Drainage Ditches?


Well-known member
Anyone ever hunt drainage ditches here? I was out walking my dogs last week and ran into another fellow pheasant hunter. We got to talking and he said he primarily hunts drainage ditches. Not roadside ditches, but drainages that primarily run through (from my experience) private land. He stated most were next to private land as he told me a story about a small run in with a landowner. He believed that drainage ditches are legal to hunt due to watershed easements.

I'm not an expert on the topic so I just nodded along and didn't say whether or not I agreed with the legality of it.

Anyone in MN have any knowledge of that? I did some research online and didn't come up with much. I'm probably going to contact the DNR out of curiosity but I'm also curious what the forum thinks.
I have always wondered about these ditches, mainly hunting them because some are so steep. I had no idea they might have public easement!
I found that article too Brown. I'm about 95% positive they aren't legal to hunt. I do remember looking at the MN DNR Compass maps before and seeing something about ditchways but it used a different term. I can't seem to find what I saw before. It was like "Yellow Medicine Ditch #12" or some similar name, with an outline. I never paid it much attention though.
For anyone curious, I reached out to the MN DNR and this was their response. Basically it's county dependent.

Thank you for contacting the Minnesota DNR.

Roadside ditches and/or drainage ditches are regulated at a county level. You would have to contact the county staff person responsible for the county ditches or your local SWCD staff – look up the contact for your county here: https://www.maswcd.org/SWCDs_On_The_Web/swcds_on_the_web.htm. The local office should know if there is any watershed land in the area that allows for hunting.


DNR Information Consultant | Office of Communication and Outreach

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

500 Lafayette Road

St. Paul, MN 55155
That's an interesting answer.

I think you have to separate: 1)drainage ditches/buffers, 2)roadside ditches, and 3)land owned by a watershed district. And above all else, I'd ask a local enforcement officer if you have the chance. And also keep in mind, every state differs on this stuff so what you might do in SD or IA may not apply to MN and vice versa.

1. Drainage ditches (and any associated buffers) mostly fit the definition of agricultural land, which doesn't have to be posted to prevent trespass. See Page 10 of the regs. Most ditches are hayed at some point, many buffers are enrolled in conservation programs, and some are legally required. Nearly all are completely privately-owned, with limited easements for maintenance but not public access. See below. I would personally never hunt a drainage ditch/buffer on private land without asking permission.

Page 10 of the regs:
“Agricultural land” is land that: 1) is plowed or tilled; 2) has standing crops or crop residues; 3) is within a maintained fence for enclosing domestic livestock (including horses); 4) is planted to native or introduced grassland or hay land; or 5) is planted to short-rotation woody crops (hybrid poplar and other woody plants that are harvested for their fiber within 15 years of planting).

Posting is not required on lands considered agricultural, including:
All planted grassland and hay land.
• All hybrid poplar and other woody plants harvested for fiber within 15 years
of planting.
Riparian buffers required by law.
• Land enrolled in Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) or Reinvest
in Minnesota (RIM).

2. Roadside ditches - hunting access depends almost entirely on who owns the right of way and whether or not it's posted. See Page 11 of the regs below. You can generally make some assumptions based on whether it's a state/county/township road. Typically paved road ROWs are owned by the state or county, and gravel road ROWs are owned by adjoining private landowner. If the ROW is publcly-owned, you can generally hunt the ditch, but then you're talking a busier road with safety issues. If the ROW is privately owned and NOT posted, you can likely hunt it unless the landowner gives you the boot. I've hunted township road ROWs in limited circumstances - typically after seeing birds in unposted area where there are no nearby houses.

Page 11 of the regs:
Road right-of-way
Some road right-of-ways are not owned by a unit of government. In these instances the landowner has granted an easement for vehicle and foot travel. The landowner generally retains authority to restrict access for hunting or trapping and may prohibit trespass by posting the land or by verbally directing hunters and trappers to leave the easement. It’s always best to ask permission if in doubt about the ownership of a road ditch area. County or township offices also may be able to help determine the ownership status of a road ditch.

Helpful examples of road right-of-way ownership and public use include:
•Hunting is not allowed on Interstate Highway right-of-ways.
•State highways are most often owned by the state, but there may be a mix of easements and state ownership.
•County roads may be owned by the county, or there may be easements. Roadways with easements tend to be gravel, while roads owned by the county tend to be paved. Road surface is a visual indicator of the ownership but is not an absolute condition.
•Township roads are generally easement and not owned by the township, but some township roads are owned by the township. As is the case with county roads, road surface can be a visual indicator of the ownership.
•The ownership or easement status can vary on any one stretch of road, and can vary from road to road.

Visually, the road right-of-way is improved and maintained, and you will normally notice a change in the property—including such things as ditches, fence lines, etc. The actual distance from the center of the road that is improved and maintained can vary under ownership or easement, and from one location to another.

3. Watershed District Land
There are multiple watershed districts in the MN pheasant range that own large chunks of grassland (40-50+ acres) for wellhead protection/watershed protection/flood control/etc.. I would call the districts regarding those individually. I know of some watershed land that is open for hunting, and some that is not.
Yeah in MN it certainly seems to be, maybe not a grey area, but something that maybe has murky regulations? I don't intend to hunt any drainage ditches but after talking to someone who does my curiosity is piqued so now I feel like digging into it just to find out.
Drainage ditches in Iowa are privately owned by the adjoining landowner.

All the ones I know of anyway.
I think Nater has it right; "I would personally never hunt a drainage ditch/buffer on private land without asking permission". That keeps everyone honest. In my country (Northern Indiana) there are a lot of irrigation ditches and so-called "pump" ditches the farmers use to seasonally control water. During the duck season they can be a prime place to jump-shoot woodducks, mallards and the like. and if the banks are brushy they can hold roosters too.
Having been involved in "Redetermination of Benefit's" for ditches and receiving assessment's for these said "Benefits", legal or not I wouldn't push my luck by hunting a ditch with out landowner's approval. Ditches and assessment of benefits can get really contentious and hunting them might be poking a bear that is really pissed off already.