Hunt small game this winter!

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minnesota department of natural resources

Minnesota Wildlife

Dec. 1, 2023

Stay informed! Here’s a summary of upcoming wildlife and habitat management activities and ways you can discover, explore and experience Minnesota’s outdoors.

a pheasant hunter in a snowy field with a farm in the distance

Explore the outdoors this winter by hunting small game

Hunting pheasants, ruffed grouse, squirrels or rabbits offers opportunities to enjoy the Minnesota outdoors as temperatures fall and snow blankets the landscape.

  • Pheasants: Hunting season is open through Jan. 1, 2024. On Dec. 1, the daily bag limit increases to three roosters, with a possession limit of nine roosters. The best places to find pheasants at this time of year are in tall grass or cattail marshes. Hunters should remember to exercise caution around thin ice.
  • Grouse: Hunting season is open through Jan. 1, 2024. Wintertime grouse hunters might find success during the “golden hour,” which is the last hour before sunset, when ruffed grouse move out of their snow roosts to feed.
  • Squirrels: Hunting season is open through Feb. 28, 2024. Winter is breeding season for squirrels, which means they are active and easier to find.
  • Rabbits: Hunting season is open through Feb. 28, 2024. Hunters will find the most success around thick cover, such as brush piles, thorn tangles and briars.

Check out the regulations and complete bag limit information on the Minnesota DNR website. More information about how or where to hunt can be found on the DNR’s learn to hunt webpages. Recorded webinars with tips on how to hunt pheasants, grouse, squirrels or rabbits are available on the outdoor skills and stewardship page of the DNR website.

deer in a southwest Minnesota field

CWD management hunt is taking place Dec. 15-17 

Deer permit area 342 near Wabasha is being added to other DPAs in southeastern Minnesota and the south metro area where hunters can harvest deer during a late-season chronic wasting disease management hunt. DPA 342 is being added to the hunt after a deer harvested there this fall tested positive for CWD.

Dates for this late-season hunt are Friday, Dec. 15, through Sunday, Dec. 17. Deer permit areas open to this CWD management hunt are 342, 605, 643, 645, 646, 647, 648 and 649.

The Minnesota DNR establishes CWD management hunts to assess potential disease spread and to help mitigate the risk of CWD transmission by reducing the number of deer. To encourage participation in the management hunt, there is flexibility in the licenses and permits that are valid and there are no restrictions on the number of deer that a hunter may take.

Although the bag limit for this hunt is unlimited, 98% of successful hunters during the late CWD hunts in 2022 took only one or two deer.

Some public lands in southern Minnesota where deer hunting is otherwise not allowed will be open to hunting by a limited number of people during the late-season CWD management hunt. Special, no-cost permits to access these areas will be available from any DNR license vendor on a first-come, first-served basis starting at noon Friday, Dec. 1. You can find more information about the hunt on the DNR website.

CWD test results dashboard with graphs and map of positive locations and 245 positives in Minnesota to date

Find CWD test results online

Hunters can check the Minnesota DNR website for chronic wasting disease test results on the deer they’ve harvested. The site also shows statewide CWD test results, summary statistics and mapped locations of deer that tested positive. Any additional deer harvested during Minnesota deer seasons that test positive for CWD will be reported on the CWD results page. The DNR also will directly notify any hunter who harvests a deer that tests positive. The DNR relies on hunters’ participation in providing samples to help with disease surveillance and appreciates all those who submitted samples.

deer tracks and a scrape in the snow

Register for webinars on winter outdoor skills and stewardship

We’re inviting you to check out the winter program schedule for the Minnesota Outdoor Skills and Stewardship Series.

Webinars will cover winter sports that take place on the ice, owls, the northern lights, mudpuppies, reading the snow for animal tracks, ice fishing, boats and boating equipment, fish art, wolves, deer in winter, going on a date with nature, winter foraging, and Critical Habitat license plates. The webinars are free and offered year-round, though registration is required. Visit the Outdoor Skills and Stewardship webpage of the Minnesota DNR website for the registration portal, more information about upcoming webinars and recordings of past webinars.

adult and youth in the tree stand during a deer hunt

Give the gift of outdoor opportunities

For those hunting for holiday gift ideas, consider giving someone the opportunity for a lifetime of outdoor adventures with a Minnesota lifetime fishing or hunting license. The memory of time spent outdoors is one of the most meaningful gifts one can give.

