Minnesota hunters have mixed reports on ruffed grouse season
A month into Minnesota's grouse season, the verdict still seems to be out on bird numbers. Is this the big jump in grouse numbers that spring drumming counts seemed to indicate, or is it just a bit better than the past few years? The National Gro...
A month into Minnesota's grouse season, the verdict still seems to be out on bird numbers.
Is this the big jump in grouse numbers that spring drumming counts seemed to indicate, or is it just a bit better than the past few years?
The National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt, held annually by the Ruffed Grouse Society in the Grand Rapids, Minn., area, usually provides some solid information about grouse and woodcock numbers. The 28th annual hunt was held Oct. 9-10. Forty-seven teams of two hunters each went afield with local guides.
Oct. 7, RGS regional director David "Swede" Johnson of River Falls, Wis., and I hunted three areas near Pengilly, Minn. Johnson, 56, planned to guide hunters in other areas nearby during the National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt.
Hunting over his two Gordon setters, Shadow and Shana, we worked three different pieces of cover with young aspen and alder bordering older forests. We flushed only one bird wild, not off a point.
"We could attribute it to the fact that it rained all day yesterday (Oct. 6). And I'm saving my good areas for good clients," Johnson said with a chuckle.
Across northeastern Minnesota, grouse hunters are finding mixed results. Some are doing well.
"I don't think we've had a year like this for quite a while," said Scott VanValkenburg of Fisherman's Corner in Pike Lake, Minn. "Guys coming in here are seeing a lot of birds -- see 20, shoot three. It's fantastic so far."
Foliage remains so thick that it's hard for hunters to get shots at every grouse they flush, he said. But many hunters are encouraged to see better grouse numbers after three to four years with the population at or near the bottom of its 10-year cycle.
Grouse hunting is typically best in years ending in nine or zero or one. It's usually lowest in the middle of the decades, in the years ending with four, five or six.
Spring drumming counts were the highest in 30 to 40 years. They were up 44 percent in northeastern Minnesota and 117 percent in northwestern Minnesota.
Doug Nelson, an avid grouse hunter from Virginia, Minn., who has kept track of all the grouse he's shot for more than 30 years, is seeing birds.
"I'm really optimistic," he said. "Even though leaves are still on the trees, I've been flushing a lot of birds."
Dave Hall of Cloquet and Scott Tout of Esko, Minn., were in Grand Rapids for the national hunt this past week. In hunting near Sturgeon Lake and Cloquet, they have not been impressed with grouse numbers so far, they said.
In northwestern Minnesota, conservation officer Jeff Birchem said grouse hunters in the Lake of the Woods area continue to see good numbers of birds as more leaves fall.
Mike Larson, grouse research biologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Grand Rapids, also has been hearing from hunters.
"I've been hearing a fair bit, and most of it is positive," Larson said. "People are having multiple birds per hour, in terms of flush rates."
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