Finding a great place to hunt is often as challenging as the actual hunting itself. Minnesota hunters are fortunate that the search is not nearly as difficult as it is in many states, where public land is rare. The most commonly hunted public lands in Minnesota are state wildlife management areas (WMA), state forests, national forests, and federal waterfowl production areas (WPAs).
Forest Legacy Conservation Areas: The Minnesota Forest Legacy Program has acquired public hunting rights and other public recreation opportunities on nearly 6,400 acres of private forest lands in Cass, Crow Wing, and Itasca counties.
Wildlife management areas (WMAs): Minnesota's 1,300 WMAs are wetlands, uplands, or woods owned and managed for wildlife by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Hunting is open to the public during regular seasons.
Hunter Walking Trails: Minnesota's primary grouse range features a number of hunter walking trails that wind their way through Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), sometimes connecting with state forests and other public hunting lands. These trails, most of them with signs, provide comparatively easy access to areas where small game such as grouse and woodcock may abound.
State forests: The 3 million acres encompassed by Minnesota's 56 state forests hold game such as moose, deer, bear, and ruffed grouse. Except in a few portions, these areas are entirely open to public hunting.
Walk-In Access (WIA): The Walk-In Access program aims to provide new hunting opportunities on private land that already is enrolled in existing conservation programs.
Ruffed Grouse Management Areas: Ruffed Grouse Management Areas are a great destination for the hunter looking to experience grouse and woodcock hunting. These areas are located in areas that have good potential for producing grouse and woodcock and are managed to promote suitable habitat conditions for these species.
Scientific & Natural Areas: Hunting, trapping, and fishing are allowed during the appropriate season and with the correct license at many SNAs. Only specific types of hunting are allowed on selected sites to help achieve management goals. Consult hunting and fishing regulations carefully.
WPAs: Most of these federally managed wetlands and surrounding uplands are open to hunting.
National wildlife refuges: Portions of Minnesota's eight national wildlife refuges are open to hunting. Restrictions are noted in the back section of the DNR Hunting Regulations Handbook. For hunting maps and regulations, write to: Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bishop Henry Whipple Federal Building, 1 Federal Drive, Fort Snelling, MN 55111-4056.
National forests: The Chippewa and Superior national forests in northern Minnesota are open to public hunting. For more information about these areas check the Web sites: Chippewa National Forest and Superior National Forest .
County land: Many northern counties manage state tax-forfeited lands. Mainly forested, these lands provide some excellent hunting opportunities. Check with your local county land department to see if it has a map of county lands open to hunting.
Industrial forest land: Potlatch, Blandin, Boise-Cascade, and several other large forest products companies own and manage lands that are open to public hunting. If the forested land is not posted, it is open to public hunting. A spokesperson at Blandin noted that in some areas, gates may be closed during certain times of the season, and that may be the case with other forest product companies.
Private property: All this public land notwithstanding, most of Minnesota is private property. And most hunters hunt on private land. Minnesota's trespass laws have been written to protect human life, livestock, and the rights of landowners. These laws, summarized in the DNR Hunting Regulations Handbook, require hunters to get permission to hunt agricultural land. Also, hunters can't hunt any posted private land unless they have written permission, and they can't hunt land if they've been told to leave. To find out if unmarked land is private, inquire at the county auditor's office.
Landowner permit recipients: These permit recipients must allow public hunting on their land. The exact rules vary by season so make sure you check the regulations and take appropriate steps when hunting on private land.
The easiest way to find out if land is public or private is to look on a detailed map. As important to hunting as ammunition, maps can tell who owns what parcels, where property lines begin and end, and sometimes the land topography. Among the most useful:
USGS National Map Viewer: They don't indicate property boundaries, but they do show practically everything else--including hill contours and even tiny streams. Available in atlas form in some bookstores or individually from the Minnesota Geological Survey in St. Paul. Phone: 612-626-2969. For additional online map resources from USGS check out the National Map home page
County plat books: These show who owns all parcels of land in each of the state's 87 counties. Available from county courthouses and some land abstracting firms. The cost varies from county to county.
Recreation Compass: An interactive tool to find recreation opportunities in the state. Search by place name, Public Land Survey (PLS) and coordinates locations (GPS).