This article is supported by members of the Minnesota Heartland.
By C.B. Bylander
Hunters in search of great a experience should set their sights on northwest Minnesota. The northwest is a hunter’s paradise due to the vast amount of public hunting land and many game species, including whitetail deer, ruffed grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, spruce grouse, woodcock, waterfowl, prairie chicken, wild turkey and more.
Deer and ruffed grouse are the most hunted species in the northwest, but the region is known also for black bear, sandhill crane, Canada geese and a limited elk hunt for residents only. A black bear that exceeded 600 pounds was harvested in the northwest’s Roseau County as recently as 2016.
Where to Hunt
This abundance reflects the region’s varied landscape. Small prairies, boggy brushlands, conifer forests and aspen woodlands interspersed with farm fields are all present in the northwest. So too are small lakes, big lakes and broad farm fields that attract migrating geese and other waterfowl. Much of this region is known as “transition zone” because it is where the state’s major habitats transition from one to another.
Home to more than 1 million acres of public hunting land, the northwest is a great place for a getaway hunt. It includes the 660,000-acre Chippewa National Forest, the famed Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area and scores of state wildlife management areas. State and county forests are open to hunting, too.
The best place to start scouting is from the comfort of your own home. Simply use a computer or smartphone to access the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Recreation Compass on the agency’s website. The Recreation Compass shows the location and boundaries of scores of state Wildlife Management Areas across the northwest. The boundaries appear on aerial photos so it is easy to identify habitat types and pinpoint potential places to hunt. The Recreation Compass also shows the location of other public hunting lands.
It is worth noting that unposted private forest land is also open to hunting in Minnesota. However, before accessing private land a smart move is to review posting and trespass rules at the front of the DNR hunting regulations booklet as some farmlands can look like forest land.
Despite its relative remoteness, this region has plenty of lodging, dining and amenities. Popular cities to the south edge include Detroit Lakes, Park Rapids and Walker. The region’s northern border extends to Canada and includes Baudette and ledgendary Lake of the Woods. Major cities in between include Bemidji, Crookston and Thief River Falls, all good bases for a short drive to quality hunting. Moreover, all of the above-mentioned cities have visitors’ bureaus or chambers of commerce that can offer helpful information on lodging, guide services, campgrounds and more.
Minnesota is one of the nation’s premier ruffed grouse hunting destinations, and the northwest is one reason why. This region has what grouse and grouse hunters are looking for: large aspen forests, brushy swamp edges, hazel, berry bushes and other natural features that draw grouse. The DNR maintains a number of designated hunter walking trails that make crisscrossing this landscape much easier. Their locations can be found on the DNR’s website.
Those seeking sharp-tailed grouse can hunt this species in a zone that is north of Northhome, Bemidi and East Grand Forks. Spruce grouse are less common than ruffed grouse but can found in the conifer-forested portions of the far north.
A limited prairie chicken hunt is offered only in northwest Minnesota, and requires obtaining a hunting permit through a lottery to participate.
The northwest is blessed with an abundance of small waters and wetlands yet also features big lakes that draw-in diving ducks. Chief among them is Thief Lake near the town of Middle River, which bills itself as the Goose Capitol of the North and hosts an annual festival to celebrate this area’s waterfowl hunting heritage. Thief Lake covers some 7,100 acres and is one of the state’s important waterfowl production and staging areas.
Leech Lake is another migratory stop for diving ducks. Leech is the state’s third-largest inland lake at 103,000 acres. Its western shore abuts the tourist-friendly community of Walker. Good duck hunting exists in the Baudette area, too. Arneson’s Rocky Point Resort on Lake of the Woods, Sportsman’s Lodge on the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods Tourism are all good contacts for local and Northwest Angle hunting information.
The northwest—including the Crookston, Thief River Falls, Park Rapids and Detroit Lakes areas—are all excellent deer hunting destinations. Simply put, throw a dart at a map of northwest Minnesota and you'll hit decent deer country. Fair Hills Resort at Detroit Lakes and the Park Rapids Lake Area Chamber of Commerce are good sources for lodging and general information around these popular hunting destinations.