Applications of runoff models usually rely on long and continuous runoff time series for model calibration. However, many catchments around the world are ungauged and estimating runoff for these catchments is challenging. One approach is to perform a few runoff measurements in a previously fully ungauged catchment and to constrain a runoff model by these measurements. In this study we investigated the value of such individual runoff measurements when taken at strategic points in time for applying a bucket-type runoff model (HBV) in ungauged catchments. Based on the assumption that a limited number of runoff measurements can be taken, we sought the optimal sampling strategy (i.e. when to measure the streamflow) to obtain the most informative data for constraining the runoff model. We used twenty gauged catchments across the eastern US, made the assumption that these catchments were ungauged, and applied different runoff sampling strategies. All tested strategies consisted of twelve runoff measurements within one year and ranged from simply using monthly flow maxima to a more complex selection of observation times. In each case the twelve runoff measurements were used to select 100 best parameter sets using a Monte Carlo calibration approach. Runoff simulations using these ‘informed’ parameter sets were then evaluated for an independent validation period in terms of the Nash-Sutcliffe efficiency of the hydrograph and the mean absolute relative error of the flow-duration curve. Model performance measures were normalized by relating them to an upper and a lower benchmark representing a well-informed and an uninformed model calibration. The hydrographs were best simulated with strategies including high runoff magnitudes as opposed to the flow-duration curves that were generally better estimated with strategies that captured low and mean flows. The choice of a sampling strategy covering the full range of runoff magnitudes enabled hydrograph and flow-duration curve simulations close to a well-informed model calibration. The differences among such strategies covering the full range of runoff magnitudes were small indicating that the exact choice of a strategy might be less crucial. Our study corroborates the information value of a small number of strategically selected runoff measurements for simulating runoff with a bucket-type runoff model in almost ungauged catchments.