The Minnesota DNR offers reduced rates for those under age 16 and over 50. Plus, if license prices increase or the license holder moves out of state, lifetime licenses remain valid.

People can buy a license for themselves, or as a gift for someone else. More information is available on the DNR website about licenses for Minnesota residents and non-residents.

“Lincoln and Grandpa on Lincoln’s first deer hunt” photo courtesy of Blane A. Klemek.

a grassland in winter with a sunset on it

Applications open for conservation grants

The Conservation Partners Legacy grant program is now accepting applications for the third round of Expedited Conservation Projects. Approximately $325,000 remains for this round and applications are being taken until 3:30 p.m. Jan. 16, 2024.  

The ECP grant cycle funds eligible activities that restore or enhance forests, wetlands, prairies, or habitat for fish, game, and wildlife on public lands and waters in Minnesota. Grant requests may range from $5,000 to $50,000, with a maximum total project cost of $1,000,000. Nonprofit organizations and government entities are eligible to apply, and a 10% match of non-state funds is required. Funding for the CPL program comes from the Outdoor Heritage Fund. You can find all the details and how to apply on the Minnesota DNR website.

a ruffed grouse

Wildlife highlight: ruffed grouse

Here’s a bird that drums up excitement every fall: the ruffed grouse!

This woodland bird is the most popular of Minnesota’s upland game birds. They range throughout Minnesota forest land from the southeastern hardwood forests to the northwestern aspen forests.

Young to middle-aged aspen forests are some of the best fall habitat for ruffed grouse. These birds eat the buds and twigs of aspen along with the fruits of dogwood, mountain ash and thornapple. These solitary birds spend most of their lives within just a few acres.

During spring, male ruffed grouse will perform a mating ritual that sounds like the beating of a distant drum. The male drums by compressing air beneath its wings while standing on a log or boulder.

Many animals hunt ruffed grouse, including hawks, owls, fox, fisher and bobcat. People also love to hunt and eat grouse. Ruffed grouse populations at northern latitudes rise and fall at intervals of about 10 years. The causes of these cycles are still being studied, but researchers think the cycles may be related to climate and predation. Learn more about this spunky woodland bird on the DNR website

Photo courtesy of Kalli Hawkins

Hunting season photos!

Do you have hunting photos you’d like to share? We’d love to see your hunting photos, whether from deer camp, time in the stand, hunting traditions or when you’ve been out chasing roosters, grouse, or squirrels.

It’s easy to share them via our photo uploader pages: one is for wildlife or general hunting photos and one for deer hunting photos. We may share your photos in DNR email updates, social media and our website. We welcome photos of any aspect of hunting you’d like to share, and please make sure hunters have on the required blaze clothing and are safely handling firearms. Here are some recent highlights.

young hunter in blaze pink with a deer she harvested

“Maci Milton’s 10th birthday. Her first deer and first buck even! What an exciting birthday for her!” photo courtesy of Sloan Paulson.

duck hunter with a bird dog in the marsh

“A successful early season teal hunt with my 3-year-old lab Lily” photo courtesy of Dale Lhotka.

A young hunter with the deer he harvested, and an adult with him

“Jarrett’s first deer! 4-point” photo courtesy of Andrew Lehmkuhl.

deer and hunter in the forest

“Chippewa National Forest 8-pointer” photo courtesy of David Lien.

hunter in blaze pink with the deer she harvested

“Ava, age 13, first ever deer hunt!” photo courtesy of Chad Mathias.

Get hunting information

Find hunting and trapping regulations, harvest registration, how to contact a conservation officer and information about pursuing a variety of species at the DNR hunting webpage. New to hunting? Check out the DNR learn to hunt guides.