Can you shoot ducks on the water? There must be a reason why. After all, shooting a duck once it has landed would be much easier than trying to hit it while flying.
Shooting ducks on the water is legal, but in some places, it is frowned upon by other hunters.
Is it legal to shoot ducks on the water?
You may be surprised to learn that shooting a duck on the water is legal. Despite the widespread belief to the contrary, research was unable to identify any state or Canadian providence where the practice is illegal.
Why do so many hunters believe it is illegal to shoot ducks on the water? The fault lies with long-standing traditions not to do so, born out of no longer existing laws.
At one time, many states did outlaw the practice of shooting ducks on the waters. Some of these laws have only recently been rescinded; however, their enforcement was abandoned long ago.
One of the reasons for allowing this practice is the need to retrieve crippled ducks. It is not uncommon for a wounded duck to land in the water.
When this happens, modern hunting ethics dictate the bird should be retrieved, dispatched, and added to the hunter’s bag limit.
Despite being legal, the practice is still frowned upon by many in the waterfowl community. Therefore, the question of “can I shoot ducks on the water” becomes more about whether you should that it is legal.
Why is it so frowned upon?
If you are a waterfowler, you probably have strong opinions about shooting ducks on the water. Although the tide is turning, with a growing number of hunters willing to do so, the prevailing view is “no.” But why is this?
For many, the opinion was learned, passed on from older generations, and accepted as simply being the way it is. Regardless of the law, it is an unwritten rule that ducks are safe once on the water.
There are two primary reasons this unwritten rule has been so readily accepted. First is the belief that ducks are too vulnerable when on the water.
The practice of targeting ducks on the water is where the term “sitting duck” originated. Second, there is the view that taking ducks on the water is not sportsman-like.
Both developed during the days of market hunters who would devastate entire flocks using multiple hunters, large punt guns, and any tactics necessary to fill a boat.
The early 20th century brought a rapid decline in wild game populations, a new view regarding conservation, and a disdain for market hunters.
Along the way, many of the latter’s practices were outlawed. Others, including the shooting of ducks on the water, were either assumed to be illegal or not accepted.
An argument in favor of water shooting
As stated earlier, a growing number of hunters are willing to shoot ducks on the water. Although their numbers remain low, they make convincing arguments in favor of the tactic.
The most common argument is that hunters can use any legal method. Early crossbow hunters used a similar view used when confronted by traditional archers. While this argument does little to convince an opponent, it is still valid.
Next, some are okay with shooting ducks on the water if the hunter is young or inexperienced. More than likely, the thought is that it is better to overlook some niceties if it allows a beginner to be successful.
Especially if doing so will make it more likely the new hunter will continue learning.
Opponents usually respond that it is better to take the animal and keep the beginner returning than stick to all the regulations,
The final argument is a bit more convincing and intriguing no matter what side of the debate you find yourself. Water shooters claim it may take more skill to shoot a duck on the water than in the air. It sounds crazy but hear me out.
When a hunter shoots ducks in the air, their skill measurement is based on being able to hit and drop a fast-moving duck.
While this is a valuable skill that can take years to hone, it is the same skill needed to hit clays, thus not an accurate measure of a hunter.
Those in favor of water shooting look at a more significant number of activity-specific skills when measuring success. Calling, decoy placement, camouflage, and shooting are all considered.
From this perspective, what takes more skill? Shooting ducks attracted to your call or decoys as they flair at the last minutes, often alerted to your presence, or calling and decoying a duck into your spread and within range?
Water shooters would say that the latter results from a higher skill level. Not only did you call or decoy the duck to your location, but you also did this so well that the ducks were comfortable to land.
Shooting is only the last step in the hunting process and not different than decoying or luring a deer to your stand. This argument is a bit more convincing and harder to dismiss as not being sporting enough.
If you do it, do it right
If you are going to shoot ducks on the water, there are a few issues that you need to take into consideration. Doing so will help ensure you are doing so safely and in a manner that results in a clean kill.
The shot can skip on the water just like a rock does. Once you fire a shell, you lose control over what happens, but you are still responsible for where it goes.
You must check the area beyond your target and be aware of other hunters, homes, etc. Do not take it if you doubt whether your shot will endanger life or property. A duck is not worth it.
Shot placement will be different on a sitting duck. Most vital organs are exposed when shooting at passing or flaring duck.
Most vital organs are protected or underwater if a duck sits on the water. You may need to take headshots to ensure a quick, ethical kill.
Although shooting ducks on the water is legal, it is still not a widely accepted means of harvesting waterfowl. Whether you decide to do so or not is a personal choice, not a legal one.
Regardless of how you target ducks, do so in a safe manner and enjoy your time in the field.