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There's No Such Thing As "No Place To Hunt"

Finding quality ground to bird hunt requires a big picture approach, then can be narrowed down to parcels that offer desirable habitat.

There's No Such Thing As "No Place To Hunt"

Even states that have a relatively small percentage of public land versus private, still offer hundreds of thousands—or even millions—of acres of land to bird hunters willing to do some work. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

In 2006 I relocated from a small town in southeastern Minnesota to the suburbs of the Twin Cities. For someone wired for the outdoors, it was a culture shock. It only grew more depressing when I considered that the dog I had at the time, a golden retriever, would only get to hunt if I traveled. After all, there were no birds to hunt around my new home. I know that, because every hunter I talked to, told me so. The worst part about it all, was that I believed them.

With nothing to lose and an obligation to hunt deer for my job, I started poking around on local parcels of public land, anyway. I found deer, but I also found woodcock and a few scattered grouse. I also started noticing how many ducks seemed to key on the ponds, streams, and rivers on those suburban parcels. What I thought was true about public land, wasn’t.

This revelatory, close-to-home experience led me to all corners of my home state, and then into neighboring states. During my out-of-state travels, I met the same people, who said the same things, in every state. But the birds were there, from roosters to quail to prairie chickens to you-name-it. And the best part was that they were all on public land.

public land bird hunting
While public land is a gift, the birds that live on open-to-all ground aren’t pushovers. You’ll still have to put in the miles, and often, hunt differently from most of your competition. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

Find The Opportunities 

Look up the total available acreage in the U.S., or any given state, and you will start to see the scope of the gift that Teddy Roosevelt set in motion over 120 years ago. Total acreage is measured in the millions in almost every state, with some offering enough land to swallow up every bird hunter in the country and not make a dent.


Others, like Texas, Iowa and Nebraska, seem to offer little in the way of public land. There’s a nice catch here, however. When you read that a certain state only offers one or two percent of total acreage as public land, that doesn’t sound like much, and can be framed that way. Yet, in the case of Nebraska, for example, that still equals roughly 1.2-million acres that are open to hunters.

What’s really important, maybe more important than the overall scope of publicly accessible acres in a given state, is what kind of habitat is available on those acres. In my home state of Minnesota, for example, you’ll find some of the best wintering cover for pheasants on public land. This is due to the simple reason that if ground can be farmed, it’ll be under the plow. If it can’t be farmed, it’ll likely host natural habitat that favors upland species and waterfowl.

public land bird hunting
Digital scouting helps to reduce some of your big picture, boot leather work, allowing you more time to hunt in optimal habitat areas. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

Make It Happen

All public land is not created equal in regard to bird hunting opportunities, obviously. You still have to figure out where open-to-all options are located, and then dig in to figure out what birds should be available in individual parcels. Jennifer Broome, a successful dog trainer, happens to be an upland hunting addict. Every year she leaves her home in Connecticut, where she owns and operates QK Kennels, to spend a couple of weeks road tripping across the country in search of hunting opportunities.

“The first thing I do,” Broome says, “is figure out generally where I’d like to travel and then I start researching opportunities. For example, last year I had to travel to St. Louis for work, so I decided to hunt the upper midwest on my way home.”


That brought Broome into my life. Before we met up in north-central Wisconsin, I figured I’d have to show her some spots and point her in the right direction. By the time we got together, she was way ahead of me, and had already researched plenty of public parcels that promised some grouse and woodcock action.

public land bird hunting
Pictured here is Jennifer Broome, a well-accomplished dog trainer and dedicated upland hunter. Broome dedicates a few weeks each fall to finding quality bird hunting on public land throughout the country. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

“I always start big,” Broome says. “What are the game populations like in a specific state? Where are the best regions? When I narrow that down a little, I go to onX Maps and start trying to find specific properties I want to hunt.”

From there, Broome pays attention to what the birds and the habitat show her. “When you find birds, pay attention to the pattern. I find, whether it’s grouse, woodcock or pheasants, if they are using a specific type of habitat or relating to some terrain feature, that I can usually look for those things on other properties and be more efficient in my hunts.”

Broome uses this strategy on her over-the-road hunts, but also when she targets birds closer to her home in the northeast. There, she finds quality opportunities in unlikely states ranging from Maine to Rhode Island. This is pretty good evidence that just about anywhere you live, you’re likely not too many hours from public land that’s worth letting the dogs loose on.

public land bird hunting
Hunters often falsely believe that the only good land to hunt is private. Public land can be just as good, especially in ag-heavy areas where the only land not farmed is often low, which means it could boast suitable habitat for both upland birds and waterfowl. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

Hunt Differently 

While public land might solve your problem of not having a place to hunt, it won’t be easy— especially if you hunt like everyone else. Understand that game birds are patternable, but so are hunters. Most folks pick very similar routes, which leaves a lot of ground that doesn’t get much pressure. In the grouse and woodcock woods, that’ll be along two tracks and access roads. For pheasants, it’ll be along the outside edges of parcels near the fencelines, or along clearly defined edges of habitat.

Break the mold. Hunt through the middle of cover as opposed to going around it. Reverse direction from obvious access points. Do what you have to in order to hunt differently from your competition.

Most importantly, get out there and utilize this gift we have of millions of acres of public land. Every bird you might want to hunt lives on land open to anyone. Your job is to find that land, and then hunt it correctly. If you do, you’ll probably realize that you have more hunting spots than you could hit in a thousand seasons, which is indeed, a nice problem to have.

public land bird hunting
It’s common to hear hunters complain that there aren’t any good places left to hunt, but that’s just not true. There are millions of acres of public land available to all of us, much of which features solid populations of game birds. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)
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