Waterfowl Hunting in Montana: A Beginner-Friendly Guide

Beginner's guide to waterfowl hunting in Montana with essential tips, gear recommendations, and licensing info.

Waterfowl hunting in Montana varies from hunting other animals. While the skills to track and locate animals are crucial for hunting deer, bear, turkey, and other game, they are not as essential in waterfowl hunting. Soon, you will realize that it is a unique experience.

If you’re a beginner, you likely have numerous questions about waterfowl hunting in Montana. Which apparel and gear do I need? What are the basic skills in waterfowl hunting? 

You’ve come to the right place! In this beginner’s ultimate guide, you’ll find the fundamental information you need to ensure a successful and enjoyable waterfowl hunting trip in the stunning state of Montana. 

Getting started in waterfowl hunting in Montana might be easier than you think. You only need to follow a few steps for a successful first hunt. Follow along and get essential tips many hunters wish they had learned earlier. 

Get Your License

Like every other form of hunting, waterfowl hunting in Montana is subject to strict regulations. So, obtaining the required licenses and permits is an essential first step. 

All hunters over 16 in Montana must buy the Federal Duck Stamp to hunt migratory waterfowl. Anyone who is 12 years old or above must also purchase the Montana Migratory Bird License if they are going hunting. Additionally, hunters must show evidence of their enrollment in the Harvest Information Program (HIP).

Check more details here. Get your license here.

Prepare Your Gear

In waterfowl hunting in Montana, your gear is crucial for a successful hunt. If you've hunted waterfowl in Montana before, you likely know how crucial it is to have the necessary supplies. If you are a beginner, you may not know where to start, so here is a list of essential items.

Blind Bag

Waterfowl hunting techniques vary depending on terrain, weather, and migration patterns. The correct blind bag is an essential but often overlooked tool for hunts.

The blind bag is essential for storing and sorting your equipment before, during, and after the hunt. A few things you could have in your blind bag include calls, shotgun shells, your hunting license and permits, extra gloves, a coffee thermos, and a waterfowl strap.

Several designs of blind bags are available. But a simple rectangular wide-mouth blind bag with a shoulder strap is ideal for new hunters or those wanting to stay light.

Hunters who want to hunt all day, bring new companions, and pack gear for two hunters in one bag should consider getting an improved blind bag with additional pockets, shell holders, and possibly a tree hook for hanging the bag securely.

If you want to go on long treks in public marshes and bring extra items like lunch, a camp stove, or clothing, consider using a backpack-style blind bag. This type of blind bag can assist in carrying additional equipment, particularly during extended walks to your hunting spot.

Whatever waterfowl hunting blind bag you choose, ensure it has a strong shoulder strap that can easily fit over your coat or jacket. Big zipper pulls that you can easily use with gloves are essential, along with choosing a natural color or camouflage design to help hide your bag when out in the field. Floating blind bags are the best option to avoid getting your belongings wet if they fall off your shoulders.


One of the most thrilling and distinctive parts of waterfowl hunting is luring birds with decoys. For beginners, the best choice is to start with a small collection of high-quality decoys. A pre-packaged set of six duck decoys simplifies the buying process, providing an affordable and immediately usable decoy set for the field.

However, having fewer decoys in your spread can sometimes be more effective. Two dozen or fewer floating decoys are sufficient for hunting in flooded marshlands, shallow lake pockets, and duck potholes. You can use mallard decoys to hunt many types of puddle duck, but adding a few other species, such as pintails or ringnecks, can also be beneficial.

Remember, using decoys with a natural head-to-body ratio and authentic colors is best. 

Position your decoy at an elevated level on the water and lightweight to create movement in a gentle breeze. However, your decoys might still need added weight to ensure they stay positioned in the water. 

Are you using lines and weights to rig your decoys? Consider getting a decoy bag for easier transportation and storage and less risk of tangles.

Firearm and Non-Toxic Shells

A firearm, preferably a shotgun, is essential in waterfowl hunting in Montana. Otherwise, you’re just birdwatching.

The best waterfowl hunting shotguns are dependable and sturdy, as they will probably encounter water and harsh field conditions. 

Many hunters who pursue waterfowl tend to favor repeating firearms such as pump-action and semi-automatics, with camouflage coatings serving the dual purpose of safeguarding the guns and aiding in their concealment while in the hunting blind. An entirely matte black finish, which includes a matte black synthetic stock, will also be practical since waterfowl have excellent eyesight.

Twelve-gauge shotguns are common waterfowl hunting in Montana, and the introduction of newer 20-gauge loads has made this gauge a viable choice for hunters seeking a lighter gun with reduced recoil.

Numerous shotguns designed for waterfowl hunting also feature larger trigger guards, oversized bolt releases, and safeties to improve safety when wearing gloves.


The water itself is one of the most fascinating features of waterfowl hunting. These birds typically spend most of their time in or around bodies of water. Water is essential whether you are hunting in a public marsh, a flowing river, a large reservoir, or on the bank of a small farm pond. 

So you should anticipate entering the water for tasks such as positioning and collecting decoys, recovering fallen birds, and sometimes even for the hunting itself. 

Waders create a separation between you and the water to prevent you from getting wet from rain, puddles, streams, lakes, marshes, or any other moist surfaces. 

Waders have significantly improved, and budget-friendly options offer excellent quality. But when buying waders for hunting, consider several factors.

