Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ruffed grouse drum counts dip, but remain fairly robust

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 7/3/18

REGIONAL— Grouse hunters who were hoping for a recovery in the population of the state’s most popular game bird after last year’s disappointing season, may be in for more disappointment. …

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Ruffed grouse drum counts dip, but remain fairly robust

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REGIONAL— Grouse hunters who were hoping for a recovery in the population of the state’s most popular game bird after last year’s disappointing season, may be in for more disappointment.

The latest spring drumming count results are out, and they suggest ruffed grouse numbers are down 29 percent statewide. The count averaged 1.5 drums per stop, which indicate that grouse numbers remain fairly robust even though the count is down over last year. But last year’s drumming survey suggested one of the highest populations in years.

That didn’t translate into a successful season for grouse hunters, however, which raised concerns that reproduction last year may have been poor. The spring drumming count is closely watched by hunters as an indication of the ruffed grouse population and its cyclical changes.

“Surveys indicate the peak occurred last year,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse project leader. “Grouse populations tend to rise and fall on a decade-long cycle and counts this year are pointing to the peak lasting only one year this cycle. This has occurred before, but it’s always nice when the cycle stays high a little longer.” 

Ruffed grouse populations are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions.

Drumming counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population. The number of birds present during the fall hunting season also depends upon nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer.

As usual, the drumming count was somewhat higher in the northeast region than elsewhere in the state, with an average of 1.7 drums per stop. Statewide, the counts vary from about 0.6 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 2.0 during years of high abundance.

The DNR’s 2018 grouse survey report and grouse hunting information can be found at mndnr.gov/hunting/grouse.

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