Hunters took fewer ruffed grouse and woodcock than they did last year at the 36th annual National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt, held Oct. 12-13 in and near Grand Rapids. The hunt is sponsored by the Ruffed Grouse Society and hosted by the Grand Rapids chapter.
The hunt’s results seem to mirror reports from other hunters that the grouse population is not what hunters had hoped for this fall.
At the national hunt, a total of 108 participating hunters harvested 124 ruffed grouse during the two-day hunt, a 30 percent decrease from the 2016 harvest and 50 percent below the long-term average harvest. Each hunter shot an average of one-half grouse per day this year, down from the average of 1.4 grouse per day.
Dry weather and strong south winds provided difficult scenting conditions for hunters with bird dogs, hunt organizers said.
Forty-five percent of grouse taken were adults, 55 percent juveniles.
Hunters took 333 American woodcock, which is a 14 percent decrease over the 2016 harvest of 384. Each hunter harvested an average of 1.54 woodcock per day compared to 1.9 in 2016, a 26 percent decrease from the long-term average of 2.1 woodcock harvested per day.
With spring drumming counts up a nearly unprecedented 57 percent in Minnesota this past spring, hunters were hoping to see lots of grouse this fall. But bird numbers are also dependent on spring nesting conditions and chick survival. Nesting success must not have been as good as hoped for, said Ted Dick, upland game bird coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources at Grand Rapids.
“A lot depends on the recruitment of young birds,” Dick said. “With high drumming counts but low chick survival, it takes some of the wind out of our sails.”
Dick had predicted a very good grouse season this fall.
“I saw the highest year-over-year drumming count increases we’ve seen in 40 or 50 or 60 years, and I got a little excited about it,” said Dick, an avid grouse and woodcock hunter himself. “I took the optimistic approach… I’m willing to say I was wrong on my prediction.”
The ratio of juvenile grouse to adults taken at the national hunt — 55 percent juveniles to 45 percent adults — indicates that chick survival was not as good as it could have been.
“That was quite low,” Dick said. “Early June temperatures and precipitation are the key factors there. Obviously, something else happened. There’s a lack of young birds across Northeastern Minnesota.”
Data collected in the annual hunt gives the Ruffed Grouse Society a chance to better understand the two species of game birds, said RGS president and CEO John Eichinger.
The late Gordon W. Gullion of Cloquet, acknowledged as the world’s expert on ruffed grouse, immediately recognized the scientific potential of the hunt when the event was first held in 1982. Gullion initiated the annual counts at the national hunt.