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Migratory Birds Regulations


  • The Central Flyway is divided into two “zones” in order to increase opportunity (see map on page 8). The two zones havedifferent season dates. Zone 2, includes Big Horn, Carbon, Custer, Prairie, Rosebud,Treasure and Yellowstone counties. Zone 1 includes all other counties in the Central Flyway portion of Montana.
  • Be aware of split seasons and carefully note closed and open days for hunting and note zone differences. All split seasons have been eliminated except for Central Flyway Zone 2.
  • Special restrictions apply when hunting at Canyon Ferry.

Regulations are adopted by the Fish & Wildlife Commission

Regulations for season dates, structures, and restrictions were adopted by the F&W Commission on April 18, 2023, under the authoritygranted in MCA 87-1-301 and are valid March 1, 2023, through Feb. 29, 2024. The F&W Commission reserves the authority to amend the seasons, limits, and regulations herein if deemed necessary for wildlife management purposes. Statutes and other information, including other agencies’ restrictions, are provided as a courtesy and do not fall under commission authority. Henry “Hank” Worsech,Director.

Discrimination Prohibited – State and Federal laws, Title VI of Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, age, religion, national origin, or disability. Anyone believing he or shehas been discriminated against (as described above) in any FWP program, activity, or facility may write to FWP Human Resources, 1420East Sixth Avenue, PO Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701 or the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Civil Rights, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street, NW Washington, DC 20240. Any changes made to this printed publication can be found on the FWP websiteor by inquiring at any local FWP office.

Obtain a License

The following licenses are available at all Fish, Wildlife & Parks offices, FWP license providers throughout the state, and online at Exception: The Federal Migratory Bird Stamp (Federal Duck Stamp) is available from the USPS as well as all Fish,Wildlife & Parks offices. The stamp is valid July 1, 2023, through June 30, 2024. The law requires that each waterfowl hunter 16 years of age and older must carry on his/ her person a Federal Migratory Bird Stamp that is validated by the hunter signing the stamp in inkacross the face of the stamp. Hunters also have the option to purchase an E-stamp online. An E-stamp allows hunters to immediately use the certification to legally hunt for 45 days while the physical stamp is mailed to the purchaser. For more information onpurchasing an E-stamp, go to

Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program (HIP)

All migratory bird hunters in Montana, as well as in all other states, are required to take part in a National Harvest Survey Program. To comply with HIP, you must complete a survey including your name, address and date of birth before you can purchase your Montana Migratory Bird License. In addition, you will be asked to respond to several questions about your hunting experience inMontana during last year’s season.

Drawing Applications

License Applications –

  • Online at no later than 11:45 p.m. MDT:
    • Sandhill crane special licenses by July 20
    • Swan special licenses by July 20
  • Over-the-counter at any FWP regional office, FWP area office, and/or the Helena Headquarters
  • A $5 application fee must be paid at the time of application
  • Applicants must possess a current year Conservation and Base Hunting License to apply
  • Successful applicants will be required to purchase a Montana Migratory Bird License and Federal Migratory Bird Stamp if necessary as specified in these regulations

Hunter Education and Youth Hunting Opportunities

If you were born after Jan. 1, 1985, you are required to show proof of completing a Montana hunter safety and education course (or an approved hunter safety course from any other state or province) prior to applying for or purchasing a hunting license.

Youth Hunters – there are two ways to be a youth hunter:

  1. An apprentice hunter is a resident or nonresident at least 10 years of age certified at an FWP office. This allows the apprentice to hunt some species, while accompanied by a mentor, without first completing a hunter education course. The apprentice hunter may not purchase a mountain lion, black bear, or wolf license, or apply for a bighorn sheep license or a hunting license or permit with a limited quota. The apprentice hunter may not purchase an elk license if he/ she is under 15years of age. Other restrictions apply. See our website for details at:
  2. A resident or nonresident youth 12-17 years of age may hunt any game species for which their license is valid. Those who will reach 12 years of age by Jan. 16, 2024, may hunt any game species, for which their license is valid, after Aug. 15 of the 2023 license year. Proof of hunter education must be presented at the time of purchase.

