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Where To Duck & Waterfowl Hunt in Minnesota

Where’s the best duck hunting in Minnesota? Ask a local and the only answer you’ll get is “as far away from Minneapolis as possible,” due to overcrowding. The truth is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” is covered with habitat that is perfect for ducks. Floodplains and holes abound, and almost every waterway has marshes. When the Mississippi Flyway migration passes through each fall, even the smallest lakes can host thousands of ducks. While you can hunt in most of the state, we think these five locations offer the best waterfowl hunting Minnesota has to offer.

What To Know Before You Go

The Minnesota Department of Resources is considering new rules for duck hunting, including changes to hunting hours and bag limits. The information below is accurate now, but it may change by next season.

You can hunt in public waters and lands, including wildlife management areas, waterfowl production areas and public forests. If you’re not sure about an area, see if it’s listed on the Minnesota DOR’s Recreation Compass website or app. You can hunt on private land if you have the landowner’s permission, the land is forested, and it isn’t closed to hunting.

Along with a license, you need Harvest Information Program (HIP) certification, which you can complete online. Minnesota no longer lets license vendors handle HIP certification. You need to recertify every year, even if you don’t need to renew your license.

Anyone born after Dec. 31, 1979, must have some evidence of taking a hunter safety course. Acceptable proof includes a firearms safety certificate, an apprentice hunter validation or a previous hunting license with a firearms safety endorsement.

Minnesota is divided into zones that have their own duck season. Many lakes are on Indian reservations. Bands may have local regulations on bag limits or require an additional permit. If you’re a member of the band, you may have a higher bag limit than non-members.

It is illegal to take ducks with lead shot or while having lead shot in your possession.

The busiest time during Minnesota duck hunting season is the two weeks in September that coincide with goose hunting season. Fortunately, even northern hunting areas are still packed with ducks after goose hunting ends. The Minnesota DOR issues weekly migration reports, making it easy to choose the best place to hunt.

While you can hunt waterfowl almost anywhere in the state, these hunting areas offer the most types of duck species, the largest migrating populations and the widest range of hunting areas.

Mille Lacs

With over 130,000 acres of water surrounded by bays and wetlands, this lake has everything a waterfowl hunter could want. This area is home to mallards, teal, canvasbacks, bluebills, wood ducks and ring-necked ducks. From open fields to potholes, if it’s a place ducks like to gather, you can find it in this area.

The most popular hunting spots are Mille Lacs Kathio State Park on the lake’s southwest coast and Aitkin Wildlife Management Area to the north. You can also try your luck on the Rice and Rum Rivers, or the bogs in the Wealthwood State Forest and Ripple River Wildlife Management area.

Leech Lake

This lake in North central Minnesota is directly in the path of the winter migration route. Thanks to the area’s back bays and flooded fields, this area attracts puddle, ringer and diver ducks. While this is a popular hunting spot, the size of the lake means you won’t feel crowded, even during the peak of the migration.

Be sure to check for schedule changes before you go. Sometimes areas of the lake are opened before statewide hunting begins. However, if wild rice harvesting season coincides with duck season, the rice beds at the edges of the lake will be closed to hunters.

Lake of the Woods

This lake extends across the northern border of Minnesota into Ontario and Manitoba, and there’s even a small part of the state that can only be accessed by crossing through Canada.

Lake of the Woods is famous for its walleye and grouse, which means most people overlook waterfowl hunting in the area. Like Mille Lacs, you can find a wide range of ducks here. Four Mile Bay and the Northwest Angle are usually on the travel path for migratory ducks, while the reeds that cover Bostic Creek are ideal for setting up decoys. Go to Zippel Bay or Swift Ditch and you’ll find plenty of natural blinds.

Rice Lake Wildlife Refuge

Like Leech Lake, this lake north of Duluth is filled with rice fields that attract migrating ducks. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates around 200,000 ducks visit the area every year. While you can’t hunt on Rice Lake itself, the rest of the wildlife refuge is open, including Rice River, Mandy Lake and Twin Lakes.

Upper Mississippi Refuge

Extending over 260 miles, this refuge runs from the confluence of the Chippewa River down to Rock Island, Illinois. With 190,000 of the refuge’s 250,000 acres open to hunting, there are plenty of areas to find waterfowl. While you’ll need to do some scouting to find ducks over such a large area, the best hunting spots are concentrated around the navigation pools on the Minnesota border. Blind construction isn’t allowed, but there are plenty of natural blinds you can slip your boat into. Keep in mind that while you can easily cross state lines, you are only allowed the bag limit for one state per day.