In Pheasants We Trust: 5 Federally-Owned Upland Destinations
A great place to start any pheasant hunt may be looking at land you already own – the National Wildlife Refuge System. Created by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1903, today, 562 refuges and 38 wetland management districts make up the nation’s premier wildlife conservation network, the Refuge System. More than 300 National Wildlife Refuges are open to hunting.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been expanding upland hunting opportunities at National Wildlife Refuges in recent years, and also provides a guide to hunting them. These five are among the many where pheasants can be pursued, likely in the company of very few other hunters:
Audubon Wetland Management District – The 31,000 publically-accessible acres, spread across 120 Waterfowl Productions Areas in west-central North Dakota’s McLean, Ward and Sheridan counties, creates a magnet for waterfowlers, but upland hunters can also find good pheasant and sharptail grouse hunting in the cover around the wetlands.
Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge – Located in western Minnesota, Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1975, consists of 11,586 acres, much of it tallgrass prairie, and wetlands. A large portion of the refuge is open to ring-necked pheasant hunting, and the thick cattails and cover make it particularly appealing for the late-season pheasant hunter.
Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge – The cattails and bulrushes around the wetlands of Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge provide nesting and cover for waterfowl, and in the fall they also provide perfect cover for pheasant. In years following mild winters, hunters can find excellent hunting for pheasants; avid pheasant hunters know that the thicker the cover, the better the hunting. The refuge also has native prairie areas that can be a good bet for hunting sharp-tailed grouse, and occasionally gray partridge are also encountered.
Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge – Located in Bennett County in southwestern South Dakota, Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge includes more than 16,000 acres (not all is open to upland hunting) of native sanhills and tall and mixed prairie uplands. While not in South Dakota’s primary pheasant range, upland hunters may enjoy less competition while pursuing ring-necked pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse.
Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge - Created to protect remaining tallgrass prairie parcels, Northern Tallgrass National Wildlife Refuge is a new refuge just beginning to acquire parcels of land. The refuge currently consists of eight scattered tracts in western Minnesota and northwestern Iowa, totaling 2,500 acres. These parcels are not well known and receive very little hunting pressure, but all are open to a variety of hunting options - the prairie habitat offers good opportunities for hunting pheasants, and if you’re a public hunter looking for new spots, is definitely worth exploring.