Duck Hunt is a shooting simulation where the player goes out with his faithful dog to hunt ducks. It requires the use of the NES Zapper light gun plugged into controller port 2. In game modes A and B, players view a swampland from a [first-person perspective]]. The player's dog scares ducks out of the swamp, causing them to fly about in the air. The player has three shots and a limited amount of time to shoot the ducks before they fly away. Each round only allows a limited number of misses in order to move on successfully. As the rounds progress, the ducks begin flying faster and faster, and fewer misses are allowed.
Mode C features target practice on clay pigeons rather than ducks. The perspective and rules here are the same, with only three shots to destroy two clay pigeons before they disappear off the horizon. Destroy enough clay pigeons to move on to the next, tougher round.
Duck Hunt has a kill screen that can be accessed if the player manages to exceed 99 rounds; the 100th will appear to be level 1, but the duck sprites will begin to glitch and become erratic, making it impossible to progress beyond this point.
Although stated in the manual, many players remain unaware of a two player option where the second player is able to veer ducks across the screen using the d-pad on the controller.