Minnesota is a bit of a sleeper state when it comes to hunting pheasants. It’s usually not mentioned with the Dakotas, Nebraska, or even Iowa. But the Gopher State is always in the top handful of states when it comes to pheasant harvest. With premium prices being paid for corn and less money for CRP, much of the best pheasant cover in the state can be found on public land, especially in Southwest Minnesota.
Is pressure high on these public lands? Opening weekend attracts the biggest crowd and hunters typically shoot up the best cover early in the year. Savvy hunters spend time in the field during the week and later in the season. Hunting pressure knocks a lot of birds off public lands early in the season but as crops come off the fields, pheasants return to the public lands because that is where the cover is. Hunt grassy areas early in the year and move to cattail swamps as the season progresses. Waterfowl Production Areas(WPAs) can be very productive late in the year. A lot of hunters will avoid swamps because it is hard walking so birds can get thick in there. As the water freezes, the hunting becomes easier and you can clean up while the crowds have retired to their easy chair for the winter or started focusing on deer and other pursuits. Remember to take a box of non-toxic shells along. Lead shot is not allowed on WPAs and some Wildlife Management Areas(WMAs).
Public land pheasant hunting can be very hit or miss. You will need to put some miles on your truck to get started. There are lots of WMAs and WPAs throughout Minnesota pheasant territory. Get a public hunting map at a sporting goods store and take notes detailing how many birds you see at each stop. After a few weekends of this, you will have a good list of a half dozen places that offer great hunting.
This area traditionally has the highest pheasant counts in the state. The hunting pressure is also high, especially early in the year. That being said, this is probably your best bet for consistently filling your limit. Public lands around Pipestone, Marshall, and Montevideo are all great places to start. Winter, Woodstock, and Altona WMAs are popular spots in Pipestone County. The WMAs along the Minnesota River are also prime pheasant hunting areas. In Murray County, check out the Shetek, Salt & Pepper, and County Line WMAs.
The further northwest you go, the pheasant population thins out. However, there are still strong numbers of ringnecks where cover is good. The Morris area is legendary for pheasant hunting. Bill Freeman & Klason WMAs are popular but there are several smaller units that produce a lot of birds. Amor & Eastern WMAs are hotspots in the Fergus Falls area. In Big Stone County, check out the units along the river.
Central Minnesota can also be very good. Keep in mind most of these areas are along the I-94 corridor so pressure from Twin Cities hunters can be intense. Hunting areas in Benton County, Kandiyohi, Meeker, McLeod and Wright Counties are favorites. WMAs around Brandon and Evansville in Douglas County are also good spots to check out. Belle River, Roger Holmes, and Brandon WMAs are top picks.
This area is bluff country and is better known as prime whitetail country but there are good places to chase pheasants. Because of the hilly terrain, Southeast Minnesota still has good pheasant cover despite CRP funds diminishing. Much of this land is marginal at best when it comes to crop land so the cover is still there. The 23,000 acre Whitewater WMA in Winona County is one of the best pheasant hunting locations in the Southeast.
Most of Northern Minnesota is out of pheasant range or simply doesn’t have the correct habitat. However, incredible grouse hunting can be found in National Forest areas throughout Northern Minnesota. The Superior National Forest along Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior offers abundant grouse and spectacular views. The Grand Marais area is a favorite.