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Waterfowl Production Areas, commonly known as WPAs, are federal lands purchased with the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. According to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, 98% of the $15 cost of the duck stamp goes toward buying these lands. Most WPAs are government property. Some are perpetual easements of private land. Either way, they can host some incredible hunting.
WPAs are intended to protect the prairie potholes of the north central portion of the country. 95% of WPAs are located in the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Montana. Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, and Wisconsin also have significant acreage in WPAs. This area is often referred to as America’s duck factory. They provide nesting habitat for waterfowl and other birds. But it’s not just birds. Nearly every animal will use a wetland and some point in their lifecycle. They also help reduce erosion and protect ground water.
When it comes to hunting WPAs, ducks and geese are king. I’ve had a lot of fun hunting WPAs in Wisconsin and in the Dakotas. But not every WPA is made equal. Some in the Dakotas stretch thousands of acres. I’ve hunted WPAs in Wisconsin that are less than 50 acres. The trick is to find areas that are not easy to access or see from the road. If you scout throughout the summer and find some spots that hold a lot of birds, there is a good chance you’ll find a lot of hunters there on opening day. In my experience, pressure is reduced greatly as the season progresses.
When hunting small WPAs during the early season, use small decoy rigs. Most WPAs are home to mallards. Hen mallards are notoriously territorial and won’t tolerate a lot of other hens nesting near her. This results in small groups of birds on most of the water. If you set three dozen decoys out on a 30 acre marsh on opening day it’s probably going to look a little funny. Less is more on these small waters. You can add to your spread later in the year when more migratory birds move through and family groups begin to flock up.
Most of the hunting conducted on WPAs is for waterfowl but habitat is habitat and animals don’t read signs. They have no idea the “W” in WPA stands for waterfowl. I’ve hunted pheasants, turkeys, and doves on WPAs. Deer are often taken on WPAs. One thing you should be aware of is the non-toxic shot rules. Most hunters use lead shot for turkeys and other upland birds. Lead ammunition is not allowed on WPAs. Steel can be just as deadly on doves and partridge. I prefer HEVI-Shot for turkeys and pheasants on WPAs.