Special Youth Waterfowl Hunt Sept. 23-24, 2023 Youth 10 to 15 years old may participate in a special two-day early hunt for waterfowl. A youth 10-15 participating as an apprentice hunter must be accompanied by a non-hunting adult mentor at least 21 years of age. Otherwise, youth 12-15 who are Hunter Education Certified must be accompanied by a non-hunting adult at least 18 years of age.

Laws & Rules

Statute denoted by MCA and Commission Rule denoted by CR Baiting (CR) – Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 20.11 and20.21(i). You cannot hunt waterfowl or any other migratory game bird by the aid of baiting or on or over any baited area where you know orreasonably should know that the area is or has been baited. Baiting is the direct or indirect placing, exposing, depositing, distributing, or scattering of salt, grain, or other feed that could lure or attract migratory game birds to, on, or over any areas where hunters areattempting to take them. A baited area is any area on which salt, grain, or other feed has been placed, exposed, deposited, distributed,or scattered, if that salt, grain, or feed could serve as a lure or attraction for migratory game birds.

The 10-Day Rule: A baited area remains off limits to hunting for 10 days after all salt, grain, or other feed has been completelyremoved. Waterfowl will habitually still be attracted to the same area even after the bait is gone. The 10-day rule recognizes thatremoving bait does not remove the lure created and that waterfowl will still be attracted to the area.

Boat Launching and Transporting (MCA Title 80, Chapter 7, Part 10) Transporting watercraft within Montana -

  • STOP at all open inspection stations as directed by signs.
  • When traveling west across the Continental Divide, watercraft must be inspected before launching. Boats with a ballast or bladder, such as wakeboard or wake-surfing boats, must obtain a hot-water decontamination before launching.
  • Inspections are required for all watercraft coming off Tiber Reservoir. Hot-water wash may be required.

Transporting watercraft into Montana:

  • Watercraft must be inspected before launching.
  • Nonresident boats launching on Montana waters must purchase an AIS Prevention Pass. Go to for more information. Motorized watercraft fee is $30. Non-motorized watercraft fee is $10.
  • Watercraft with a ballast or bladder, such as wakeboards or wake-surfing boats, that intend to launch on Montana waters must receivea hot-water decontamination prior to launching. Check Stations (MCA 87-6-218) - All hunters are required by law to stop as directed at alldesignated check stations on their way to and from hunting areas, even if they have no game to be checked.

Hunter Harassment (MCA 87-6-215)

It is unlawful to:

  • Intentionally interfere with the lawful taking of a wild animal
  • Disturb an individual engaged in the lawful taking of a wild animal with intent to prevent the taking of the animal

Hunting Hours (CR) - Authorized shooting hours begin one-half hour before sunrise and end at sunset each day of the hunting season unless otherwise stated in the regulations. See official sunrise-sunset tables on page 11 in these regulations.

Landowner Permission (MCA 87-6-415) - A person may not hunt or attempt to hunt furbearers, game animals, migratory gamebirds, nongame wildlife, predatory animals, upland game birds, or wolves while hunting on private property without first obtaining permission of the landowner, the lessee, or their agents. Regardless of whether the land is posted or not, hunters must have permission from the landowner, lessee, or their agent before hunting on private property.

For the purposes of this section, the term “hunt” has the same meaning as provided in 87-6-101 and includes entering private land to: (a)retrieve wildlife; or (b) access public land to hunt.

License and Permit Possession/Use (MCA 87-6-304)

It is unlawful to:

  • Hunt or attempt to hunt for any migratory game bird unless the person is carrying the required license or permit at the time.
  • Refuse to produce a license or permit and the identification used in purchasing a license or permit for inspection to a game warden.

Alter or change a license in any material manner.

  • Loan or transfer any license to another person.
  • Use a license issued to another person.
  • Attach the person’s license to a migratory game bird killed by another person.
  • Have physical control over a valid and unused hunting license or permit issued to another person while in any location that thespecies to be hunted may inhabit. This prohibition does not apply to a person who is carrying or has physical control over a licenseor permit issued to that person’s spouse or to any minor when the spouse or minor is hunting with that person.

