REGIONAL— It appears that a dry summer helped boost northeastern Minnesota’s ruffed grouse population, and those few hunters who are taking to the woods this fall are reaping the rewards. …
REGIONAL— It appears that a dry summer helped boost northeastern Minnesota’s ruffed grouse population, and those few hunters who are taking to the woods this fall are reaping the rewards.
With the leaves now down, hunter success has improved in much of the area. That’s according to area conservation officers who’ve been out checking area hunters.
“When I’m out in the field, I flush grouse on a fairly regular basis,” said Tower area conservation officer Marc Hopkins. “I’m seeing birds, but very few hunters.”
Ely area conservation officers echo that, reporting a “pretty solid number of birds,” but very little hunting activity, which appears to be part of a continuing trend toward fewer small game hunters.
Tower Area DNR Wildlife manager Tom Rusch said he’s heard mixed reports, although he said he suspects many of those who aren’t having success are probably spending too much time in the pickup, hunting area roads. “Hunters who are getting out in the brush, who are working at it, especially with dogs, are seeing birds,” he said. “They’re out there to be had.”
Evidence of higher grouse numbers isn’t just anecdotal. The longstanding and well-documented annual national grouse and woodcock hunt sponsored by the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS) provides a snapshot of bird numbers. Based each year out of Grand Rapids, the hunters who turn out for the event do a good job of documenting their hunting success, which is one solid indicator of the grouse population. The RGS held their hunt Oct. 10 and 11 and reported a 17-percent increase in the grouse harvest over last year. Strong reproduction appears to have made the difference. The RGS hunters age and sex the birds they take each year and the 2019 “recruitment ratio” (the number of immature birds divided by the number of mature females in the harvest) was 7.67 for grouse. That’s more than double the 2.72 recruitment ratio from last year, and a 78-percent increase over the prior five-year average from 2014–2018.
RGS hunters took an average of 5.8 birds during the two-day hunt, although woodcock made up a majority of those birds.
Ben Jones, CEO of the Ruffed Grouse Society, notes that the annual hunt, held for the first time in 1982, now provides a valuable assessment of population trends for both ruffed grouse and woodcock. “Each year, the data collected gives us a chance to better understand these two important game birds. The indication of improved grouse recruitment this year is welcome news, though poor recruitment in recent years is a still a topic of concern that warrants further consideration,” Jones said. The national hunt has also played an important role in monitoring ruffed grouse populations for West Nile Virus (WNV), notes Jones. Hunters this year submitted samples from 47 of the 112 grouse harvested during the two-day hunt, more than three times as many samples as were collected during a pilot effort last year. WNV surveillance in the region is currently being coordinated among agencies in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
The testing laboratory recently provided 2018 results to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, but public release is pending final reports from all cooperating states.
Meanwhile, with two weekends remaining before deer season, and with mild and dry weather forecast for this weekend, hunters might want to take advantage of the healthy grouse population to spend a little time in the woods. You just might come home with supper.