With the start of the waterfowl hunting season last weekend, turkey season opening this weekend, and the ruffed grouse and deer archery seasons already on the go, UMD hunters are making checklists and waking up early for the hunt.
Already, senior Justin Grossinger has a fridge full of Canada geese, wood ducks and ruffed grouse. He and his dad got three geese the weekend opener of early goose season, Sept. 1, and have been feasting ever since.
“I cooked them up and they were phenomenal,” Grossinger said. “Put a little seasoning on there. Some butter. So good.”
The grouse in his fridge, however, are not freshly harvested, but leftovers from a successful season last fall. This year’s grouse hunt has proved unproductive so far not only for Grossinger, but for junior Jon Dordal as well.
“It was tough because there’s a lot of undergrowth still,” Dordal said about his grouse hunt. “The woods are really thick.”
Once the undergrowth vegetation in the forests dies off for the winter, it will be a lot easier for hunters to spot the well-camouflaged grouse before they take off flying and it’s too late to shoot.
Although the winterkill will work in favor of hunters, the low numbers of grouse will not. The Minnesota DNR’s spring ruffed grouse drum count fell by 10 percent from last year’s, meaning that the bird population is in a decline. The drum count refers to the number of male grouse mating calls observed in the spring.
The decline, however, is part of the natural cycle for grouse, which peaks every 10 years regardless of environmental impacts. Given that the last peak was in 2009, the lowered population is expected.
Grossinger, who is aware of the declining population cycle, isn’t discouraged from hunting the bird.
“Hopefully, I’ll just get out and see a couple here and there,” he said. “I’m happy to walk eight miles and see two birds. I’m fine with that.”
For him, hunting is less about the kill and more about enjoying the outdoors.
“A lot of the trails in this area are beautiful,” he said. “You hike around the woods. See if you see anything. If not, hey, you got some exercise and it was beautiful out. Even in the rain, it’s still fun.”
Grossinger walks the public Wildlife Management Area trails (WMAs) by Island Lake with his Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun in search of coveys of grouse.
The last time he went out for grouse, two weekends ago, he stumbled upon a ten-point buck instead.
“If I’d had a bow, I’d have seen a grouse—it’s just how it goes,” he said and laughed.
If you like to hunt ruffed and dusky grouse, Jason Robinson has good news: The number of forest grouse in Utah is similar to, or higher, than it was last fall.
You can pursue forest grouse in Utah through the end of the year. Three additional upland game hunts — dove, cottontail rabbit and snowshoe hare — are also in progress.
Division of Wildlife Resources biologists don’t conduct forest grouse surveys, but they watch closely for grouse when they’re working in forest grouse habitat.
“It appears the number of forest grouse is as good, or better, than it was last fall,” said Robinson, upland game coordinator for the DWR. “I think forest grouse hunters will have a good hunt.”
Some of the best areas to hunt this fall include Cache County and areas near Cedar City.
Robinson said several factors have led to the good bird numbers: A mild winter at higher elevations that allowed plenty of adult birds to survive; dry weather in June that provided a climate that allowed newly hatched chicks to survive; and rain at higher elevations in July that provided the chicks with plenty of forbs and insects to eat.
Ruffed grouse are usually found in or close to stands of aspen trees. They’re especially attracted to stands that have lots of young aspen trees in them. Aspen stands that also have shrubs with berries and a water source nearby are especially attractive.
Dusky grouse live in higher elevations. A good spot to look for them is the transition zone where aspen tree stands transition into conifer forest. Ridgelines that have pine and Douglas fir trees on them are also attractive areas.
The good, old days that upland game hunters in North Dakota enjoyed in the mid-2000s are fading into history, if results from the state’s July and August roadside grouse and partridge surveys are any indication.
Following the downtrend, ruffed grouse numbers in North Dakota’s forested region in the northeast and north-central parts of the state also declined. Kohn said Game and Fish wasn’t able to survey the Pembina Hills area this past spring, but drumming counts in the Turtle Mountains were down 40 percent to 50 percent.
“I would imagine if a guy just likes to walk in the trees, it’s probably a nice time, but I don’t think productivity-wise it’s going to be all that good,” Kohn said.