Method of Taking – Migratory birds may be taken only with long, recurve or compound bow and arrow, shotgun not larger than10 gauge incapable of holding more than three shells and fired from the shoulder, or by means of falconry.

You can hunt migratory game birds, including waterfowl, on, over or from:

  • Standing crops or flooded standing crops, including aquatic plants
  • Standing, flooded, or manipulated natural vegetation
  • Flooded harvested croplands
  • Lands or areas where grains have been scattered solely as the result of a normal agricultural harvesting or normal agricultural post-harvest manipulation
  • Lands or areas where top-sown seeds have been scattered solely as the result of a normal agricultural planting, or a plantingfor agricultural soil erosion control or post-mining land reclamation
  • A blind or other place of concealment camouflaged with natural vegetation
  • A blind or other place of concealment camouflaged with vegetation from agricultural crops, provided your use of such vegetation does not expose, deposit, distribute or scatter grain or other feed. You should be aware that seeds or grains from such vegetation could create a baited area.
  • Standing or flooded standing agricultural crops where grain is inadvertently scattered solely as the result of hunters entering orleaving the area, placing decoys, or retrieving downed birds. Hunters are cautioned that while conducting these activities, anyintentional scattering of grains will create a baited area.
  • With a trap, snare, net, rifle, pistol, swivel gun, shotgun larger than 10 gauge, punt gun, battery gun, machine gun, fish hook, poison, drug, explosive, or stupefying substance
  • With a shotgun of any description capable of holding more than three shells, unless it is plugged with a one-piece filler, incapable of removal without disassembling the gun, so its total capacity does not exceed three shells
  • From or by means, aid, or use of a sink box or any other type of low floating device, having a depression affording the hunter a means of concealment beneath the surface of the water
  • By the use or aid of live birds as decoys; although not limited to, it shall be a violation of this paragraph for any person to take migratory waterfowl on an area where tame or captive live ducks or geese are present unless such birds are and have been for aperiod of 10 consecutive days prior to such taking, confined within an enclosure that substantially reduces the audibility of their calls and totally conceals such birds from the sight of wild migratory waterfowl.

It is unlawful to hunt migratory game birds:

Motorized Vehicles and Public Roadways (MCA 87-6-405 and MCA 87-6-403)

No person shall take migratory game birds:

  • From or by means, aid, or use of any motor vehicle, motor- driven land conveyance, or aircraft of any kind
  • From or by means of any motorboat or other craft having a motor attached, or any sailboat, unless the motor has been completely shut off and/or the sails furled, and its progress there from has ceased
  • From or by means, aid, of any motor-driven land, water, or air conveyance, or any sailboat used for the purpose of, or resulting in, theconcentrating, driving, rallying, or stirring up of any migratory bird
  • It is unlawful for anyone to hunt or attempt to hunt any game animal or game bird on, from, or across any public highway or theshoulder, berm, borrow pit, or right-of-way of any public highway (the entire width between the boundary lines of every publicly maintained way when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel)

Nontoxic Shot (MCA 87-3-403and MCA 87-6-410) - No person may take ducks, geese, swans, or coots while possessing shot (either in shot shells or as loose shotfor muzzle loading) other than approved nontoxic shot.

Nontoxic shot is not required for webless migratory birds (sandhill crane, mourning dove, and snipe) except on national wildlife refuges and waterfowl production areas. However, it is unlawful for anyone to use or possess a shotgun shell or ammunition loaded with or containing other than federally approved nontoxic shot while hunting, taking, or attempting to take ducks, geese, swans, orcoots. If hunters have specific questions regarding this regulation, please inquire at the local refuge office.

Possession Limit – The number of birds that may be possessed at any time in any form: fresh, stored in freezers or lockers, salted, smoked, dried, canned, or preserved.

Possession Limit while in the Field – No person shall possess more than one daily bag limit while in the field, or while returning from the field to one’s vehicle, hunting camp, home, etc.

Possession of Live Birds – Wounded birds reduced to possession shall be immediately killed and included in the daily bag limit.

