From pheasants to ringnecks to sharp-tailed grouse, there are flocks of birds in the US just waiting for you to turn them into dinner… but first, you must find them! Hunting in a different state, area or habitat is exciting to say the least. After hunting several locations, you quickly realize how different things are from one state to the next. And let’s just say, you haven’t experienced anything until you go bird hunting in these five states.
Regardless if you’re planning a hunting trip to another state, or looking for new places to hunt in your own neck of the woods, here are 5 states—and locations within each state—offering some of the best upland and waterfowl hunting opportunities in the USA.
Montana tends to bring to mind thoughts of big game, but there are plenty of places for upland and waterfowl hunters to go buck wild too. To the northeast of the state, ringnecks are a big game of their own. Not to mention, the surrounding scenery is sure to take your breath away, after all Montana is famous for its picturesque mountains. Plus, at four birds per hunter, Montana has the highest daily bag limit in the US.
Spread throughout the state are millions of acres of private, state and federally owned lands accessible to hunters, including lands in National Wildlife Refuges, Block Management programs, WPAs, State School lands, and state Wildlife Management Areas. The Annual Regional Hunter Access provides a map of all Block Management locations. You can find more public hunting spots using the Hunt Planner software program.
While you’re in Montana be sure to check out these locations for excellent bird hunting…
Lewistown, located at the center of the state in Fergus County, offers public land for upland bird hunting and is home to ring-necked pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse, gray (Hungarian) partridge, and sage grouse. There are two Pheasants Forever wildlife habitats located within 45 minutes of Lewistown.
The Coffee Creek BLOCK Management area, located about 6 miles north of Denton, hosts 800-acres of open land for public hunting. The area is situated between a 320-acre parcel and an 880-acre parcel of land, both of which are also open to public hunting.
Head to Miles City in southeast Montana and try your luck going after sharp-tailed grouse. There are around 2.5 million acres of public land for hunting in the area. Plus, the thick coverage along riparian areas provides the perfect opportunity to bag ringnecks.
2. South Dakota
Welcome to the ultimate upland bird hunter’s paradise! It’s known as The Pheasant Capital of the World for good reason. There’s some damn good huntin’ around these parts. While a lot of preserves include a mix of wild roosters and raised/released birds, you still have options if you strictly want to go after wild ringnecks.
First, you could get permission to hunt on a small farm (not easy unless you know someone). Secondly, you could find a small farm with CPR grass fields that are leased to the State for public hunting--you don’t even need permission to hunt on these grounds. Maps showing the location of CPR grass fields are available on the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks website. Your next best bets are Game Management Areas and Federal Waterfowl Production Areas.
While you’re in South Dakota be sure to check out these locations for excellent bird hunting…
Pierre is a town along the Missouri River located in the heart of pheasant country. In 2011, around 30 roosters per square mile were harvested in the county. Across the river and to the south you’ll find Fort Pierre National Grassland, home to prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse. To the north of Pierre lives the state’s largest population of gray Hungarian partridge.
Huron is where you’ll find the “World’s Largest Pheasant” and some great pheasant hunting to boot. You could hunt out here for 5-10 days without ever crossing the same path twice, that’s how much public land is open to hunters in the region.
Other great spots to go bird hunting in South Dakota include Eureka and Redfield.
3. North Dakota
There are around 2.5 MILLION acres of land open to public hunting in the state of North Dakota. The Private Land Open to Sportsmen program continues to strive towards opening 1 million acres every year; you can view a map of these areas and more public hunting grounds here. You’ll see all PLOTS areas are marked by triangular yellow signs.
Some of the best places to hunt pheasants include to the south of I-94, as well as the southwest regions near Scranton, Mott and Bowman. Hunters tend to have good luck in the southeast as well, where the land borders the Missouri River. Prime Southeast areas worth checking out include Ellendale and Edgeley.
Hettinger sits right near state lines in southwest North Dakota. This region has several more PLOTS areas.
And you can’t forget Wing, North Dakota—its name alone is enough to get you excited about bird hunting. Located to the northeast of Bismarck, Wing is largely regarded as a waterfowler’s dream, bird hunters can go after pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and Huns, all on public ground and without getting their boots wet.
Some of the best hunting in Minnesota is in the Southwest, West Central and East Central regions. Changing weather and rapidly declining CPR grass are largely to blame for a decline in rooster counts, a common problem found in other states as well. Back in the day, annual rooster harvest averaged 350,000, but numbers aren’t that high these days. Albeit, they are still significant enough to make Minnesota great hunting grounds, you just must know where to go.
The best places to hunt will be farm country with a mix of CPR and cattails marshes. There are 1,440 public wildlife areas spread across 1.29 million acres. Only some of this acreage is suited to pheasants, you can find detailed maps of the area using the Minnesota DNR WMA locator.
While you’re in Minnesota be sure to check out these great places for bird hunting…
Milaca is one of the few places hunters can go after ruffed grouse and pheasants in large numbers. Most pheasants are on private land, but bordering Wildlife Management Areas sometimes provide a rare chance to see pheasant and grouse at once. Be sure to check out the 40,000-acre Mille Laces WMA and nearby Rum River State Forest, which has 40,000 acres of forest birds to offer.
Detroit Lakes is a great place to go fishing, but around October it doubles as a great starting point for bird hunters. The southern area around Fergus Falls is full of roosters, and a little to the northeast you’ll find ruffed grouse and timberdoodles. Nearby Clay County, located to the west, is home to prairie chickens—but first, you’ll have to get yourself a Minnesota prairie chicken permit, and that’s not necessarily easy to do.
Upland hunting opportunities are all over the place in Nebraska. For one, there are 800,000 public access acres spread across 300 state and federal land areas where you’re likely to come across bobwhites, prairie chickens, ringnecks and sharp-tailed grouse. The annual Public Access Atlas details the state’s public hunting areas, which range to include Waterfowl Production Areas, National Forests, Grasslands, Wildlife Management Areas, and National Wildlife Refugees.
The best pheasant hunting takes place in the southwest region of the state, there’s another large concentration of pheasants in the north Panhandle stretching from Alliance northeast to Gordon.
Valentine, Nebraska offers the ultimate adventure for hunters. It sits on the northern edge of the Nebraska Sandhills, which total close to 20,000 square miles. The area was named one of the top 10 wilderness towns and cities by National Geographic Adventure Magazine. The Sandhills are 95% grassland, making it one of the most fruitful places to hunt prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse. You’ll find grouse and pheasants within the massive 73,000-acre Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. Grouse live freely on the Samuel McKelvie National Forest, which totals an impressive 115,000 acres.