin WMA and Victory State Forest.
Ruffed grouse hunters are reminded that wounding or killing a spruce grouse is a violation of the Vermont Endangered Species Act and subject to significant fines. Any spruce grouse killed by hunters must be reported to a game warden.
Harvest Information Program for Migratory Game Birds
If you are hunting migratory game birds, federal law requires you to annually register with the Harvest Information Program (H.I.P.). Migratory game birds include ducks, geese, brant, coots, snipe, and woodcock. Visit www.vtfwdsales.com/online/hip-entry.php or call Toll Free 1-877-306-7091 (Monday–Friday, 7:45 am to 4:30 pm EST) to register and obtain your H.I.P. permit number. Write the H.I.P. number on your hunting license. Vermont and federal migratory waterfowl stamps are also needed to hunt ducks or geese.
How does the H.I.P. work?
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) will ask a sample of hunters to record daily hunt information on survey cards and return completed cards at the end of hunting season. The survey will enable the USFWS to more accurately determine the status of migratory game birds. Inadequate harvest information has been used to legally challenge hunting seasons in some states.
We thank you for your help!
Cooperation and support from hunters is the key to sound wildlife management. The Harvest Information Program for Migratory Game Birds will help ensure the future of migratory bird hunting.