Navigating the Pennsylvania Duck Season

A common response many hunters provide when asked about Pennsylvania duck hunting is it is just “OK”. A fair assessment perhaps and possibly a product of the state’s long heritage with deer hunting that takes away from some of the excitement duck season in the Commonwealth offers. Regardless, remember that Pennsylvania is a major fly-through zone encompassing parts of the both the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways. Combine that with the opportunities the Susquehanna River Basin and numerous lakes and ponds offer, waterfowl seasons in Pennsylvania can be quite epic.

State Duck Season Limits and Regulations Review

Waterfowl hunting in Pennsylvania is different than other Pennsylvania hunting seasonsMuch of the regulations and seasons are influenced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since ducks and other waterfowl are migratory.

Waterfowl License Requirements

Each person hunting ducks 16 years old and older, or other waterfowl, are required to have a federal duck stamp or electronic duck stamp in addition to their general Pennsylvania hunting license. Also, all hunters 12 years old and older are also required to have a Pennsylvania migratory game bird license.

Pennsylvania Duck Season 2018-19 Dates

Pennsylvania duck hunting seasons for ducks, sea ducks, coots, and mergansers run concurrent but vary by opening and closing dates across the state’s four hunting zones. For most zones, the majority of the Pennsylvania duck season 2018-19 is just beginning.

from the Pennsylvania Game Commission Hunting and Trapping Digest

Bag Limits and Other Important Regulations

Bag limits set each year must conform to the framework established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Some limits remain stable from year to year while others can change over the course of several waterfowl seasons. Six ducks daily and 18 in possession combined species are the limits for the 2018-19 duck hunting season. However, the daily limit of six may not include more than the following limits per individual species.

  • 4 mallards including 2 hen mallards 
  • scaup 
  • 2 black ducks 
  • 3 wood ducks 
  • 2 redheads 
  • eiders 
  • 2 canvasbacks 
  • 2 pintails 
  • 1 mottled duck 
  • 1 fulvous whistling duck 
  • 4 scoters 
  • 4 long-tailed ducks

In addition to daily limits, other important regulations should also be reviewed. Shotguns must be restricted to three shells max and only non-toxic shot may be used (no lead shot shotgun shells). Also, electronic duck hunting decoys can be used for hunting and no fluorescent orange is required to worn. Finally, waterfowl hunters are required to wear a life jacket if hunting out of boats less than 16-feet in length, or any canoe or kayak starting Nov.1.

Where to Start Your Pennsylvania Duck Season

One of the jewels of the Atlantic Flyway is the Susquehanna River Basin. The Susquehanna River is the main waterway in the basin and runs north to south through the state. Public access and abundant ducks make this the first place to start your duck hunting season.

The Harrisburg area on the Susquehanna holds consistently high numbers of mallards and black ducks. Other stretches and additional tributaries such as the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in northcentral Pennsylvania also offer good duck hunting although duck populations are less consistent as you move away from the main river. Susquehanna River duck hunting can bring with it opportunities for a variety of species including scaup, canvasbacks, mergansers and other highly sought-after duck species. The river remains mostly ice-free, or at least until duck season goes out in January, which makes it a hotspot for numerous species up until the last day of the season.

How to Find Local Duck Hunting Hotspots

Other duck hunting hotspots besides the Susquehanna River and its tributaries also exist. Numerous public access lakes, including some state parks, also offer opportunities for duck season. You can find these areas much the same way you would seek out public land deer hunting opportunities in Pennsylvania. The better option, however, when asking the question of where to hunt ducks in Pennsylvania is to consider private landsUse these tips to help you find other places to hunt ducks in Pennsylvania.

  1. Tail the ducks – Ducks will be on the move daily but most times you can develop a pattern of a small local flock over time. Put in time following birds. Understand where they are in the morning, where they move to in the afternoon and where they end up in the evening.
  2. Be fluent with digital maps – Digital maps can save you a tremendous amount of time trying to find local ducks. You can easily cross off areas where ducks are unlikely to be while also identifying areas that look promising. From there, various hunting apps provide landowner information or you can use public county tax databases as a tool to ask for duck hunting permission.
  3. Work with other hunters – Many make for light work. Certainly true when it comes to deciding where to duck hunt in Pennsylvania. Work with other duck hunters in your local area to share information. As many of us are not professional duck hunters, it is hard to tail ducks all day every day. Others can see and follow flocks you may miss that can lead you to a duck hunting hotspot.

Must-Have Gear for Pennsylvania Waterfowl Hunts

Whether you are new to duck hunting in Pennsylvania or a seasoned veteran, there are several pieces of equipment everyone needs to have to be able to tackle duck season successfully. Of course many go well beyond this basic duck hunting gear list and that is fine. However, just remember it doesn’t take a huge investment to enjoy duck hunting.

  • Waders – Most duck hunting happens in or around water during the coldest months of the year. Neoprene chest waders are a must to keep you warm and dry while hunting. Look for ones in a camo pattern, have at least 1,000 grams of insulation and have hand warmer pocket.
  • One dozen mallard duck decoys – Don’t worry about having a decoy set for every kind of duck on the waterBlack ducks, teal and even wood ducks will all decoy into a set of mallard duck hunting decoys just as often as a set of expensive individual species decoys.
  • Reliable duck call – The standard is the simple mallard call. All species respond to it and it is typically an easy call to blow. A wood duck call is also a valuable addition to your duck hunting gear. Having one of these duck hunting calls will allow you to call in other puddle ducks besides mallards like wood ducks and teal.

Without going into great detail on the other pieces of duck hunting gear and accessories you must have, you probably already know you will need a reliable and durable shotgun (pump or semi-auto), non-toxic shells, warm clothing for duck hunting, waterproof gloves and a gear bag to carry everything in.

Duck season in Pennsylvania is an exciting and great hunting opportunity. In the right spot with the right gear, the action is a fast-paced onslaught of shooting. Take advantage of the great flocks that visit the state, particularly in the Susquehanna River Basin, and bag your limit this season.

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