Grouse numbers down ahead of opener
Marshall Helmberger

REGIONAL—Hunters may have to walk or drive a bit further than usual to chase up a ruffed grouse when the season opens on Saturday. The northeastern Minnesota grouse population is nearing the low point in its ten-year cycle, after peaking in 2009.

The Department of Natural Resources conducts an annual drumming count in the spring, and this year counters tallied an average of 0.9 drums per stop across the region.

That’s well below the 1.7 drums per stop counted as recently as 2011.

DNR officials say the drumming count is one indicator of the grouse population, but that the spring tally is far from perfect. And this year, it’s unclear whether the extremely late spring may have affected the drumming results.

June weather, which can be critical to the survival of young grouse, is often a bigger factor in predicting hunter success come fall, according to DNR Tower Area Wildlife Manager Tom Rusch. This year’s June saw fairly typical rainfall, which Rusch said was spread out enough to aid the survival of young birds. Some coveys in the area do appear to be quite large, which could improve the prospects for the fall season.

“We are seeing some broods out there,” said Rusch.

With leaves still on the trees and brush, the best grouse hunting will come later in the season. So reserve an October weekend or two for a walk in the woods. If you bag a grouse, it’s just icing on the cake.

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