North Dakota’s grouse season opened Saturday, and hunters can expect to find fewer sharptails this fall, the Game and Fish Department says.
Aaron Robinson, upland game management supervisor for Game and Fish in Dickinson, N.D., said July and August roadside counts showed a 23 percent decline in sharptail numbers. Hungarian partridge counts were up 2 percent.
“Sharp-tailed grouse hunting will be slower than last season in most of the state, and all indications are that hunters will see significantly lower numbers in the west,” Robinson said.
Still, the news isn’t all bad.
“In general, grouse hunting will be fair to good,” Robinson said. “Hunters were able to find birds last year, and we are hopeful that with a little hard work this trend will continue” this year.
“Partridge will be similar to last year, with harvest still considered a bonus while pursuing other game birds.”
Statistics show observers recorded 2.4 sharptail broods and 18.6 birds per 100 miles during the roadside counts; the average brood size was 4.7. For partridge, observers recorded 0.8 broods and 11.1 birds per 100 miles with an average brood size of 9.6.
More than 23,000 hunters pursued sharptails last year, up 10 percent from 2014, and shot 83,000 birds, a 15 percent increase, Game and Fish said. More than 18,000 people hunted Hungarian partridge last year and bagged 59,000 Huns, a 60 percent increase from 2014.
In Minnesota, the Department of Natural Resources doesn’t conduct a summer roadside survey for sharptails, but results from the annual spring dancing ground survey showed numbers similar to 2015.
Sharptails in Minnesota are limited to the northwest and east-central parts of the state.
Charlotte Roy, grouse project leader for the DNR in Grand Rapids, Minn., said this year’s statewide average of 9.5 sharptails per lek was similar to the long-term average since 1980, but she adds the data takes some interpretation.
“Survey results can be influenced by how many leks are counted or changes in how many birds are at each lek year to year,” Roy said. “The average number of sharp-tailed grouse was similar this year compared to 2015, but we may be looking at a decline when considering changes in the number of leks counted or changes at the same leks counted in both years.”
Looking at leks counted both in 2015 and this year, counts were down in the northwest region and statewide. In the east-central region, the count per lek was statistically unchanged, but observers counted fewer leks.
That suggests birds are combining into fewer leks but maintaining the average lek size.
About 5,100 hunters pursued sharptails last year in Minnesota, shooting slightly more than 7,900 birds, DNR statistics show.
North Dakota’s sharptail season continues through Jan. 8 with a bag limit of three daily and a possession limit of 12. Minnesota’s sharptail season opens Saturday and ends Nov. 30; bag limit is three daily, with a possession limit of six.
Bird samples wanted
Biologists in North Dakota and Minnesota are seeking sharptail samples from successful hunters for ongoing management efforts and studies in the two states.
In North Dakota, Game and Fish encourages sharptail hunters to submit feathers and wings in envelopes available from the department. Wing data allows biologists to monitor production, verify bird counts and get a better understanding of the harvest ratio of males to females and juveniles to adults.
Envelopes are available on the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov, by calling the department’s Bismarck headquarters at (701) 328-6300, by email at email@example.com or at district offices across the state.
In Minnesota, the DNR’s Roy encourages hunters to submit frozen liver, breast muscle tissue or entire carcasses from sharptails or prairie chickens as part of research assessing prairie grouse exposure to neonicotinoids, which are pesticides commonly applied to seeds before planting.
Hunters should submit samples in ziplock bags along with the location—preferably a GPS coordinate—where birds were shot. Frozen samples can be dropped off at local DNR wildlife offices. A listing of offices is available at mndnr.gov/contact/locator.html.
Prairie chicken update
In related grouse news, Minnesota residents who applied in the lottery to hunt prairie chickens and did not get drawn for a permit can purchase one of four surplus prairie chicken licenses for Permit Area 813 starting at noon Monday. The DNR will issue the licenses on a first come, first served basis. If the licenses remain unsold, residents can apply for the permits starting at noon Wednesday.
Minnesota’s nine-day prairie chicken season begins Sept. 24 and is open to residents only. More information is available at mndnr.gov/hunting/prairiechicken.