Chest or Hip Waders

Many waterfowl hunters choose to wear chest waders for added protection and warmth. On the other hand, hip waders might suit your hunting needs better if you primarily hunt in shallow marshes, flooded timber, or knee-deep agriculture fields.

Neoprene or Breathable Waders

Although a few companies continue to produce authentic rubber waders, most waterfowl hunters believe that neoprene and breathable waders are the only viable options. 

Breathable waders are more comfortable and lighter than neoprene waders, although they may be slightly less durable than heavy neoprene.


Mastering the ability to find a suitable call and communicate effectively with ducks and geese is crucial to success as a waterfowl hunter. 

Waterfowl are known for being very noisy. They produce various calls while feeding, coming together, and alerting each other of possible threats. Many hunters prefer reed calls as they vibrate to imitate bird sounds when air flows through the reeds. Successful calling requires significant practice before the season starts, so give your household a heads-up before bringing your first call home.

Many waterfowl hunters carry multiple calls to change strategies based on the flying birds' behavior. So, using a lanyard makes it easy to keep calls organized.

Find a Mentor or Hire a Guide

If you're interested in waterfowl hunting in Montana, you likely already know someone - or a few people - who also hunt. Perhaps you are observing the enjoyment your friends experience while hunting and are now prepared to join them.

The best way to begin any hunting adventure is to seek a knowledgeable friend or an expert guide who can help you through the process. 

There is a limit to how much you can learn from reading blogs and watching YouTube videos. The experience and knowledge of an experienced guide are beneficial - so if you don't already have friends who hunt waterfowl, it's time to look for a guide.

Search for a Waterfowl Hunting Spot

Next, you must find a suitable place after assembling your friends or booking your guide. Finding truly exceptional locations is a skill in itself, as it is challenging. 

You need to search for land areas and bodies of water where waterfowl gather - preferably where they simply linger or eat. You can also find roosts, where waterfowl rest for the night before sleeping. There are also zones with high activity available for hunting.

The great thing is that when you hire a guide, they already know the best spots for waterfowl hunting in Montana!

Tips for Waterfowl Hunting in Montana

Are you ready for waterfowl hunting in Montana? Try following these tips for a successful hunt.

Prioritize Safety

If you don't know how to use your gun, take some lessons before using it. It will improve your hunting skills and increase your safety, the most crucial aspect of waterfowl hunting. 

Remember, it is essential to be aware of your surroundings while hunting. Even if you know the area well, you must stay alert of other hunters and anything in the line of your shot.

You also need to ensure your gear and firearm are in good condition to prevent accidents due to equipment in bad shape.

Practice Your Calls

The success of your hunting also depends on the calls you use. Being able to attract waterfowl towards you will make your day much more enjoyable than having them run away. That's why it's crucial to purchase top-quality hunting calls and master their proper use. Various calls suit different kinds of birds, so ensure your call is appropriate for your species.

Mind Your Blind

As you may already know, it is essential to orient yourself in the same direction as the wind speed to detect birds approaching your landing area. You should also consider the distance you are shooting from—the closer, the better. Remember to stay fully hidden, no matter how well-disguised your equipment is. 

Could it be possible that the natural covering does not align perfectly with your landing zone? Yes, that’s fine because choosing natural blinds is still best. You can still achieve good shooting opportunities from the water's edge by arranging your decoys in a quality U shape.

Montana Hunting Rules

Don't be misled by Big Sky Country’s relaxed atmosphere. Waterfowl hunting in Montana is closely monitored, with particular rules that guarantee the ethical and accountable hunting of waterfowl.

Below are the primary Montana hunting rules you should know before getting ready.

1. To attract birds, hunters cannot hunt waterfowl near any baited area.

2. You can hunt migratory waterfowl from half an hour before sunrise to sunset, while you can hunt big game and upland game birds half an hour after sunset.

3. The methods for harvesting migratory birds are restricted to long, recurve, or compound bow and arrow, shotguns no bigger than a 10-gauge with a maximum of three shells, or falconry.

4. Only authorized nontoxic shells are allowed for hunting ducks, geese, swans, or coots.

5. Montana has strict regulations regarding the number of birds you can have and their preservation method.

6. It is illegal to sell migratory waterfowl feathers for making hats, but it is allowed to sell them for fishing flies and similar purposes.

7. Hunters are required to sincerely attempt to recover and keep any fallen migratory game bird, particularly the breast meat, which is deemed edible. It is illegal in Montana to discard any edible part of a game bird.

By complying with these rules, you can participate in waterfowl hunting in Montana and help preserve and maintain migratory game birds in the region.

Waterfowl Hunting with Latitudes Outfitting Co.

Attention all hunters of waterfowl in Montana! Do you want to experience excellent waterfowl hunting in Montana? Book a hunt with Latitudes Outfitting Co. today!

Located in the Missouri River Breaks and Beaverhead Valley, our hunting trips take you to the ideal spots, drawing diverse waterfowl, including Mallards, Canada Geese, and Wigeon. Our expert guides will equip you with everything necessary for a successful hunt through various landscapes and weather conditions.

Our tailored three-day waterfowl hunting excursions between mid-November and mid-January immerse you in the peak migration season for the best hunting chances. 

Take advantage of the opportunity to completely submerge yourself in the realm of waterfowl hunting in Montana—book your hunting trip with Latitudes Outfitting Company now and prepare for an unforgettable adventure!

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