Minnesota may be the epicenter of the bird hunting community and is home to various grouse species, pheasant, woodcock, and more
I started to write that the snow was falling heavy and fast, but recounting the day in my mind, the sideways snowfall actually made it seem like it was suspended in the air. I could write a story about one of many ruffed grouse hunting experiences in Minnesota, but this particular story has to do with its cousin, the sharp-tailed grouse.
When I think of sharp-tailed grouse, I think of the prairie and not the state of Minnesota. But a project with the Minnesota Sharp-tailed Grouse Society landed me just outside Thief River Falls to show me that prairie habitat does indeed exist in Minnesota. . . as do wild sharptails.
The day was grueling, and despite not having to break through woodcock cover, the sometimes waist deep snow on the open landscape was quite the project. Even with nature’s curve ball, we managed to put a couple of grouse in the bag and even capture one on film. My previous Montana experience of hunting sharp-tailed grouse helped me to remember that it is not always like this.
As we drove back towards Remier, I welcomed the opportunity to get out of a stuffy hotel and into Pineridge Grouse Camp to work on another project, warm up by the fire, and get back to my old friend: the ruffed grouse.
Over the years I have had many chances to hunt Minnesota for ruffed grouse and woodcock with varying characters, breeds of dogs, and in different parts of the state. Although I love my covers of the northeast, the idea of flat ground and high bird numbers is always a welcome break.
Disclaimer: I am a New England native, but over the years I have come to find Minnesota to be the center of the upland hunting world. From the home base of Pheasants Forever, to the location of the Ruffed Grouse Society National Hunt, it’s hard to not feel like the upland community revolves around this grouse hunting Mecca. Even the host of our Project Upland Podcast, Nick Larson, is a Minnesota native.
Minnesota is more than 86,000 square miles of land comprised of 200,000 acres of prairie, 17 million acres of forest, 10,000 lakes, 11 million acres of public hunting land, and the largest population of timber wolves outside Alaska. That may not be a good part. But Minnesota is massive—massive and wild, still. You can find some of America’s best grouse and woodcock hunting in Minnesota.
|Ruffed Grouse||Sept. 17 – Jan. 1 2023||5/10 Combined with Spruce Grouse|
|American Woodcock||There are currently no event listings.||3/9|
|Sharp-tailed Grouse||Sept. 17 – Nov. 30 2022||3/6||Northwest only; east-central zone is closed|
|Pheasant||Oct. 15 – Jan. 1 2023 (Vermillion Highlands Dec. 12 – Jan 1 2023)||2/6 (3/9 Dec 1 – Jan 1)||Roosters only|
|Prairie Chicken||Sept. 24 – Oct. 2 2022||2 (Season Limit)||Lottery only. Deadline: Aug. 17|
|Hungarian Partridge||Sept. 17 – Jan. 1 2023||5/10|
|Spruce Grouse||Sept. 17 – Jan. 1 2023||5/10 Combined with Ruffed Grouse|
|Mourning Dove||Sept. 1 – Nov. 29 2022||15/45|
|Snipe||There are currently no event listings.||8/24|
|Sora and Virginia Rail||There are currently no event listings.||25/75 (combined)|
|Cottontail Rabbit||Sept. 17 – Feb. 28 2023||10/20 Combined with Snowshoe Hare|
|Snowshoe Hare||Sept. 17 – Feb. 28 2023||10/20 Combined with Cottontail Rabbit|
|Jackrabbit||Sept. 17 – Feb. 28 2023||1/3|
|Gray Squirrel||Oct. 15 – March 15 2023||7/14 Combined with Fox Squirrel|
|Fox Squirrel||Oct. 15 – March 15 2023||7/14 Combined with Gray Squirrel|
|Crow||March 1 – March 31 2022, Sept. 1 – Oct. 31 2022, Dec. 14 – Jan. 15 2023||No Limit|
Even in years that ruffed grouse numbers are low, Minnesota is still worth a visit. The state boasts one million acres for designated ruffed grouse hunting and forty areas of designated management. Most of this happens in the north-central forested regions up to the Canadian border.
The ruffed grouse season runs from September 19 to January 3. There is a daily bag limit of five birds.
When hunting ruffed grouse, you can will probably find yourself getting on American woodcock. As migratory birds, the woodcock leave the woods of Minnesota in the cold months for warmer, southern states. Across North America, the population of American woodcock has declined but the central flyway and the state of Minnesota boast greater numbers than its eastern counterparts.
The American woodcock season runs from September 19 to November 2 and is governed by federal migratory bird laws. Like all states a free HIP Survey number is required.
The sharp-tailed grouse used to be the most commonly hunted game bird in Minnesota, but with the loss of open habitat has come the loss of their population numbers. These days, the sharp-tailed grouse range is in the far northern reaches of Minnesota and in east-central areas. You can find them where there is open grassland and in places without thick timber. If you don’t want to go trekking through the vast woods, sharp-tailed grouse is a good option for bird hunting in Minnesota.
The sharp-tailed grouse season runs from September 19 to November 30 for the northwest and October 10 to November 30 for the east-central populations. The daily bag limit is three birds.
Ring-necked pheasant live in grasslands, too—plenty of which can be found while in Minnesota. The range for this species is the west-central and southwest portions of Minnesota. Check out the over 1400 public wildlife areas across Minnesota for great pheasant hunting. It’s no surprise that Minnesota is also the founding location of Pheasants Forever whose work spans throughout the United States, improving prairie habitat for various game species and even pollinators.
The ring-necked pheasant season runs from October 10 to January 3, with a daily bag limit of two (roosters only). An additional stamp for $7.50 is required.
