Waterfowl Hunting and Baiting

Caution:

The following material is only a summary. Each hunter should also consult the actual Federal Regulations, which may be found in Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 20, available at http://www.fws.gov/hunting/whatres.html.

Baiting Laws

Federal rules prohibit the taking of migratory game birds by the aid of baiting, or on or over any baited area, where a person knows or reasonably should know that the area is or has been baited.

It is legal to take migratory game birds including waterfowl, coots and cranes, on or over the following lands or areas that are not otherwise baited areas:

Who is responsible?
Hunters, guides and landowners are responsible for understanding and obeying regulations about baiting and knowing the conditions of the area to be hunted.

What is baiting?
Baiting means the direct or indirect placing, exposing, depositing, distributing or scattering of salt, grain, or other feed that could serve as a lure or attraction for migratory game birds to, on, or over any areas where hunters are attempting to take them.

What is a baited area?
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 other feed could serve as a lure or attraction for migratory game birds to, on, or over areas where hunters are attempting to take them.

For how long?
An area is considered baited for ten days following the complete removal of all salt, grain or other feed.

What about normal agricultural operations?
Normal agricultural operation means a normal agricultural planting, harvesting, post-harvest manipulation or agricultural practice that is conducted in accordance with official recommendations of State Extension Specialists of the Cooperative Extension Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

What is manipulation?
Manipulation means the alteration of natural vegetation or agricultural crops by activities that include, but are not limited to, mowing, shredding, disking, rolling, chopping, trampling, flattening, burning or herbicide treatments. The term manipulation does not include the distributing or scattering of grain, seed or other feed after removal from or storage on the field where grown.

What is considered natural vegetation?
Natural vegetation means any non-agricultural, native or naturalized plant species that grows at a site in response to planting or from existing seeds or other propagules. The term natural vegetation does not include planted millet. However, planted millet that grows on its own in subsequent years after the year of planting is considered natural vegetation.

Hunting over agricultural land?
Nothing in the baiting regulation "shall prohibit the taking of all migratory game birds, including waterfowl, on or over standing crops, flooded standing crops (including aquatics), flooded harvested croplands, grain crops properly shocked (or stacked together) on the field where grown or grains found scattered solely as the result of normal agricultural planting or harvesting."

Hunting over agricultural land manipulated for wildlife management?
The baiting regulation does not prohibit "the taking of all migratory game birds, EXCEPT waterfowl, on or over any lands where shelled, shucked or unshucked corn, wheat or other grain, salt, or other feed has been distributed or scattered as the result of normal agricultural operations or procedures, or as a result of manipulation of a crop or other feed on the land where grown for wildlife management purposes: Provided, that manipulation for wildlife management purposes does not include the distributing or scattering of grain or other feed once it has been removed from or stored on the field where grown."

Waterfowl and other migratory birds are a national resource protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Federal regulations define key terms for hunters and land managers, and clarify conditions under which you may legally hunt waterfowl. As a waterfowl hunter or land manager, it is your responsibility to know and obey all Federal and State laws that govern the sport. Waterfowl baiting regulations apply to ducks, geese, swans, coots and cranes.

Can I manipulate crops in a field where waterfowl will be hunted?
NO. Federal regulations are more restrictive for waterfowl hunting than for hunting doves and other migratory game birds. While unharvested agricultural crops may be manipulated to attract doves for hunting, manipulation of an unharvested agricultural crop to attract waterfowl for hunting creates a baited area.

What about natural vegetation?
Natural vegetation is any non-agricultural, native, or naturalized plant species that grows at a site in response to planting or from existing seeds or other propagules.

Natural vegetation does not include planted millet (like browntop and Japanese millet) because of its use as both an agricultural crop and a species of natural vegetation for moist soil management. However, planted millet that grows on its own in subsequent years is considered natural vegetation. If you restore and manage wetlands as habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds, you can manipulate the natural vegetation in these areas and make them available for hunting. Mowing and burning of natural vegetation are common habitat management practices in South Carolina.

Natural vegetation does not include plants grown as agricultural crops. Under no circumstances can you hunt waterfowl over crops manipulated prior to a normal harvest. Nor can you hunt waterfowl over manipulated wildlife food plots or manipulated plantings for soil stabilization.

In South Carolina many hunters and landowners manage native vegetation and planted agricultural crops to attract waterfowl for hunting. The Federal law is different for the management of these two food sources and hunters should pay particular attention to the differences.

Shooting Hours

Shooting hours for waterfowl are 1/2 hour before sunrise until sunset except where noted during early seasons. Shooting hours are uniform statewide.

Legal Shot

The possession of lead shot is prohibited for all waterfowl hunting, statewide. Nontoxic shot (steel, bismuth or other Federally approved shot) is required for all waterfowl hunting.

No shot smaller than no. 2 or larger than F shot is allowed for goose hunting.

Blind Regulations (SC Code of Laws 50-11-25)

It is unlawful to take migratory waterfowl from blinds or positions where the floor level of the blind or the position is:

Airboat Regulations (SC Code of Laws 50-21-860)

AirboatAn "airboat" means a watercraft propelled by air pressure caused by a motor mounted on the watercraft aboveboard.

It is unlawful for a person to operate an airboat on the public waters of this State from the freshwater-saltwater dividing line, established by Section 50-17-30, seaward.

It is unlawful to operate an airboat on the waters of the Waccamaw, the Great Pee Dee, the Little Pee Dee, the Black and the Sampit Rivers in Georgetown and Horry Counties from one hour before legal sunset to one hour after legal sunrise and anytime during the season for hunting waterfowl.

