The short answer is yes. Chances are, if you waterfowl hunt at least regularly (if not obsessively like, this author) then you have undoubtedly had the discussion about tagging with your hunting buddies or quite possibly, a federal law enforcement officer. Tagging is one of those things you only hear about once a year and is hardly ever followed by the average duck or goose hunter. However, the federal law is clear, and tagging of killed waterfowl is an absolute necessity for you and your hunting party to be legal under federal law.
Article 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations (the Migratory Bird Treaty Act), Title 20, Section 36, clearly states that tagging is required for all waterfowl left anywhere except the hunter’s personal residence. This includes anytime your ducks or geese are in the possession of another person, even temporarily, like in a truck or boat. If you have a hunting camp and choose to put all the birds in one spot, they must have tags. Outfitters who hunt with large groups often run afoul of this when bringing back waterfowl from multiple groups for pictures or large scale cleaning and plucking efforts. If the waterfowl do not have tags on them, essentially from the moment they come into your possession, you are violating federal law. Similarly, 50 CFR 20.42 requires all migratory birds in the custody of another to be tagged and identified while anyone is in possession of those birds.
50 CFR 20.32 is a violation that while it is actual federal law, is violated more times by duck hunters than probably even the speed limit. The law states:
No person shall possess, have in custody, or transport more than the daily bag limit or aggregate daily bag limit, whichever applies, of migratory game birds, tagged or not tagged, at or between the place where taken and either (a) his automobile or principal means of land transportation; or (b) his personal abode or temporary transient place of lodging; or (c) a migratory birds preservation facility; or (d) a post office; or (e) a common carrier facility.
According to this regulation, you as a hunter may NEVER have in your possession more than the daily bag limit of ducks or geese no matter where you are. The temptation to take pictures with the whole group’s ducks or geese is often overwhelming, but is actually a federal violation. A guide or outfitter that offers to carry ducks or geese for their clients, even if they are tagged, is in violation of federal law. Walking or boating out of the marsh, every hunter must have their own birds in their possession at all times. Only when the hunters have reached one of the places listed in (a)-(d) above may another take possession of the properly tagged birds of another (per 50 CFR 20.36).
While individual hunters are rarely cited, Outfitters and Guides facing federal charges under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act provisions on tagging and possession of birds can be up against serious evidentiary issues. Often, federal game wardens have collected evidence for a number of months or even years before serving warrants and making arrests. These charges can end up costing the outfitters more than just fines, but numerous years of hunting privileges or even a lifetime ban from hunting or fishing.
If you do find yourself or your employees facing charges under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for duck and goose tagging violations, it is an absolute necessity to have experienced counsel help represent your interests. The federal system is not a place to take chances on the amicability of the judge. Nate Gilbert, Hunting Violation Attorney, is an experienced hunting and wildlife attorney having worked with the federal system numerous times for hunters and outfitters from the US to Africa and back. Consulting with Nate will help determine your best course of action and whether you have any defenses available to the serious charges you are facing.