Hunting Fishing Discussions
Minnesota has thousands of acres of State and Federal land open for residents and non-residents to hunt. As a resident of Minnesota I have not hunted it all but have hunted a large portion of it in Clay and Ottertail counties. In the past year I have also been able to hunt public lands in North Dakota and South Dakota as well. With the majority of my hunting taking place on public lands, I have been faced with some challenges but have also taken advantage of some great opportunities producing amazing hunts.
One thing that is vastly different from hunting private land is the competition. It is almost guaranteed if there is a big buck, large number of ducks or giant flocks of geese you are not the only one that knows they are there. With all of the competition there are a few things that I feel a hunter can do to separate him from the rest of the pack and be successful.
With all of the hunting pressure getting "the spot" is key to a successful hunt. In my experiences this makes for some very early mornings--or late nights depending on how you look at it. There are a few WPA's (Waterfowl Production Areas) that I have been to at 2:30 a.m. to get the perfect spot. Sometimes it panned out and sometimes sleeping in would have been a much better choice. One hunt I can remember where this strategy paid off was just south of Fergus Falls, MN. It was early September and the opening weekend of the early season for geese. The scouting led us to a WPA that had geese resting on it after their morning flight. The first guy from our group was there at 2:00 a.m. and it was well worth it. Although we had several other hunters competing with us, we had beat them to the perfect location and by 11:00 a.m. we were heading home with a limit of Canada's.
Waterfowl staging on the WPA's literally see it all by the end of the second weekend of the season due to all of the competition and constant hunting pressure. This is when hunting gets fun and challenging! Most of the local birds figure out pretty quick where they are safe and while at the same time become decoy shy. At this point I think there are a couple of options we as hunters have: 1) stay home and mow the grass or 2) try harder.
USUALLY by the middle of October the migration starts to get into central Minnesota and the hunting can really pick up. In the Land of 10,000 Lakes there is plenty of water for these birds to roost on. With all of this water, I find you really need
Although the early season is extremely busy as far as hunter numbers, this time of year still produces a lot of hunting pressure on the public lands. Your first impression might be to say "damn, more hunters". However, the hunter numbers can help you. For instance, if you stand in a group of people with a pink shirt one you'll be noticed, right? Well what happens when you have a different decoy spread than everyone else hunting the same area as you? Yep, you guessed it,you'll stand out. With that in mind I'll take a mental note of how people are setting up their spreads and usually try to do something different than they are. If most spreads I see have one spinning wing decoy I will try two or none if they don't seem to be working. Sometimes you'll see hunters with small spreads, so I go big. On the other hand, sometimes I'll see hunters with large spreads, so I'll go small. It's kinda like fishing where you need try different things and keep trying different things until you find the winning combination.
The above paragraphs shared a couple things that seem to make harvesting ducks and geese a little easier on heavily hunted public land. They have increased the number of birds I have been able to shoot, and hopefully they will help you.
In addition to discussing waterfowl opportunities that exist with WPA's, I'd also like to briefly mention the opportunities that exist with big game hunting. Minnesota has acres upon acres that offer tremendous deer hunting for both archers and riflemen. While hunting waterfowl or even pheasants I have seen some big bucks; but unfortunately, have yet to connect with one (more for you right!). But, as the old saying goes, "they don't get big by being dumb." And this theory has not proven wrong yet. Early in the year before the duck opener, there is very limited pressure on the public hunting areas and the archery season provides an opportunity to hunt such lands without much competition. Besides, while stalking or waiting for the trophy of a lifetime to present itself you can scout for duck hunting at the same time. It's one of those win-win situations!
Not only does Minnesota have quality public land they also cater to its sportsmen by opening up some state parks and game refuges to deer hunting (usually on a lottery tag basis). These areas have some restrictions that vary from place to place so make sure you know what sign means what before you go hunt. It may have been an honest mistake hunting such lands thinking you were on public land; however, game wardens won't let you slide on honesty.
An obvious advantage to public land in Minnesota (other states included) is not having to ask permission. If you have limited time or a limited budget and are not able to do a lot of scouting, many of these areas produce game year after year and are areas I grew up hunting which will be the same areas my children will begin their hunting traditions. Just remember this land is not one person's, it belongs to all sportsmen. Leave the land as you found it so these resources are there for us in the future. Furthermore, these areas are breeding grounds for of all types of game so PLEASE abide by all game laws and always practice fair chase. All it takes is one poor hunter to ruin it for us all.
Good luck in your outdoor quests! Perhaps one day or paths will cross on Minnesota's abundant public lands!
Editor's Note: With the email converstations I've had the pleasure sharing with Chris, it is clear he's an avid outdoorsmen spending time in North Dakota and in Minnesota. As a North Dakota State University student, Chris has hunted frequently in Minnesota which inspired him to share this article. For that, I'd like to thank him. Look for more articles by Chris in the near future! Photos: All of the photos of this article are of game taken off of public hunting land. The geese were taken near Fergus Falls, the ducks were taken over a spread of more than 100 decoys near Fergus Falls, and the deer was shot on state land near Pelican Rapids, MN."
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