REGIONAL— By traditional yardsticks, hunters should find plenty of opportunity as they hit their favorite forest trails for the grouse opener this Saturday. A drier-than-average summer, combined …
REGIONAL— By traditional yardsticks, hunters should find plenty of opportunity as they hit their favorite forest trails for the grouse opener this Saturday. A drier-than-average summer, combined with a respectable spring drumming count, has typically meant good fall hunting conditions.
But with concerns like West Nile virus and the impact of a growing raccoon population on ground-nesting birds, the old rules don’t necessarily apply. Which is why DNR wildlife officials are shying away from predictions these days. Tower Area Wildlife Manager Tom Rusch said he’s mostly heard mixed reports so far this year. “Some guys say they’re seeing good-sized broods and others say they’re not seeing much of anything.” Rusch said he was in the field last week, following up on the contract mowers who maintain the DNR’s hunter walking trails. That involves driving an ATV on miles of recently-mowed terrain, from Ely to Willow Valley. “I never saw a grouse all week,” he said.
While conventional wisdom suggests that grouse should be on the downward part of their cycle, after a supposed peak in 2017, most hunters found that peak to be underwhelming at best. Last year seemed an improvement and the spring drumming counts held mostly steady this year, at a fairly average 1.5 drums per stop, suggesting that the downward trend is less dramatic than usual. If the dry summer allowed for strong reproduction, hunters could well find good numbers of birds, particularly come October, when the leaves drop. That’s traditionally the best time of year for grouse hunters.
If the weather holds, hunters should have at least one advantage this year— good access. The dry summer has left many traditionally wet areas in the forest high and dry, and that should open up areas that hunters may not have had access to the past few years.
Will the birds be out there come Saturday? There’s only one way to find out.