Recorded Animal Sounds (MCA 87-6-401) - It is unlawful to use any recorded or electrically amplified bird or animal calls or sounds orimitations of bird or animal calls or sounds to assist in the hunting, taking, killing, or capturing of any wildlife except predatory animals,wolves, and those birds not protected by state or federal law.

Selling/Possession of Migratory Game Birds - Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 20.91. Any person may possess, purchase, sell, barter, or transport for the making of fishing flies, and for similar commercial uses the feathers of migratory waterfowl.

Exception: No person shall sell, barter, or offer to purchase, sell, or barter for millinery or ornamental use the feathers or mounted specimens of migratory game birds.

Transporting Waterfowl, Sandhill Cranes, Mourning Doves & Snipe –

  • Species Identification Requirement– No person shall transport within the United States any migratory game birds, except doves and band-tailed pigeons, unless the head or one fully feathered wing remains attached to each such bird at all times while being transported from the place where taken until they have arrived at the personal abode of the possessor or a migratory bird preservation facility.
  • Tagging – No person shall give, put, or leave any migratory birds at any place or in custody of another person unless the birds are taggedby the hunter with the following information:
    • the hunter’s signature; 2) the hunter’s address; 3) the total number of birds involved, by species; 4) the dates such birds werekilled. Tagging is required if the birds are being transported by another person for the hunter, or if the birds have been left for cleaning, storage (including temporary storage), shipment or taxidermy services.
  • Shipping – No person shall ship migratory game birds unless the package is marked on the outside with: (1) the name and address of the person sending the birds, (2) the name and address of the person to whom the birds are being sent, and

(3) the number of birds, by species, contained in the package.

Unlawful Posting of State or Federal Land (MCA 45-8-115)

It is unlawful for a person to knowingly post land that is under the ownership or control of the state or federal government to restrict access or use of state or federal land.

Waste of Game (MCA 87-6-205)

Wanton Waste – No person shall kill or cripple any migratory game bird pursuant to this part without making a reasonable effort toretrieve the bird, and retain it in his/her actual custody. Under Montana law, it is unlawful to waste any part of a game bird suitable for food. For migratory birds, suitable for food means the breast meat.

Whooping Cranes – Whooping cranes are protected by law. It is unlawful to take or attempt to take this bird. If a whooping crane is sighted, please call 406-444-2612. For more information on distinguishing sandhill cranes and waterfowl from the protected, endangered whooping crane, you may go to the USFWS website.

General Information

Duck Identification – Most FWP regional offices have free waterfowl ID guides. An electronic version of this guide (Waterfowl Identification in the Central Flyway) and other duck ID information, including a video guide to identifying ducks by wings,can be found at:

Eurasian Collared Doves – An exotic species now found throughout much of Montana, especially in and near cities and towns. They are:

  • An unprotected species, as designated by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission, that may be taken without license,season, or limit. They do not count against a hunter’s mourning dove limit.
  • Different from a mourning dove in that they are larger, have a rounded tail rather than a pointed one, and they have a black ringaround the back of the neck.

Reporting Banded Birds – Internet reporting of bird bands is encouraged and may be easily done by going to: In most cases, you will quickly receive information on when and where a bird was banded.

Waterfowl Information – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service site ( has links to information aboutwaterfowl and other birds. In about mid-August, it will have the waterfowl status report.

Hunter Land Access

Hunters, it is your responsibility to know where you are, to know who owns the land, and to know what accessrestrictions apply.

Fishing Access Sites – Many of Montana’s Fishing Access Sites (FAS) offer hunting opportunities, however, certain restrictions may apply such as no-hunting safety zones and/ or restrictions on the type of hunting weapon or firearm that may be used. Refer to the Fishing Access Site website at;for site-specific information, opportunities, and restrictions.

Montana State Parks – Some of Montana’s State Parks provide hunting opportunities; however, certain restrictions may apply, suchas no-hunting safety zones and/or restrictions on the type of hunting weapon or firearm that may be used. Contact the specific parkand/or refer to the Montana State Park website at;for site specific information regarding hunting opportunities and restrictions.

