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Migratory game bird hunting regulations

The Migratory Game Bird Laws and Regulations are developed by both the Federal and State government. These laws and regulations are set annually in the spring by the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board. Seasons and bag limits for the upcoming season will be posted on this page around mid-May each year.

Table of Contents

Waterfowl Zone Map

Some migratory game bird hunting regulations vary depending on where you are in the state. The state is divided into zones, which are shown below.

waterfowl zone map

Westward of a line running from the Vermont boundary, southward along I-91 to Route 9, West on Route 9 to Route 10, South on Route 10 to Route 202 and South on Route 202 to the Connecticut line.

Eastward of the Berkshire zone line and westward of a boundary which will run from the New Hampshire line southward on I-95 to Route 1, South on Route 1 to I-93, South on I-93 to Route 3, South on Route 3 to Route 6, West on Route 6 to Route 28, West on Route 28 to I-195, West on Route I-195 to the Rhode Island line except that the waters and the lands 150 yards above the high water mark of the Assonet River to the Route 24 bridge and the Taunton River to the Center Street/ Elm Street bridge shall be in the Coastal Zone.

Eastward and southward of the Central zone line to the coast.

is that portion of the Coastal Zone lying north of the Cape Cod Canal and east of the Sagamore Bridge/Route 3 and extending north to the New Hampshire line. During the late Canada goose season, this section is open to hunting. The remainder of the Coastal Zone is closed.

Special hunts

Youth Waterfowl Hunt
During the Youth Waterfowl Hunt season dates, only waterfowl hunters ages 12–17 may hunt ducks, coots, mergansers, and geese. All youth hunters must be accompanied by a licensed adult hunter with a valid MA waterfowl stamp. One firearm only. Adult hunter may not hunt and may carry firearm only when unloaded and cased. All regular season waterfowl hunting regulations and bag limits apply. 

Active Military and Veterans Waterfowl Hunt
Two statewide Veterans Waterfowl Hunt season dates are 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 The term “veteran,” is defined, per section 101 of title 38, United States Code, as 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 is required and must be carried on person while hunting. All regular season waterfowl hunting regulations and bag limits apply. 

Hunting hours

  • Hunting hours begin ½ hour before sunrise and end at sunset.
  • During Early Goose Season, hunting hours are ½ hour before sunrise – ½ hour after sunset.

Click here for a sunrise/sunset table.

Required licenses, stamps, and permits

To hunt migratory game birds in Massachusetts you must have certain licenses, stamps, and permits, which you can buy through MassFishHunt.

Waterfowl (ducks, geese, sea ducks) requirements:

  • Massachusetts residents
    • Hunting or sporting license
    • Waterfowl stamp
    • Federal duck stamp* (needed to hunt ducks, geese, or brant)
  • Non-residents
    • Big game license (includes all game) or small game license (includes all game except deer, bear, turkey)
    • Waterfowl stamp
    • Federal duck stamp* (needed to hunt ducks, geese, or brant)

*The Federal Duck Stamp is required for any 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
  • Non-residents
    • 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      
Age 15 X X  
Ages 16-17 X X X


You must register with the Harvest Information Program (HIP) every year by taking the HIP survey if you to hunt woodcock, snipe, coots, rails, ducks, or geese. When purchasing a state waterfowl stamp, waterfowl hunters are automatically registered with HIP.

Hunting implements

Shotgun: Migratory game birds may be hunted with shotguns no larger than 10 gauge, fired from the shoulder. Shotguns capable of holding more than 3 shells may not be used unless plugged with a one-piece filler which limits the gun’s total capacity to 3 shells and which cannot be removed without disassembling the gun. Waterfowl hunters must use non-toxic shot up to and including BBB shot while hunting ducks, geese, sea ducks, and coot. No lead shot may be in the hunter's possession while hunting ducks, geese, sea ducks, and coot. Non-toxic shot is not required for those hunting woodcock, snipe, or rails. (Get more information about types of non-toxic shot.)

Archery equipment: Expanding broadheads are legal. Crossbows may be used by certain permanently disabled persons by permit only. Poisoned arrows, explosive tips, bows drawn by mechanical means are prohibited.

Hunting methods

Dogs: Dogs may be used to hunt migratory game birds. NOTE: During the shotgun seasons for deer (including Youth Deer Hunt Day) dogs can be used for waterfowl, snipe, rail, and falconry hunting only on coastal waters and salt marshes.

Falconry: Ducks and coot may be taken by falconry. No geese. Falconry closed Sundays.

Wanton waste: A reasonable effort is required to retrieve all migratory birds killed or crippled. Wounded birds should be killed immediately, and, along with all other harvested birds, must be retained by the hunter as part of the daily bag.

Blaze orange and life jacket requirements

Waterfowl hunters are not required to wear blaze orange except: 1) An orange hat must be worn while hunting in WMAs stocked with pheasant or quail during the pheasant and quail season; 2) During the Shotgun Deer Season and the Youth Deer Hunt Day waterfowl hunters must wear a blaze orange hat and vest in transit to their blind or boat—it may be removed once in the blind or boat.

Anyone in a canoe or kayak from Sept. 15 – May 15 must wear a life jacket or vest.

Tagging, transporting, and reporting requirements

Migratory birds do not need to be reported. Hunters recovering banded birds are encouraged to report them to www.reportband.gov

Any migratory game birds not in the custody of the hunter must be tagged with the hunter’s signature, address, total number of birds by species, and dates such birds were killed. No person shall receive or have in custody another's migratory game birds unless such birds are properly tagged.

Field dressing: The head and one fully-feathered wing must remain attached to each migratory game bird while it is transported to the hunter’s home, preservation facility, or port of entry.

If shipping any packages containing migratory game birds they must be marked on the outside with the name and address of the sender and recipient and number of birds, by species, contained inside.

Hunting prohibitions

Baiting: No person shall take migratory game birds by baiting (placing corn or any other food to constitute a lure or enticement) or hunting over a baited area. An area is considered baited for 10 days after removal of the bait. It is not necessary for the hunter to know that the area is baited to be in violation of this section.

Motorized vehicles & boats: A person shall not hunt 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 either for himself or for others. Further, no person may hunt from or by means of any motorboat or sailboat unless the motor has been completely shut off and/or sails furled and all progress has ceased. However, a hunter may pick up or retrieve dead or injured birds from a craft under power and may shoot injured birds from powered craft in coastal waters seaward of the first upstream bridge. Exception: Paraplegic hunters may take game birds from a stationary motor vehicle or other land conveyance

DrivingNo person shall drive (herd) migratory game birds from or with the aid of a motor vehicle or other motor driven land conveyance or aircraft, or any kind of motor or sailboat us either for self or others.

Electric calls: No person shall take migratory game birds using pre-recorded calls or sounds or any electronic imitations of calls.

Other prohibited devicesRifle, pistol, air gun, swivel gun, punt gun, battery gun, machine gun, trap, snare, net, fish hook, sinkbox, poison, drug, explosive or stupefying substance.

Live decoys: No person shall hunt migratory game birds with the aid of live decoys or domesticated fowl of any kind. Such fowl must be removed for 10 consecutive days prior to hunting and be confined in an enclosure which reduces the audibility of their calls 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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