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Optimism the rule for coming grouse, woodcock seasons

A wire-haired pointing Griffon returns with a ruffed grouse during a hunt near Grand Rapids. News Tribune file photo

Grouse hunters in both Minnesota and Wisconsin have reasons to be optimistic about this fall's seasons, which open Saturday in both states.

Spring drumming counts were up 57 percent statewide in Minnesota and up 30 percent in Wisconsin's northern region. If nesting success was good, hunters could see one of the best seasons in several years.

"I'm going out on a limb and saying the harvest will be up," said Ted Dick, upland game bird coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Grand Rapids. "I'm not saying it's going up 57 percent, but it will be up."

Drumming counts in Northeastern Minnesota were up 64 percent, said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse project leader.

"During the last peak (in 2009), we saw an annual increase of 44 percent in the northeast, but 64 percent is exceptional," Roy said.

Ruffed grouse populations in Minnesota and Wisconsin tend to rise and fall in a 10-year cycle. Drumming counts this spring in some parts of Minnesota were on par with those of recent peaks in the cycle. And Dick said he thinks nesting conditions were relatively good, too.

"I still think we did OK in the weather department in June," he said. "Every year I say I'm optimistic. This year should be good. There's no reason to think it won't be."

Minnesota has more than 40 designated ruffed grouse management areas and 600 miles of hunter walking trails. For maps of hunter walking trails, visit mndnr.gov and search "hunter walking trails."

Woodcock numbers also are good in Minnesota, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Minnesota is the only state in the Central Region that has seen "significant" increases in woodcock singing ground counts from 2007 to 2017. Some woodcock breed and nest in Minnesota and Wisconsin, while others migrate through the two states on their way down from Canada.

Minnesota's ruffed grouse hunting season runs from Saturday through Jan. 1. The state's woodcock season runs from Sept. 23 to Nov. 6.

Wisconsin wait-and-see

With Wisconsin's northern region grouse drumming counts up 30 percent, hunters are eager to get in the woods.

Wisconsin's brood survey results aren't yet available, but Greg Kessler, DNR wildlife manager at Brule, has some concerns.

"Early on, it looked like we had good numbers of birds and a good hatch," Kessler said. "Now, in mid- to late summer, we've seen very, very few grouse. I'm concerned whether they did lose some chicks. Or maybe because of the wet weather, they're just in different habitats.

"I'm still cautiously optimistic. The disturbing part is the lack of grouse broods. We should be seeing them out on the roads, and we aren't seeing them."

Woodcock numbers are a different story, he said.

"They seem to be good, based on what everyone has seen," Kessler said. "It seemed like there was an uptick in the number of singing males this spring. And foresters are bumping into lots of birds."

Wisconsin's ruffed grouse season runs from Saturday through Jan. 31. The state's woodcock season runs from Sept. 23 to Nov. 6.

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