Iowa’s location in the heart of the Mississippi Flyway provides a temporary home for migrating ducks each year. The Mississippi and Missouri River systems make up the majority of the waterfowl habitat, so the largest concentrations of ducks tend to be along the eastern and western edges of the state. Many hunters across North America overlook Iowa and the opportunity it presents for duck hunting, but it may just be the best hidden secret in the flyway.
Where to duck hunt in Iowa
If you are looking to duck hunt in Iowa, there is no shortage of areas to try out. With over 250 locations across more than 50 counties, there is an abundance of Wildlife Managed Areas (WMAs) for waterfowl hunters to go to. These areas include lakes, wetlands, and rivers that are accessible and managed exclusively for hunting. Among these locations, some are managed more intensively than others, which typically means they will attract more ducks, as well as hunters, throughout the fall migration.
Popular locations to duck hunt in Iowa
- Big Marsh Wildlife Area (Butler County)
- Sweet Marsh (Bremer County)
- Green Island Wildlife Area (Jackson County)
- Riverton Wildlife Area (Fremont County)
- Hawkeye Wildlife Area (Johnson County)
- Otter Creek Marsh (Tama County)
- Red Rock (Marion County)
- Odessa Wildlife Area (Louisa County)
- Black Hawk Marsh (Sac County)
- Bays Branch Wildlife Area (Guthrie County)
For a comprehensive list of areas to duck hunt in Iowa, click here, or see the bottom of the page.
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Where is the best duck hunting in Iowa
Odessa Wildlife Area
Map of Odessa Wildlife Area
Odessa Wildlife Area (Lake Odessa) is a hot spot for duck hunting along the Mississippi River in southeastern Iowa. With over 4,000 acres to hunt, this area can hold a significant amount of ducks during the fall migration. The proximity of Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge also adds to the amount of habitat ducks are able to take advantage of during their trip south for the winter.
This area is located in Iowa’s southern zone for waterfowl, which makes it a great place to hunt later in the season when areas in the northern part of the state are closed. Hunters will need a boat to access most of the area for duck hunting, as it is too deep to wade in many areas. Hunter pressure can become intense throughout the season, so be prepared to hunt pressured ducks and compete with other parties of hunters from time to time.
The map above does not represent exact boundary lines for this area. Be sure to scout out where exact boundary lines are at, and always obey posted property.
Riverton Wildlife Area
Map of Riverton Wildlife Area – northern section
Riverton Wildlife Area is another stellar location to duck hunt in Iowa. Its location in Fremont County, which is in the far southwest corner of the state, makes it a popular location for ducks traveling down the Missouri River system. This area is intensively managed with many water control structures and pumps, so even in a draught the area will have water to hunt.
Riverton Wildlife Area – southern section
Since the area is known for holding a significant amount of birds during the fall migration, hunters should expect to compete with other parties and face the challenges of hunting pressured ducks at Riverton, especially on the weekends. This place can be phenomenal late in the season because it provides migrating ducks with high quality vegetation that is planted and managed each year. The area also has two refuges that ducks use throughout the season, so be sure to check boundary lines while out hunting.
Hawkeye Wildlife Area
Hawkeye Wildlife Area in Johnson County is a notable duck hunting location along the eastern side of Iowa. Hunters have the choice of hunting the flooded marsh for puddle ducks, or testing their luck and going after divers on bigger water at this location. Since the area is large, hunters are able to create distance between themselves and other parties if they choose, which typically leads to higher success rates.
Hawkeye Wildlife Area also has a refuge located at the eastern border, so be sure to watch your boundary lines and use caution when hunting near it. Most hunters use a boat to access the area, which allows them to get to places where other hunters are not at. If you are interested in having the chance to harvest a variety of species at one location, Hawkeye Wildlife Area should be at the top of your list.
Big Marsh Wildlife Area
Big Marsh Wildlife Area, located in the northeastern part of the state, is an exceptional spot for duck hunters. Although it is not located along a major river system, migrating ducks seem to find it each fall. Its size, being over 7,000 acres, provides hunters the ability to spread out, although that is not always the case. Like all public duck hunting areas, hunters tend to go where the ducks are, which can create intense competition and cause the ducks to act more pressured.
Many ducks utilize the refuges on this area, which keeps them around for the majority of the season until it freezes up. Most waterfowl on the area tend to be puddle ducks, but a few divers are common.
What to expect when duck hunting in Iowa
Types of ducks in Iowa
The type of ducks in Iowa are no different than the type of ducks typically found across the Mississippi flyway. Mallards, teal, and gadwall are the most common type of puddle ducks; while redheads, scaup, and canvasbacks are the most common type of divers through the state.
The Mississippi River in Iowa, especially the northern portion, gives duck hunters a great chance at harvesting canvasbacks, as they are generally prevalent in that location.