The prairie chicken is certainly a rarity in the upland world of Minnesota, but nevertheless it exists. The prairie chicken can be found in key portions of the state in open grasslands and dense willow thickets. Only limited hunting of the prairie chicken is available and you’ll need to pay additional license fee of $23; that is, if you are lucky enough to draw a permit.
The season runs from September 26 to October 4, 2020. The limit is two per season by lottery and the deadline to enter is August 14. Only 125 people will be selected to hunt prairie chicken each season.
Dove season is a tradition in some parts of the country; in the state of Minnesota, mourning dove offers that opportunity. You can find them all over the state, except in the far northeastern woods. Most dove hunters will focus on them in the early season , but it runs from September 1 to November 29. The daily bag limit is 15 birds.
(Governed by federal migratory bird laws. HIP Survey Required)
Other bird and small game species in Minnesota
Although among the more obscure and difficult to find, there are other wild bird hunting opportunities in Minnesota. The spruce grouse or “fool’s hen” can be hunted in parts of the state and recent research is leading toward a management plan to increase numbers. Believe it or not, up in the Northwest part of the state there are isolated population of wild Hungarian partridge. Although not commonly targeted, it can be worth it when in the area hunting sharp-tailed grouse.
Snipe can be found throughout the state, but they are not nearly as popular as the American woodcock. The season opens a bit earlier and the bag limits are generous. Other migratory options include the Sora and Virginia rail which, although considered waterfowl, can be a great crossover game species.
If fur is your thing, there are three species of rabbit and hare in Minnesota as well as two species of squirrel. Due to the ample grouse habitat, the snowshoe hare population is plentiful in certain parts of the state. Each offer long and generous seasons to those that choose to pursue these pastimes.
Minnesota hunting licenses and hunters safety course
There are a lot of license options when it comes to hunting Minnesota, but since we only came for the small game, things get less complicated.
|Small Game License||$22.00||$102.00|
|Small Game Youth (16-17)||$5.00||$5.00|
|Small Game Senior (65+)||$13.50||—|
|Small Game 72 Hour (includes pheasant stamp)||$19.00||$75.00|
|Prairie Chicken Application||$4.00||—|
|Prairie Chicken License||$23.00|
Hunters looking for a license to bird hunt in Minnesota will need to possess a Firearm Safety Certificate. While it’s eventually required, those without a certificate can still hunt in Minnesota under the Apprentice hunter validation. This allows someone without a certificate to hunt for two years with a licensed adult hunter. Youth between 14 and 15 can hunt without a license as well, as long as they have completed the hunter education course. For more information, check out the safety course.
Project Upland always recommends that hunters wear blaze orange. All hunters in the field during the open firearms/muzzleloader deer seasons in Minnesota must display blaze orange or blaze pink on the visible portion of the person’s cap and outer clothing above the waist. This excludes sleeves and gloves. When firearms/muzzleloader deer seasons are closed, a person may not take small game unless the visible portion of at least one article of clothing above the waist is blaze orange or blaze pink. Blaze orange or blaze pink camouflage patterns are allowed and must be at least 50 percent blaze orange or pink within each square foot.
Dog training in Minnesota
When you’re not bird hunting, you might be training your dog. From April 16 to July 14, you can train on public land in Minnesota using pigeons and blank ammunition. You need a special permit if you want to train with live ammunition and game birds. For birds other than pigeons, you must clearly mark their legs.
Project Upland Magazine content from Minnesota
Minnesota has had a heavy influence on the Project Upland Community; you don’t have to look far through the podcast episodes, articles, and even films to find Minnesota-based content. Some of the first Project Upland films were shot in Minnesota including The Opportunity, Timber Rocket, The Reward, and Moving Forward (Wounded Warriors). Even parts of the film First Season were shot in Minnesota.
We also shot a series of films at Pineridge Grouse Camp including their brand story Adventure Awaits. Two pieces involved staff: one called Noise by the Fire with Blues International Champion Kevin Burt and the second with hunting guide Earl the Pearl. It was also used as a staging location for the iconic film called Legacy.
More unusual content includes Sacred Lek, a film about the spring dance of sharp-tailed grouse, and Woodcock Banding, a film about the spring banding season. Finally, the spruce grouse segment of the hour-long feature film #PublicGrouse, in coordination with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, was shot in Minnesota.
The front cover photo of the Summer 2019 issue of Project Upland Magazine was taken in Minnesota by Levi Glines.
Related conservation and non-profit organizations for Minnesota bird hunting
The bird hunting season dates, game bird species available, and other information is subject to change. The article may not reflect this. Please visit the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for the most up-to-date information on bird hunting in Minnesota.
A.J. DeRosa founded Project Upland in 2014 as an excuse to go hunting more often (and it worked). A New England native, he grew up hunting and has spent over 30 years in pursuit of big and small game species across three continents. He started collecting guns on his 18th birthday and eventually found his passion for side-by-side shotguns, inspiring him to travel the world to meet the people and places from which they come. Looking to turn his passion into inspiration for others, AJ was first published in 2004 and went on to write his first book The Urban Deer Complex in 2014. He soon discovered a love for filmmaking, particularly the challenge of capturing ruffed grouse with a camera, which led to the award-winning Project Upland film series. AJ's love for all things wild has caused him to advocate on the federal and state levels to promote and expand conservation policy, habitat funding, and upland game bird awareness. He currently serves as the Strafford County New Hampshire Fish & Game Commissioner in order to give back to his community and to further the mission of the agency. When those hunting excuses are in play, you can find him wandering behind his Wirehaired Pointing Griffon in the mountains of New England and anywhere else the birds take them.