Visit Minnesota This Fall For Ruffed Grouse

For many bird hunters, pheasants are king, but for the diehards who relish the challenge of hitting tough targets in thick cover, nothing beats ruffed grouse. And based on a recent survey, Minnesota should be high on your list of upland destinations.

"Ruffed grouse drums increased 34 percent from the previous year, with the increase happening in the northern part of the state," said Charlotte Roy, Minnesota DNR grouse project leader. "This may signal the start of an upswing in the grouse cycle that since 2009 has been in the declining phase."

The increase is consistent with changes typical of the 10-year grouse cycle. The most recent peak in drum counts occurred in 2009. The cycle is less pronounced in the more southern regions of Minnesota, near the edge of the ruffed grouse range.

For those of you who don't live in ruffed grouse country, drumming is a low sound produced by male grouse as he beats his wings rapidly and in increasing frequency to signal the location of his territory. Drumming displays also attract females that are ready to begin nesting.

Compared to last year's numbers, 2014 survey results for ruffed grouse indicated increases in the northeast survey region, which is the core of grouse range in Minnesota, from 0.9 drums per stop in 2013 to 1.3 in 2014. Drumming counts in the northwest increased from 0.7 drums per stop in 2013 to 1.2 in 2014. Drumming counts didn't increase in the central hardwoods or southeast, with an average of 0.8 and 0.3 drums per stop, respectively.

Ruffed grouse populations, which tend to rise and fall on a 10-year cycle, are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state's forested regions. This year observers recorded 1.1 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2012 and 2013 were 1.0 and 0.9, respectively. Counts vary from about 0.6 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 2.0 during years of high abundance.

For the past 65 years, DNR biologists have monitored ruffed grouse populations. This year, DNR staff and cooperators from 11 organizations surveyed 121 routes across the state.

High Drum = Great Hunting?

Does the high drum count guarantee a banner hunting season? No. Drum counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population, but the number of birds present during the fall hunting season also depends upon nesting success and chick survival during spring and summer.

Minnesota frequently is the nation's top ruffed grouse producer. On average, 115,000 hunters harvest 545,000 ruffed grouse in Minnesota each year, also making it the state's most popular game bird. During the peak years of 1971 and 1989, hunters harvested more than 1 million ruffed grouse. Michigan and Wisconsin, which frequently field more hunters than Minnesota, round out the top three states in ruffed grouse harvest.

So why does Minnesota produce so many grouse? One reason is an abundance of aspen and other ruffed grouse habitat, much of it located on county, state and national forests, where public hunting is allowed. An estimated 11.5 million of the state's 16.3 million acres of forest are grouse habitat.

Click here to get started finding public hunting land in Minnesota for your own up-north adventure.

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