Published September 10, 2012, 10:41 AM

Hunting season outlook: Grouse numbers forecast to be way down in Minnesota, Wisconsin

Be ready to walk. Ruffed grouse hunting seasons open Saturday in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, and grouse numbers are expected to be down significantly from last year in both states.

By: Sam Cook, Northland Outdoors

Be ready to walk.

Ruffed grouse hunting seasons open Saturday in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, and grouse numbers are expected to be down significantly from last year in both states.

Minnesota’s grouse index is determined by spring drumming counts, and they were down from 24 to 60 percent across Northeastern Minnesota this past spring, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Wisconsin’s drumming counts were down 25 percent statewide.

“We expected a decrease in drumming counts, and that happened this year,” said Ted Dick, grouse coordinator for the Minnesota DNR at Grand Rapids.

Grouse populations in Minnesota and Wisconsin tend to rise and fall in a 10-year cycle. The past three years, grouse numbers have been near the peak of that 10-year cycle. Now, they’re on the decline.

The hope is that grouse had a good nesting season this past spring and that good reproduction and chick survival will serve as a hedge against the lower drumming counts.

“I did have a couple or three people, unsolicited, in June say they saw more broods and bigger, healthier broods,” Dick said. “One of the guys said it was the most he had seen in 30 years. That kind of reproduction can offset a lot of the decrease in drumming counts.”

But even when Minnesota’s ruffed grouse numbers are low, the state offers some of the best grouse hunting in the nation.

Minnesota’s grouse harvest was down 12 percent last year from 2010. Hunters took just more than 400,000 birds, down from 465,000 at the peak of the cycle in 2010.

Dick, who hunts with an English setter, said he and his hunting partner, who also uses a pointer, expect to get as many as 50 points in a day when the grouse population is at or near its peak. In a down year such as this one, he expects 25 grouse flushes a day hunting in good habitat and getting off the trail.

Grouse hunters often like to hunt “wet edges” where upland habitat borders wetlands, but last fall was so dry that hunters could walk almost anywhere. This fall could offer similar conditions because little rain has fallen across the Northland since late June.

In Wisconsin, DNR wildlife biologist Greg Kessler at Brule isn’t optimistic about grouse prospects this fall.

“Grouse hunting in Douglas County does not look good for this fall,” Kessler said. “With those heavy rains we got in June, the broods took a pretty hard hit. Things look OK in other areas, but we are in the down side of the cycle, so grouse hunting won’t be fabulous anywhere.”

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