Federal Land Access
  • National Parks are closed to hunting.
  • National Wildlife Refuges - More restrictive regulations may apply to national wildlife refuges or Federal WaterfowlProduction Areas open to public hunting. For additional information on federal regulations visit: refugesrefugeLocatorMaps/Montana or inquire at the local refuge office.
  • For hunting opportunities on federal lands such as U.S. Forest Service or U.S. Bureau of Land Management, inquire at the local Federal office.
  • Access to public lands through private land requires permission of the private landowner, lessee, or their agent.

Indian Reservations – Hunters hunting migratory birds on Indian Reservations should check Indian Reservation regulations. Stateregulations apply to deeded land and the Bighorn River within the Crow Indian Reservation. The State of Montana and the ConfederatedSalish and Kootenai Tribes have entered into a cooperative management agreement on the Flathead Reservation. Please check formigratory bird regulations specific to the Flathead Reservation. For information, call FWP at 406- 752-5501 or the Tribes at 406-883-2888ext 7200.

Railroad Access – Railroads and railroad rights-of-way are private property and may not be hunted without permission, nor shouldthey be used as access to other lands (private or public) without explicit permission from the railroad. Consult the individual railroad for details.

State School Trust Lands - Additional information, including closures and restrictions, is available from the DNRC at 406- 444-2074.

  • A Conservation License provides hunters, anglers, and trappers access to lawfully accessible State School Trust lands for related activities during applicable seasons. Additional permitting is required through the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation(DNRC) for trapping on trust lands.
  • Overnight use must not exceed the following limits: two consecutive days on leased land, 16 consecutive days within designated campgrounds or on unleased land.
  • Motorized travel is only allowed on public roads or on roads designated as open. This restriction applies to all activity including game retrieval.
  • Firearms may not be discharged upon trust lands within one- quarter mile of inhabited dwellings or outbuildings on state trust landswithout permission of the inhabitant.
  • Open fires are prohibited outside of fire pits within designated campgrounds.

State Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) - which provide game animal winter range, are closed to public entry from the day following the end of the general deer/elk season or Dec. 1, whichever is later, to noon on May 15 each year, as posted.

  • Exception: Blackfoot Clearwater WMA from the day following the end of the general deer/elk season or Dec. 1, whichever is earlier, through the remainder of the hunting season, that portion of Cottonwood Creek lying downstream from the bridge (at WMA headquarters) including the ditch and pond (DU pond) that are connected to the creek will remain open to hunting for ducks and geese only, as posted.
  • Exception: Kootenai Falls WMA is open year long; Porcupine (Gallatin), Dome Mountain, Bear Creek and Wall Creek WMAs open May 1.
  • Canyon Ferry WMA designated access gates for Ponds 2, 3, and 4 will be opened at noon the day prior to the opening of the youth and general waterfowl seasons.

Stream Access – Migratory game bird hunting between the ordinary high water marks of streams and rivers is lawful. However, landowner permission must be obtained to hunt or retrieve on private lands adjacent to waterways.

Statewide Closures

Region 2: Warm Springs Pond No. 3 (Deer Lodge County): An area of land comprising portions of Sections 1, 2 11 and 12, T4N R10,portions of Sections 30 and 31, T5N, R9W, and portions of Sections 25 and 36, T5N, R10W, described as follows: Beginning at thejunction of Interstate 90 and the Opportunity Road; then northerly on said road to the northerly base of the dike of Warm SpringsSettling Pond No. 3; then northwesterly along the base of said dike to the area road passing through the Mill-Willow Bypass; then duewest from junction of base of said dike and road to Interstate 90 (as posted), then southerly along said interstate to its junction withOpportunity Road, the point of beginning.

Region 3: Helena Valley Regulating Reservoir (Lewis & Clark County): The Bureau of Reclamation Regulating Reservoir located inSections 4, 5, 8, 9, 16 and 17, T10N, R2W in the Helena Valley as posted. (This area will be open to hunting until the opening of the waterfowl season, then it will be closed to all hunting.)

