Minnesota a Hot Spot for Wing Shooting

By Kelly Jo McDonnell

Pheasants in grassThanks to Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes, the state has a reputation for excellent fishing. But when it comes to hunting, particularly for pheasants, grouse and waterfowl, “it’s a hidden gem,” says Bob St. Pierre, vice president of marketing for Pheasants Forever. “When you combine the waterfowl production areas and the wildlife management areas, the combo of both of those creates millions of acres for pheasant hunting across the southern and western tier of the state.” 

Most folks automatically think of the Dakotas when the word “pheasant” is mentioned, he says, but Minnesota should also be in that category. “Everybody knows the Dakotas and how many birds are there. For the last couple of years, Minnesota has been in the top five, even the top three, of pheasant harvest states. And when you add pheasants and ruffed grouse together, it’s an upland bird hunters dream.”

A Perfect Place for Grouse

The grouse already know that Minnesota is the perfect state for their habitat, and then some. There are 528 designated hunting areas in the ruffed grouse range covering nearly 1 million acres. Jerry Havel, owner of the Pine Ridge Grouse Camp in Remer, says he’s had customers from all over the world at his camp. “The biggest thing is really the millions of acres of public land that are actively managed for young forest aspen and regeneration—that is perfect for grouse and woodcock.”

Soberg GrouseThe sport of grouse hunting is steeped in tradition, he adds. “It’s been romanticized since the turn of the century…the English setters and pointers, the guns, the old stone fences; there’s a lot of history to grouse hunting that other upland birds don’t have.”

It’s also the thrill of the hunt. Grouse are unpredictable, and can be difficult for seasoned bird dogs to handle. “They outsmart me half the time,” laughs Havel. “You’re in thick aspen cover, you might think you have the perfect shot, and your bird gets out behind a pine tree...there’s just so many variables that need to come into line to harvest a Minnesota grouse.”

He also points out that even in states known for grouse hunting—Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and Maine—their habitats can’t compare to Minnesota. “I get a lot of customers from out east,” he says. “They just don’t have the birds and the cover that we have. It’s really all about that habitat and the public lands. We are so fortunate to have that here.”

Havel says there are a lot of regions to hunt grouse throughout the state. “There’s some good hunting really close to the north of the Twin Cities, “ he says, “and along the Minnesota River Valley and the Mississippi.” He also cites northeast and central Minnesota—Brainerd, Duluth, the Iron Range—as well as the western part of the state. “There are a lot of regions to pick from.”

Don’t Forget the Ducks

There’s a wealth of places to explore for Minnesota waterfowl, as well. “Minnesota gets a bad rap for sending resident waterfowl hunters out of state to hunt,” says Steve Cordts, waterfowl staff specialist at the Minnesota DNR. “Our biggest asset is the abundance of public water and public land. Much of the state, particularly northern Minnesota, is just open public hunting, so for a freelance waterfowl hunter, that’s ideal.” 

He also points out that Minnesota’s strength is its diversity. “We have a good diversity of wetland habitats to hunt compared to most states—large lakes, reservoirs, rivers, shallow lakes, wild rice lakes, potholes, bottomland and beaver ponds.”

Preferred areas for waterfowl hunting depend on the species of duck. “West central Minnesota is very good for diversity of dabbling ducks and diving ducks,” he says. “North central Minnesota would be best for ring-necked ducks. The Mississippi River in southeast Minnesota is excellent for canvasbacks.”

Check the DNR website for grouse, pheasant and waterfowl hunting areas, as well as season information and a handy checklist of things you’ll need on the hunt. Hunters can also sign up for updates by e-mail during the hunting season.