Best time of year to duck hunt in Iowa
Determining the best time to duck hunt in Iowa can depend on many factors such as weather, hunter pressure, and how the migration has progressed throughout the fall. In most years, peak numbers of ducks in Iowa appear throughout the month of November. During this time, states further north in the flyway are covered in snow and ice, while Iowa still has more moderate temperatures. This allows ducks to utilize the habitat Iowa has to offer, which brings more hunter success.
What do I need to duck hunt in Iowa
Like most states, waterfowl hunters need to purchase several licenses and pay fees to be able to hunt in Iowa. Non-resident licenses tend to be more expensive, but are still affordable if you are planning to spend part of your season there. Please see the lists below for what hunters must purchase before duck hunting in Iowa.
- Hunting license
- Habitat fee/license
- Iowa migratory bird fee/license
- Federal duck stamp
- Hunting license
- Habitat fee/license
- Iowa migratory bird fee/license
- Federal duck stamp
The licenses and fees hunters must pay each season to hunt waterfowl in Iowa are subject to change. Be sure to do your research and always stay up to date on laws and regulations.
When is duck season in Iowa
The state of Iowa is divided into three zones (north, central, and south) when it comes to determining the start and end dates of the season. The zone boundaries as well as season dates change from year to year, so be sure to stay up to date by visiting Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ website.
All duck hunting locations in Iowa
|Fish Farm Mounds||Allamakee|
|Iowa River Corridor||Benton|
|Leo Grau||Buena Vista|
|Little Storm Lake||Buena Vista|
|Pheasant Hills||Buena Vista|
|Pickerel Lake||Buena Vista|
|Lower West Fork||Butler|
|West Fork Prairie||Butler|
|South Twin Lake||Calhoun|
|Rock Creek Island||Cedar|
|Bailey Creek||Cerro Gordo|
|Lekwa Marsh||Cerro Gordo|
|Sandpiper Hills||Cerro Gordo|
|Teal Basins||Cerro Gordo|
|Union Hills||Cerro Gordo|
|Ventura Marsh||Cerro Gordo|
|Wild Goose Marsh||Cerro Gordo|
|Dan Green Slough||Clay|
|Dry Mud Lake||Clay|
|Elk Lake Complex||Clay|
|Blackhawk Bottoms||Des Moines|
|Huron Flats||Des Moines|
|Cayler Prairie Complex||Dickinson|
|Center Lake Complex||Dickinson|
|Christopherson Slough Complex||Dickinson|
|Jemmerson Slough Complex||Dickinson|
|Kettleson Hogsback Slough||Dickinson|
|Lower Gar Lake||Dickinson|
|Northern Tallgrass Prairie||Dickinson|
|West Okoboji Wetlands||Dickinson|
|Burr Oak Lake||Emmet|
|East Swan Lake||Emmet|
|Four Mile Lake||Emmet|
|Ingham High Wetland Complex||Emmet|
|Iowa Lake Marsh||Emmet|
|Tuttle Lake Wetland Complex||Emmet|
|Twelve Mile Lake||Emmet|
|West Swan Lake||Emmet|
|Volga River Area||Fayette|
|M U Payne||Fremont|
|Snake Creek Marsh||Greene|
|Little Wall Lake||Hamilton|
|Eagle Lake Wetland||Hancock|
|East Twin Lake||Hancock|
|Warren E. Fox||Hancock|
|West Twin Lake||Hancock|
|East Fork Access||Humboldt|
|Iowa River Corridor||Iowa|
|East Fork Des Moines River||Kossuth|
|Iowa Lake Marsh||Kossuth|
|Wood Duck Bottoms||Linn|
|St. Mary’s Island||Mills|
|Lower Blencoe Bend||Monona|
|Upper Blencoe Bend||Monona|
|Upper Decatur Bend||Monona|
|Upper Monona Bend||Monona|
|Blue Wing Marsh||Palo Alto|
|Dewey’s Pasture||Palo Alto|
|Fallow Marsh||Palo Alto|
|Five Island Lake||Palo Alto|
|Perkin’s Marsh||Palo Alto|
|Rush Lake||Palo Alto|
|Silver Lake||Palo Alto|
|Virgin Lake||Palo Alto|
|West Fork||Palo Alto|
|Little Clear Lake||Pocahontas|
|Paul Errington Marsh||Polk|
|Black Hawk Marsh||Sac|
|Sac City Wetland||Sac|
|Lost Grove Lake||Scott|
|Bob Pyle Marsh||Story|
|Iowa River Corridor||Tama|
|Three Mile Lake||Union|
|Twelve Mile Lake||Union|
|DeVoss Foster||Van Buren|
|Fox River||Van Buren|
|Buffalo Center Potholes||Winnebago|
|Good Neighbors Marsh||Winnebago|
|Wood Duck Marsh||Winnebago|
|Elk Creek Marsh||Worth|
|Big Wall Lake||Wright|
|Lower Morse Lake||Wright|
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