Mille Lacs WMA

The Mille Lacs WMA wildlife work area

29172 100th Ave.
Onamia, MN 56359
[email protected]

Burning a swamp edge along one of the roads in the Mille Lacs Wildlife Management Area.

Burning a swamp edge along one of the roads in the Mille Lacs Wildlife Management Area.

Hunters, trappers and wildlife watchers in Mille Lacs and Kanabec benefit from the management, habitat and oversight work of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' Mille Lacs Wildlife Management Area staff.

Wildlife Area Supervisor Steve Piepgras along with two full-time staff oversee three state Wildlife Management Areas totaling 43,000 acres. This includes the 39,000-acre Mille Lacs WMA and 4,100-acre Four Brooks WMA.

Slightly more than half of this acreage is forest and the remainder is mostly wetland. These public lands are heavily used by Twin Cities hunters, birders and others as they are just 90 minutes north of the metropolitan area.

"Hunters from throughout Minnesota and the Midwest have long zeroed-in on this area, especially to hunt ruffed grouse and woodcock," said Piepgras. "These large unbroken tracts of forest and wetland are ideal for deer, waterfowl and bear hunting and trapping, too."

Master plan

A master plan provides strategic guidance and direction for management of the Mille Lacs WMA. A plan implemented on Dec. 29, 2023, now is in place.

View the plan


Mille Lacs Wildlife Management Area is located 90 miles north of the Twin Cities near Onamia, in east central Mille Lacs County and west central Kanabec County. The area can be reached by taking Mille Lacs County Road 20 (280th St.) east off of U.S. Highway 169 or from Minnesota Highway 47. The WMA headquarters is located one mile north of the intersection of Mille Lacs County Road 19 (100th Ave.) and County Road 20.

General description

The 39,000 acre WMA was established in 1949 largely from tax-forfeited lands. These lands were either farmed for a brief period of time during the early 1900’s or never farmed at all, because the soil was too rocky or poorly drained. Approximately 100 miles of roads and trails traverse the WMA, with public access points offered at 80 locations around the WMA. They are used by hunters, loggers and other outdoor recreationalists who enjoy the natural beauty and solitude of the area. Many of these roads and trails are also managed as wildlife openings within the forests. Much of the area’s attraction is due to the wide variety of plant and animal species found here including yellow lady’s slipper, large flowered trillium, black bear, white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, bald eagles, ospreys, waterfowl, trumpeter swans, songbirds and numerous furbearers.

Wildlife management

Mille Lacs WMA was established for wildlife management, hunting, trapping and hiking. The area is approximately 60% forested, therefore the long-term goal is the management of forest habitats suitable for all wildlife species including black bear, white-tailed deer, ruffled grouse and waterfowl. Existing wetlands, bogs and forest openings are managed and maintained to enhance a diversity of habitats for wildlife. In addition, many fields in the area are planted with corn and hay through cooperative farming agreements with local farmers.

Forests are managed primarily to promote an interspersion of different aged plant communities. Selective cutting of bottomland and northern hardwood forests and clear cutting of aspen forests ensure that there will always be forest openings and edges between contrasting vegetation types. This practice creates the mixture of forest age-classes, which are most beneficial to white-tailed deer and ruffed grouse.

Water level management and prescribed burning of wetland complexes maintains and improves habitat for many shore and marsh birds, including sandhill cranes, great blue herons and bitterns.


Numerous research projects have been conducted on the Mille Lacs WMA over the past decades. During the 1960s and 1970s, researchers studied the response of ruffled grouse populations to various timber harvest practices. During the 1970s and 1980s, multiple projects were also conducted on the response of songbird populations to timber harvesting practices. More recently, during the 1990s and 2000s, research projects were conducted on seasonal migration and habitat use of white-tailed deer, wild rice production on the WMAs wetlands and the effect of hunting on the population ecology of woodcock.

Recreation facilities

Public hunting has been the dominant outdoor recreational use of the Mille Lacs WMA. Other activities permitted on the area include trapping, hiking, bicycling, bird watching and cross country skiing. Outdoor recreational activities are also provided at Father Hennepin and Mille Lacs Kathio State Parks to the north and the Rum River State Forest, immediately adjacent to the WMA to the south.

Our work
License Dollars At Work logo and link to page
  • Annually evaluating, approving and managing up to 20 timber sales, averaging 300 to 800 acres, totaling 6,000 cords, with an annual average value of $102,000.
  • Annually planning and implementing prescribed burns on anywhere from 200 to 4,000 acres in both wetland and upland habitats.
  • Annually managing 19 impoundments covering 16,000 acres to promote wild rice, waterfowl and furbearer habitat.
  • Annually maintain over 24 miles of vehicle accessible roads, 103 miles of hunter walking trails, 88 parking lots, 22 gates and 19 water control structures.
  • Annually conducting formal population surveys for ruffed grouse, woodcock, pheasants and predators as well as informal surveys for deer, turkeys and other furbearers.
  • Interacting and providing support to local conservation officers and law enforcement regarding illegal activity and assisting local search and rescue squads with locating and recovering two to five lost hunters annually.

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Steve PiepgrasArea wildlife manager320-532-3537[email protected]

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