How are the Seasons Set?

Most state wildlife agencies set their waterfowl seasons in August, and I often get questions this time of year regarding how season are set. It is a long and complicated process, an annual process that never really stops. It involves a series of scheduled administrative meetings and an on-going process of data gathering. I’ll try to provide a simplified description of the administrative process here.

Waterfowl seasons are not a given each year. A detailed process must be followed to legally provide migratory game bird seasons. In general, the process involves “Early Season” regulations and “Late Season” regulations and begins when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) posts its intention to provide migratory game bird seasons in the Federal Register.

Work on each regulations cycle begins even before the close of waterfowl seasons as the Fish and Wildlife Service Regulations Committee (SRC) meets in January to consider overall waterfowl regulations. The SRC consists of 4 Regional Directors of the USFWS plus a Chairperson. The USFWS has the ultimate responsibility and authority in the U.S. to establish annual hunting seasons for migratory birds. This authority is granted under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The SRC reviews information provided to it each year on regulatory issues and submits recommendations to the Director. The SRC receives guidance from the Division of Migratory Bird Management, the Division of Law Enforcement, the Regional Migratory Bird Coordinators and the four Flyway Councils. The USFWS publishes specific proposals for “Early Seasons” in the Federal Register. Public comments are accepted on these proposals, and a Final Rule published, usually in August.

Mississippi Flyway Council Technical Section at their February 2000 meeting in Little Rock

Click image to enlarge
Mississippi Flyway Council Technical Section at their February 2000 meeting in Little Rock

The four Flyway Council Technical Sections (made up of state biologists) meet individually in February or early March, and the four Flyway Councils (made up of state administrators) in March to consider changes in “Early Season” hunting regulations for migratory shore and upland game birds (teal, mourning dove, snipe, rail, woodcock, etc.) and discuss previous waterfowl seasons, research and management issues.

States must select their “Early Seasons” within the framework provided by the USFWS (selections are due to the USFWS by August 1). A state can be more restrictive but not more liberal than the federal framework.

In late July, each of the four Flyway Technical Sections and Flyway Councils meet to consider “Late Seasons,” which include the regular duck and goose hunting seasons. “Late Seasons” open as early as the Saturday nearest October 1. During this meeting Technical Section committees review population, habitat, production, banding, and harvest data for the ducks and geese and make season recommendations to the Flyway Councils. Recommendations are in turn, forwarded to Flyway Councils which again forward their recommendations to the Service Regulations Committee (SRC).

The SRC meets in August to consider Flyway proposals, and a Proposed Rule for “Late Seasons” is published in the Federal Register for public comment. States generally, recommend their “Late Seasons” in August based on the frameworks provided by the USFWS (these selections must be received by the USFWS by September 1). Again, a state can be more restrictive but not more liberal than the federal framework.

If all goes as planned new seasons are published and offered to American hunters.

Good luck this season!!

Read On


4 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Bob Miller said,


    Very nice article. I always wondered how they came up with the “magic” dates!

    It was a pleasure visiting with you at the SRS in Grand Island a couple of weeks ago. I hope all goes well with your trip to Canada! As soon as I get back from my trip I will let you know how we did!

    Good Hunting!


  2. 2

    Cody Duffey said,

    however seasons are determined, they need to start about 2 to 3 weeks later and run 2 to 3 weeks later. it does not make any sense for me in central missouri to be finished duck hunting before christmas is even here. every year for at least the past 10 years the ducks get here a week or two after season is over… maybe its just where my zone happens to be but from what i have heard from other hunters all over the place, they tell me the same thing.

  3. 3

    C M said,

    One question: In WA state, they have opening day on Oct. 11th, close it on the 15th, then reopen on the 18th. What gives?

  4. 4

    Eric said,

    Global climate changes have caused cold weather to lag behind the traditional duck season dates, is there anyone considering moving everything back a few weeks? In S. Louisiana the season opens before it does in N. Louisiana, that makes no sense, what’s the deal?

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