Pheasant Is Minnesota’s Hidden Hunting Gem

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This article is provided by Pheasants Forever.

By Tom Carpenter

 

Pheasants in flight
Photo by Steve Oehlenschlager

Minnesota sits on the northern fringe of the pheasant range. But ringnecks do just fine in the North Star state. So do ringneck hunters.

When upland bird hunters dream of traveling for a pheasant hunt, South Dakota usually tops the list of most-desired states, with North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Montana, and previously Iowa, close behind.

Few mention Minnesota as a serious go-to ringneck hunting destination. That's ruffed grouse country, right? True enough ... for the state’s north-central and northeastern reaches. But across much of the rest of Minnesota—essentially the state's western and southern half—a different gamebird reigns.

Let's look at Minnesota's pheasants, explore the ample hunting opportunities, and hone in on the state's best ringneck areas.  

Minnesota’s Pheasant Country

While a rough Minnesota winter can kill pheasants, good habitat makes the difference for survival. Pheasants Forever (PF) started in Minnesota in 1982, and the state has benefited from many habitat projects. Those investments continue to pay pheasant dividends.

Minnesota boasts 75 PF chapters and 25,000 members statewide. That represents the largest PF membership in any state—by nearly 5,000 members. Altogether, PF has spent nearly $70 million to complete 26,785 habitat projects in Minnesota since the organization was founded in St. Paul.

Those habitat accomplishments include 467 land acquisitions totaling more than 43,000 acres. Each of those acres is now open to public hunting. In total, PF projects have improved nearly 250,000 acres for wildlife in Minnesota.

Excellent Access

One of the biggest attractions of a Minnesota hunt is the sheer volume of acreage available for public-land pheasant hunting. Check it out:

Boy pheasant hunting DNRWildlife Management Areas (WMAs)

Minnesota’s WMA system is the envy of other states. With 1,440 properties totaling more than 1.29 million acres, you have plenty of room to roam. Excellent concentrations of WMAs exist across the pheasant range. Visit the Minnesota DNR website to use an interactive tool and locate WMAs to hunt.

Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs)

They're not just for ducks! More than 1,000 federal WPAs, marked by green and white signs and totaling 175,000-plus acres, dot Minnesota pheasant country. Some of this acreage is water, but much is grassland and cattail sloughs—perfect for pheasants. You must use non-toxic shot on WPAs.

To find WPAs, use the DNR's Recreation Compass, or check out the PRIM Maps (Public Recreation Information Maps).

Walk-In Access (WIA) Program

This young program had almost 21,000 acres of private land enrolled in 2014, all of it with high-quality wildlife habitat in pheasant country and open to public hunting. The acreage should grow in 2015. Parcels are marked with yellow and black hexagonal signs. Find WIA opportunities here.

Ask-and-Hunt Freelancing Tips

A courteous hunter asking a landowner for hunting permission has a good chance of getting a “yes” if it isn't opening weekend (when many farmers have guests and family hunting) or the first weekend of deer season (Nov. 7 and 8 this year).

Best Ringneck Regions

Only half of Minnesota may be pheasant range, but that's still a lot of country to cover. Focus on one of the state's best pheasant-producing areas, or venture to some sleeper spots that aren't always on ringneck chasers’ radar screens.

Southwest

The southwestern quadrant of Lincoln, Lyon, Pipestone, Murray, Rock and Nobles counties is Minnesota’s pheasant ground-zero. Excellent and extensive public land hunting opportunities abound. The friendly town of Marshall makes a perfect base of operations.

Pheasants in grass
Photo by Steven Earley

West Central

The Upper Minnesota River Valley (Lac qui Parle, Chippewa, Big Stone and Swift counties) can be as good as the southwest.

South Central

Jackson and Martin counties along the Iowa border produce decent numbers of birds.

Central Farmland

The country immediately north of the Twin Cities, where farmland and big woods meet, can produce reliable pheasant hunting. There is plenty of cover in the form of wetlands and shrublands, butting up to active agriculture. Look to Mille Lacs, Kanabec and Isanti counties.

Sleeper Pockets

East-central Minnesota (specifically Chisago and Pine counties) has good pheasant habitat and bird numbers. The lower Minnesota River Valley and surrounding farmlands, especially around Mankato, offer plenty of good habitat and hunting. The northwest fringe of the state’s pheasant country—Otter Tail, Grant and Douglas counties—can produce great numbers of birds after a mild winter.

You might not shoot a Minnesota limit of two roosters in an hour. But if you work hard, you'll probably come up with a brace of birds over the course of a hunting day. And that’s just about what any serious pheasant hunter would ask for.

In a state where walleyes and whitetails are kings, and both have their own annual “Governor’s Opener” events, it is significant that the ringnecked pheasant is the only other game to have the same honor. Learn more about the Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener.

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.