Grouse are on the slide in their 10-year cycleDULUTH, Minn. — Be ready to walk.
By: Sam Cook, The Dickinson Press
DULUTH, Minn. — Be ready to walk.
Ruffed grouse hunting season opens Saturday in Minnesota, and grouse numbers are expected to be down significantly from last year.
Minnesota’s grouse index is determined by spring drumming counts, and they were down 24 percent to 60 percent across northeastern Minnesota, the core of ruffed grouse range, this past spring, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Drumming counts in northwest Minnesota were down 33 percent to 73 percent.
“We expected a decrease in drumming counts, and that happened this year,” said Ted Dick, grouse coordinator for the DNR in Grand Rapids, Minn.
Grouse populations tend to rise and fall in a 10-year cycle. The past three years, grouse numbers have been near the peak of that 10-year cycle. Now, they’re on the decline.
The hope is that grouse had a good nesting season this past spring and that good reproduction and chick survival will serve as a hedge against the lower drumming counts.
“I did have a couple or three people, unsolicited, in June say they saw more broods and bigger, healthier broods,” Dick said. “One of the guys said it was the most he had seen in 30 years. That kind of reproduction can offset a lot of the decrease in drumming counts.”
But even when Minnesota’s ruffed grouse numbers are low, the state offers some of the best grouse hunting in the nation.
Minnesota’s grouse harvest was down 12 percent last year from 2010. Hunters took just more than 400,000 birds, down from 465,000 at the peak of the cycle in 2010.
Dick, who hunts with an English setter, said he and his hunting partner, who also uses a pointer, expect to get as many as 50 points in a day when the grouse population is at or near its peak. In a down year such as this one, he expects 25 grouse flushes a day hunting in good habitat and getting off the trail.
Grouse hunters often like to hunt “wet edges” where upland habitat borders wetlands, but last fall was so dry that hunters could walk almost anywhere. This fall could offer similar conditions because little rain has fallen across the Northland since late June.
Ruffed grouse are a secondary species in North Dakota, where they’re limited to areas in the Turtle Mountains and Pembina Hills in the northern part of the state. The state Game and Fish Department last week reported drumming counts in North Dakota were down 37 percent statewide, with declines of 42 percent in the Pembina Hills and 24 percent in the Turtle Mountains.
North Dakota’s grouse season opened Saturday.
Herald staff writer Brad Dokken contributed to this report.
Find a trail
If you’re looking for a place to hunt ruffed grouse, check the Hunter Walking Trail maps on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website, www.mndnr.gov. Just click on “Hunting and trapping” and look for the “where to go” pages. The maps are listed by county and can be viewed over aerial photo imagery.