It is unlawful to operate an airboat on the waters of that portion of Lake Marion and Santee Swamp west of the I-95 bridge upstream to the confluence of the Congaree and Wateree Rivers during the season for hunting waterfowl.

The provisions of 50-21-860 do not apply to the operation of airboats by law enforcement, emergency medical, civil defense, noxious weed control, military personnel, state and federally approved wildlife banding, surveying, biological research programs and private waters.

Duck stamp

If you are 16 or older, you must carry on your person an unexpired Federal migratory bird hunting and conservation stamp. You must validate your duck stamp by signing it in ink across the face before hunting. You must also have a valid South Carolina Migratory Waterfowl Permit.

FAQ's on Waterfowl Hunting and Baiting

1. Can I hunt ducks or geese over a harvested corn or sorghum field?

Yes, if the field was planted, harvested and any post harvest manipulation was in accordance with official recommendations of the Cooperative Extension Service in South Carolina.

2. Can I harvest part of the corn crop in my pond, leave the rest unharvested, and then flood and legally hunt over it?

Yes. Fish and Wildlife Service Regulations allow you to harvest part of a crop in accordance with official recommendations of the Cooperative Extension Service in South Carolina and legally hunt over the field, provided you do not manipulate the remaining unharvested crop.

3. After a cornfield is combined, is it legal to mow the corn stubble prior to flooding the field?

Yes. The Cooperative Extension Service in South Carolina has stated that mowing of corn stubble is a normal post harvest agricultural manipulation.

4. May I mow part of my unharvested cornfield to create open water areas for ducks to land?

No. If any grain or other feed has been placed, exposed, deposited, distributed or scattered that could serve as a lure or attraction for waterfowl to, on, or over areas where hunters are attempting to take them, such areas would be considered baited. The area would remain a baited area for ten days following the COMPLETE removal of all such grain or other feed. The mowing of unharvested corn (or any planted agricultural crop) for any purpose is an illegal manipulation of the crop and makes the field baited. Other illegal manipulations of unharvested crops include disking, shredding and burning.

5. I planted Japanese millet in my duck pond last year. This year I didn’t plant it and I have a "volunteer" stand in the same area, mixed in with the panic grass and other native vegetation. Can I legally mow and burn the millet along with the native vegetation?

Yes. You may legally manipulate Japanese millet (and other agricultural millets) that has sprouted voluntarily the second year after planting. You may not manipulate millets the year in which you plant them.

6. Can I camouflage my duck blind with corn stalks?

Yes. It is legal to camouflage your duck blind with corn stalks provided that your use of the corn stalks does not expose, deposit, distribute, or scatter grain.

7. Can I mow paths through my unharvested corn crop to make it easier to get to the blind?

No. Mowing pathways through an unharvested cornfield or any other unharvested planted agricultural crop is considered a manipulation of an unharvested agricultural crop. Any seed or grain scattered as a result would be considered bait. If you do this then the field is considered baited.

8. If I accidentally knock down corn while going to and from my blind, is the field considered baited?

No. Federal regulations allow for the take of waterfowl over unharvested or flooded unharvested agricultural crops where grain is inadvertently scattered solely as a result of a hunter entering or exiting a hunting area, placing decoys, or retrieving downed birds. Caution is warranted in this situation and you should make all possible efforts to minimize contact with crops. The excessive running of boats or riding across unharvested crops to create paths to the blind can result in a baited field. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reserves the right to make the final determination.

9. Can I turn hogs or cattle into an unharvested crop grown in the field, then flood it and hunt ducks over it?

No. It is illegal to hunt waterfowl over crops that have been trampled by livestock or subjected to other manipulations that distribute, scatter or expose grain.

10. Can I hunt ducks or geese over wildlife food plots?

Yes. However, you may not hunt waterfowl over freshly planted food plots where grain or seed has been distributed, scattered or exposed or on food plots where the unharvested crop has been manipulated by mowing or other means.

11. Can I hunt ducks or geese over a dove field?

You may hunt ducks and geese over a dove field if the grain present is the result of a normal agricultural planting, harvesting or post harvest manipulation. However, if the grain has been exposed by manipulating a standing crop then it would be illegal to hunt waterfowl over the field until 10 days after all the grain exposed by the manipulation is gone. For example: It would be legal to hunt geese and doves over a freshly combined corn field. It would be legal to hunt doves over a cornfield where standing corn has been mowed or chopped, but one could not hunt waterfowl until 10 days after the exposed corn is gone.

12. May I use a portion of my waterfowl impoundment as a dove field and mow down some crop for September dove season then flood the remaining unharvested crop later in the fall for duck hunting?

To be legal in this scenario, the impoundment would have to pass the 10-day rule for baiting. All of the grain exposed by manipulating the crop for doves would have to be gone at least 10 days before the field could be legally hunted for waterfowl. The land manager should be extremely careful when attempting to manage a waterfowl impoundment for both ducks and doves.

13. If I am camping, how many ducks may I have in possession in my camp or ice chest?

The possession limit for ducks in South Carolina is three times the daily bag limit. This is the number you may have in possession at your camp. You can only possess, have in custody or transport the daily bag limit at or between the place where taken (blind) and either; A) your principal means of land transportation (car) or B) your camp. The possession limit does not negate the hunter’s restriction to shoot only the daily bag limit in any one day. If you break camp, and are traveling back to your car (principal means of land transportation) by ATV or boat, you may transport your possession limit. Any time you leave camp to hunt, birds left at the camp must have a tag attached signed by the hunter, stating the hunter’s address with the date taken and the total number and species.