Region 3: South Half of Lake Helena (Lewis & Clark County): Beginning at a point in the southwest part of Lake Helena to be marked by a red buoy, then in a southwesterly direction to the south shore, then south approximately ½ mile, then in an easterly direction 1-1/2 miles, then north ¼ mile, then east ¾ mile to the west bank of the BLM drain ditch D-7, then down the west bank of the drain ditch to the lake and out into the lake a distance of 400 yards to a point marked by a red buoy, then in a southwesterly direction across the lake to the point of beginning in parts of Sections 23, 24, 25 and 26, T11N, R3W, and in parts of Sections 19 and 30, T11N, R2W. This area is closed to the hunting, harassment, or molesting of migratory waterfowl except for the direct and immediate foot, boat or dog retrieval of downed game having fallen in the closed area.

Region 3: Portion of the Manhattan Game Closure: Beginning at the intersection of the west bank of the West Gallatin River and Interstate 90, then running west along the south boundary of said Interstate to a point near the interstate which leads to the ranch entrance of the R. A Young Ranch, then southwesterly to the east bank of the Spring Creek irrigation canal, then southwesterly along the east bank of said canal to the closest point to the Perk’s Canal, then (as posted) westerly to the Perk Canal, then southerly along the east bank of the Perk Canal to Camp Creek, then southerly along the southeast side of Camp Creek to a left fork known as Spring Creek, then southerly along the southeast bank of Spring Creek to the south line of Section 23, T1N, R3E, then east alongthe south line of Sections 23 and 24, T1N, R3E, and Section 19 T1N, R4E, to the West Gallatin River, then north along the west bank ofsaid river to its intersection with Interstate 90, the point of beginning.

Region 3 and Region 4: Gates of the Mountains Game Preserve: No hunting. Beginning in Section 2, T12N, R3W at the southeastcorner of Upper Holter Lake, then proceeding westerly along the northern shoreline of Upper Holter Lake in the Gates of the Mountainsarea located in Lewis and Clark County, then northerly along Stoney Point Beacon Road, then northerly along the powerline tosaid beacon, then along Bulldozer Road to the point of the ridge in Section 23, T13 N, R3W, then northerly to the Missouri River,then easterly across said river and lake to the USFS boundary to the wilderness boundary, then south along wilderness boundaryto the southeast corner of Section 1, T12N, R3W, then west back to Upper Holter Lake, the point of beginning. Intending hereby to include in said game preserve all the territory adjacent of the Gates of the Mountains area, shall be called and known as the Gates of the Mountains Game Preserve.

Region 4: Freezout Wildlife Management Area: (Teton County): SW1/4, Section 19, Sections 29 and 30, T22N, R3W, W1/2 Section 12, W1/2 of E1/2 Section 12, and that portion of Sections 13 and 24 within the posted boundary of the Freezout Wildlife Management Area, T22N, R4W. This area will be open to upland game bird hunting until the opening of the general waterfowl season. From the opening of the waterfowl season through November 19, no hunting, access or harassment of wildlife will be allowed except for the direct and immediate foot, boat or dog retrieval of downed game having fallen in the closed area. This area will then reopen for all hunting from November 20 to the end of the season.

Region 4: Missouri River (Cascade County): The Missouri River below the ordinary high water inclusive of all islands, backwaters, and sandbars, beginning at the confluence of Sand Coulee Creek and the Missouri River, Section 36, T20N, R3E, then downstream toBlack Eagle Dam, Section 6, T20N, R4E.

Region 6: McLean Reservoir (Hill County): Approximately 2,560 acres located in Sections 16, 17 20, 21, T36N, R15E.

Region 6: Nelson Reservoir (Phillips County): All of those parts of Nelson Reservoir and within 300 yards of its shoreline within the following described sections: Sections 13, 14, 15, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 31, 32, 33, 34 and 35, T32N, R32E; and Sections 25 and 26, T32N, R31E; and Section 1, T31N, R31E; and Sections 3, 4, 5 and 6, T31N, R32E.

Region 6, Sands Lake (Hill County): SW ¼, Section 18, T32N, R16E.

Region 7: Treasure & Rosebud counties: Beginning at thejunction of the Bighorn and Yellowstone rivers, then east down the Yellowstone River to the Rosebud-Custer County line, east of Hathaway, Montana (as posted). This closure shall be within the confines of the normal stream flow and shall include all islands, backwaters and sandbars.