Hunting & Heritage  |  10/16/2020

Through the Eyes of a Habitat Restoration Specialist: What Makes Minnesota Special

This Rooster Road Trip guest blog is written by PF Habitat Restoration Specialist Becca Kludt

When it comes to hunting the Upper Midwest, Minnesota is often overlooked. This might be because we don’t advertise a flashy flagship species. It could be that Minnesotans are too modest and don’t boast about how great it really is. It might also be we’re holding it as a well-kept secret.  It’s known as “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” but Minnesota has much to offer the upland bird hunter. As a hunter and habitat restoration specialist, I think Minnesota is special because of our variety of public lands, the species within them, and the people who love them. 

Opportunity abounds in Minnesota. Approximately 17% of the state is publicly owned, and nearly all of that is open to hunting and fishing. Minnesota’s 9 million acres of public land are spread over multiple habitat types. Four major ecological regions converge here: Prairie, Tallgrass Aspen Parkland, Deciduous Forest, and Coniferous Forest. This variety of habitat is important because some gamebirds are found only in one eco-region. For example, you’ll have a hard time finding Greater Prairie-chicken and Ruffed Grouse in the same habitat. In Minnesota, the proximity of widely diverse habitats means hunters are within a short drive of distinct upland opportunities. Additionally, Minnesota has 75 state parks, along with numerous county and federal campgrounds, so there are plenty of socially-distant places to stay along the way. For hunters seeking more “distant” distancing in their upland travels, dispersed camping is also allowed on some public lands. 

In my opinion, a bird hunter can never be bored in Minnesota. In the Lower 48, there are 14 species of the family Phasianidae. Minnesota has 7 of them: Ring-necked Pheasant, Ruffed Grouse, Spruce Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Greater Prairie-chicken, Hungarian (Grey) Partridge, and Wild Turkey. Minnesota also is a stronghold for one of my favorite species, the Woodcock. Although not as abundant, we’re also on the northern edge of the Bobwhite Quail’s range and we have opportunities for Mourning Doves, Sandhill Cranes, and a variety of waterfowl species. Each species offers a unique and interesting challenge to both hunter and bird dog. To take full advantage of all Minnesota has to offer, it’s important to get the appropriate state and federal stamps (including waterfowl) along with your small game and Walk-In Access permits. After these are purchased, you’re ready for a true mixed bag adventure. With our variety gamebirds and landscapes, there’s always somewhere or something new to explore. 

Finally, the people of Minnesota are extraordinarily supportive of public lands and habitat. In 2008, Minnesotans passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which increased sales tax by three-eights of one percent for 25 years. One-third of revenues from this increase are available through the Outdoor Heritage Fund grant program. Pheasants Forever uses this program, along with other state and federal funds, to finance acquisition of new public lands open to hunting. We also use it to fund projects that enhance and/or restore habitat on existing public land. 

While state and nationwide programmatic support for habitat is wonderful, Minnesotans are also active in supporting their public lands close to home. Pheasants Forever chapters and members contribute through local fundraising and volunteering on local projects. These are often projects to revitalize their favorite spots, or create new ones. To maximize our habitat impact, we also partner with Minnesota DNR, US Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society, Minnesota Sharp-tailed Grouse Society, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, as well as numerous businesses and individuals who graciously contribute to Pheasants Forever’s mission. Together, we work to keep increasing the quality of habitat and opportunity available in Minnesota. 

Minnesota has a lot to offer. It seems fitting that Mother Nature doesn’t give up a full game bag easily here. With 9 million acres available, you must be willing to lace up your boots and see a lot of country before you receive the gift of a bird in hand. We have great community support for Minnesota’s diverse habitats and upland opportunities, and October is pretty special here. We’re just too modest to tell you about it.

Becca has been a Habitat Restoration Specialist with Pheasants Forever since August of 2019. She grew up in Darwin, Minnesota and went to the University of North Dakota for her B.S. and M.S. in Wildlife Biology. Her thesis was on nesting ecology of Sharptails in western North Dakota. She lives and works in Detroit Lakes with her husband and 1-year old English Springer Spaniel, Wiley. Her job is to enhance and restore habitat for a variety of species on public lands throughout Minnesota and she works with land managers and chapters to identify habitat projects and create plans to restore wetlands, plant diversity seedings, remove invasive woody species, install fence for conservation grazing, and perform prescribed fire on new acquisitions and existing public lands and then works with local private contractors to see the projects to completion.