With September 15th just around the corner, we’ve been taking a look at some of the forecast data provided by both Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) Wildlife Division, as well as the summary provided annually by the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS). And now, the forecast. According to MDNR Upland Game Bird Specialist and Program Leader Al Stewart, grouse drumming surveys were conducted during the months of April and May of this year. Data collected from the same 2012 sampling areas found a 10 percent decline in the number of drums heard on a year-to-year basis. As was the case in prior years, the highest number of drumming counts was found in the upper peninsula, followed by the northern lower, then southern lower. With the exception of some areas of the upper peninsula, the statistical differences between 2012 and 2013 did not appear to be significant. According to Stewart, 2013 grouse populations will likely have a slight decline from 2012 levels, following their cyclical peak which was believed to have been reached in 2011. Despite the late arrival of spring this year, breeding conditions for both grouse and woodcock are believed to have been favorable. These conditions have the potential to result in a statewide harvest of 240,000 grouse and 74,000 woodcock during the 2013 seasons. Just as a reminder, although the ruffed grouse season begins with the small game season on September 15th, opening day for woodcock hunting is set for September 21st. Department of Natural Resources Upland Game Bird Specialist and Program Leader Al Stewart reports, ruffed grouse drumming counts were conducted statewide along 95 survey routes during April and May 2013. Using data from 87 routes run in both 2012 and 2013, statewide there was a 10.3 percent decrease in the average number of drums heard per route between 2012 (11.8) and 2013 (10.6). Highest drumming counts were in Zone 1 (Upper Peninsula; 14.5), followed by Zone 2 (northern Lower Peninsula; 9.4) and Zone 3 (southern Lower Peninsula; 6.4). Analysis at the regional scale indicated there was nearly a significant difference (n=26; t=2.0, P=0.4) in the number of drums heard per route in Zone 1 (Upper Peninsula) between 2012 (17.4) and 2013 (14.9). There was no significant change (n=52; t=2, P=0.4) in the average number of drums heard per route in Zone 2 (Northern Lower Peninsula) between 2012 (9.9) and 2013 (9.1). In Zone 3, there were eight routes conducted in both 2012 and 2013. Due to the low sample size, statistical analysis at the Zone 3 regional scale is not appropriate. Grouse/woodcock hunter cooperators hunting the first four days of ruffed grouse season reported an average of 1.7 grouse per hour in 2012 compared to 2.0 grouse per hour in 2011. Hunters opinions about the 2012 ruffed grouse population were mixed; 27 percent of the respondents thought grouse populations were up or slightly up from 2011 in the areas they hunted, with 41 percent reporting the population is the same and 32 percent reported they were down or slightly down. For the full season, the average number of ruffed grouse flushed per hour by cooperators in 2012 (1.66) was slightly lower than the number of birds flushed per hour in 2011 (1.91). The average number of woodcock flushed per hour statewide by cooperators was slightly higher between 2012 (1.57) and 2011 (1.2). Stewart concludes, “Based on current survey data, I expect the grouse population this fall will be on a slight decline following the peak of the cycle in 2011. The 2013 fall ruffed grouse and woodcock numbers could be similar if not a little bit lower statewide compared to 2012. With favorable annual production, hunters could take approximately 240,000 grouse and 74,000 woodcock in 2013. Although spring arrived two weeks later than normal; the warm, average weather conditions this year may have a positive impact on brood survival. If we have favorable production this spring, I anticipate fall ruffed grouse and woodcock numbers could be similar to or only down slightly from last year. Due to normal rainfall and lack of early summer frosts, I expect soft mast production to be very good this fall compared to 2012.” The ruffed grouse season begins on September 15, statewide.* In 2013, the opening date for woodcock hunting will be September 21.* The USFWS framework for Michigan allows for the woodcock hunting season to open no earlier than the Saturday closest to September 22 and to run for no more than 45 days. Are you looking for new places to hunt grouse and woodcock? Stewart invites hunters to explore the 10-million acres of public land in Michigan. You can plan your next hunting adventure online with Mi-HUNT. This DNR hunting tool allows people to search for grouse and woodcock habitat on public hunting lands. “Bird hunters have found this tool to be very helpful for viewing different forest types, topography, satellite imagery and road layers…all from the comfort of their own home”, said Stewart. “There’s even a tutorial designed for grouse hunters.” To learn more about this free interactive mapping application, visit www.michigan.gov/mihunt for details. Read more forecasts from the Ruffed Grouse Society