Grouse hunting notebook: Favorable northwest Minnesota outlook


Grouse and partridge seasons opened Saturday, Sept. 10, in North Dakota, and they get underway Saturday, Sept. 17, in Minnesota. Here are some notes about hunting seasons and prospects in the two states.

Favorable northwest outlook

Ruffed grouse hunters in northwest Minnesota have cause for optimism this fall, it seems, based on brood sightings at Red Lake and Thief Lake wildlife management areas, and Beltrami Island State Forest.

Spring drumming counts were up statewide at 1.9 drums per stop, compared with a statewide average of 1.3 drums per stop in 2021, the DNR reported in July. The Northwest region had the highest spring counts, at 2.9 drums per stop – up from 1.1 drums per stop last year – and the Northeast region tallied 2.0 drums per stop, up from 1.4 in 2021.

Drumming counts at Red Lake and Thief Lake saw similar increases.

“I think we are on track for a decent season – or at least I am personally optimistic,” said Charlie Tucker, manager of Red Lake Wildlife Management Area at Norris Camp, south of Roosevelt, Minn.

Staff at Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area in Marshall County echoed that optimism in a newsletter posted Friday, Sept. 9. Drumming counts on both of the WMA’s two survey routes around Thief Lake and Randen Ridge were up from 2021.

“We had a wet spring, with a record amount of precipitation in May, but we began to dry out and warm up after that,” the newsletter indicated. “Staff have been observing broods while working in the field so that is a good sign for this fall.”

Barring heavy rains, access conditions should be good.

“We are relatively dry around here, so that bodes well for walking on forest trails,” said Tucker, the Red Lake WMA manager. “Folks shouldn’t have any extra worries about getting vehicles stuck or anything like that.”

Walking trails within Red Lake WMA and adjacent Beltrami Island State Forest should be accessible, but because of staffing issues, maintenance on some of those trails could be “either behind schedule or nonexistent,” Tucker said.

Read the full DL-Online article for more projections and the full article


Upland game forecast for southeast Idaho

The beginning of many upland game seasons in southern Idaho is upon us. Winter severity and spring nesting conditions influence gamebird numbers, although winter generally affects pheasants and quail more than gray partridge and our native grouse species.

The 2021-22 winter was relatively mild while spring precipitation should have provided favorable nesting and brood rearing conditions. Unfortunately, continual loss of CRP that provides important gamebird habitat in much of southeastern Idaho may reduce the number of birds available to hunters.

Forest Grouse

Two species of “forest grouse,” ruffed and dusky (aka blue), occur in southeastern Idaho. Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) harvest data over the past five years suggests reasonably stable numbers for both species. This summer I have seen numerous dusky grouse broods in the mountains north of the Snake River Plain and suspect hunters should find plenty of birds in many areas.


Number of males counted on established lek routes was higher in 2022 than 2021 in most management areas. IDFG reported that statewide populations of sage-grouse rebounded somewhat in 2022 after population lows in 2019, 2020, and 2021. Sage-grouse hunters in 2022 will have to buy a tag to hunt in any of 12 sage-grouse hunting zones. Hunters can buy up to two tags and may buy a tag for more than one zone. Sage-grouse firearm season runs Sept. 17 through Oct. 31.

IDFG states that the sage-grouse tag system is designed to limit harvest to less than 10 percent of each zone’s estimated fall population. A total of 2,510 tags were offered for 2022. The number of tags was substantially increased for 2022 even though hunters shot far fewer sage-grouse than the agency expected in 2021. To estimate fall populations, IDFG must have good data on the number of breeding females, nest success, and brood survival. This information is difficult to acquire and, to my knowledge, the agency lacks those data so their “estimate” of the fall population is likely no more than a semi-educated guess.

Chukar and Gray Partridge

Chukars occur in only a few localized areas in southeastern Idaho and numbers are generally low. In contrast, gray partridge are widely distributed throughout the area. Like sharptails, this partridge is commonly found in CRP fields but I have also successfully hunted them in farmland and sagebrush habitats. Although populations fluctuate, numbers appear generally stable over the long term. I expect this year will be similar to last year.

Read the full Post Register article for more reports