Published September 05, 2010, 12:00 AM

Sharptails, ruffs offer better outlook than Huns in N.D.

According to Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor for Game and Fish in Bismarck, the best sharptail numbers are in southwestern North Dakota, especially south of Interstate 94 and west of the Missouri River, where brood numbers were up more than 50 percent from last year, and late-summer roadside counts showed a 30 percent increase in the number of birds per 100 miles.

By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

More grouse, fewer partridges, is the forecast from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department when the state’s season for sharp-tailed grouse, ruffed grouse and Hungarian partridge opens Saturday.

According to Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor for Game and Fish in Bismarck, the best sharptail numbers are in southwestern North Dakota, especially south of Interstate 94 and west of the Missouri River, where brood numbers were up more than 50 percent from last year, and late-summer roadside counts showed a 30 percent increase in the number of birds per 100 miles.

“It looks like sharptail numbers are going to be much improved over what they were last year and probably the last several years,” Kohn said of the southwestern part of the state. “Obviously, it’s an indication of much better production than the springs of ’08 and ’09 when it was so wet and cool.”

Cover and habitat conditions in the southwest also are noticeably better than they have been the past few years, Kohn said.

Areas east of the Missouri River will offer similar to slightly lower sharptail numbers than last year, Kohn said. In the coteau area of central North Dakota, broods were up 15 percent to 17 percent, the average brood size was up about 30 percent, and roadside counts were up about 20 percent. Areas of “drift prairie” near Coopers-town and Valley City are about the same as last year, Kohn said, describing the outlook as “not real great, but OK.”

Statewide, preliminary results from roadside counts showed sharptails are up nearly 47 percent statewide from last year.

Hun outlook bleak

Meanwhile, Kohn said, the outlook for Hungarian partridge remains spotty. Hampered by a wet spring and two severe winters, statewide numbers are down about 35 percent from 2009, and the number of broods observed is down 38 percent.

Traditionally, Kohn said, Mountrail, Ward, McLean and McHenry counties offer some of the best partridge hunting opportunities, and that likely will be the case this year, as well.

“Elsewhere, they’re just going to be kind of where people stumble into them,” Kohn said. “We’ve been telling sportsmen, if they want to hunt Huns, they’re probably better off to hunt sharptails and if they flush a covey, break off and pursue them.

“We just haven’t seen a lot of numbers of birds anywhere in the state, and it’s difficult to direct sportsmen to any particular area that has a lot of Huns,” Kohn said. “They like a nice, dry, mild spring and summer, and boy, we just haven’t seen that. They don’t seem to do real well when we have wet springs.”

Ready for ruffs

Ruffed grouse are limited to areas of the Turtle Mountains and the Pembina Hills, but spring surveys indicated a 10 percent increase in drumming counts from 2009. The Pembina Hills was up 23 percent, while the Turtle Mountains were up 4 percent.

Overall, the 2010 count was 98 percent higher than two years ago.

That bodes well, Kohn said, for North Dakota ruffed grouse hunters who don’t want to venture into Minnesota, which traditionally offers some of the best opportunities for the wary woodland birds.

“I know the Grand Forks area does have some ruffed grouse hunters that sneak up into that Pembina Hills-Cavalier area, and they’ll probably see a few more birds than what they have in the past,” Kohn said.

Time was, Kohn said, when the opening of grouse season was more of an “event” in North Dakota. But with pheasant numbers exploding in the past 15 to 20 years, the grouse opener now is more of a “warm-up” for October, when roosters rule.

“Those folks who used to go out to the Badlands or have sharptail camps in the central part of the state, we just don’t see that anymore,” Kohn said. “Now, hunters use it as an opportunity to work the dog a bit and do some shooting in preparation for the pheasant opener.

“It’s kind of funny how the emphasis has changed over the years.”

Seasons for grouse and partridge continue through Jan. 2. Shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset. Sharptails, ruffs and Huns each have a daily limit of three and a possession limit of 12.

Coming next Sunday:

A preview on Minnesota’s grouse season, which opens Sept. 18.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to bdokken@gfherald.com.

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