Minnesota -(Ammoland.com)- Fall color begins to show, an occasional crisp morning arrives – both are telltale signs that the hunting season opener for grouse, Minnesota’s most popular game bird, is right around the corner.
“Here in Minnesota we have some of the best grouse hunting opportunities in the nation,” said Ted Dick, forest game bird coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Our state has an extensive system of nonmotorized hunter walking trails, and much of our 17 million acres of forest land is open to public hunting.”
The season for ruffed and spruce grouse runs from Saturday, Sept. 19, through Sunday, Jan. 3, 2015; and for sharp-tailed grouse from Sept. 19 through Sunday, Nov. 30.
“Visibility will improve for grouse hunters as leaves drop, and enjoying the fall colors is part of the experience – even if the vegetation makes shooting more difficult,” Dick said. “Grouse season is really best during September and October, so many hunters like to get out as early and as often as they can in those months. Many hunters can’t wait to get out on the opener.”
The grouse season looks promising this year. Weather was favorable for grouse reproduction and chick survival in spring and summer, and there are stable numbers of adult grouse that survived the winter.
“We’ve heard from people that they’ve been seeing some good-sized broods of grouse and well-developed broods,” Dick said. “Anecdotally, we’re expecting lots of young grouse in the fall.”
For new grouse hunters
Grouse hunting does not require lots of up-front investment. Grouse hunters need a blaze-orange hat or vest, a shotgun, a good pair of boots and a valid small-game license.
“Grouse are usually well-concealed until they explode from the brush in a startling flush, making them one of the more challenging game birds to hunt,” Dick said. “Despite the challenge, because of their high numbers in this state and grouse hunters’ ability to hunt with friends, family and dogs, they can make for a good introduction to upland bird hunting. And grouse make great table fare.”
Grouse hunters can use just about any gauge shotgun, with 28-, 20-, 16- and 12-guages being the most commonly used, usually with No. 7-1/2 target or field loads. The daily limit for ruffed and spruce grouse is five combined with a possession limit of 10. The daily limit for sharp-tailed grouse is three with a possession limit of six.
Last year, more hunters added grouse hunting trips to their calendars. Minnesota ruffed grouse hunter numbers were estimated at 83,020 in 2014, an increase of 11 percent from 2013, according to the DNR’s annual small game survey.
Grouse numbers for this season
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.
Drumming is a low sound produced by males as they beat their wings rapidly and in increasing frequency to signal the location of their territory. Drumming displays also attract females that are ready to begin nesting. Based on drumming survey results, grouse numbers held steady from 2013 to 2014. For hunters, however, there may be other reasons for optimism this year.
“Hunters know that while the number of adults that survive the winter is an important factor in how good the hunting will be, another important factor is the production and survival of young birds,” Dick said.
Cold, wet weather in June makes it difficult for grouse chicks to survive and can affect the number of birds a hunter will run across in the fall. The good news this year was Minnesota had a relatively dry June, and anecdotal evidence suggests that grouse chick survival was good, according to Dick.
“Good chick survival can really make a difference in how enjoyable a person’s fall hunting trip will be, so I’m optimistic about the prospects based on what I’ve seen and heard,” Dick said.
Learning about where to hunt
Coming this fall, the DNR will have a new Web page that will allow hunters to easily access information on the state’s 50 ruffed grouse management areas.
“When completed, this page will provide easy-access maps and downloadable digital information in a variety of formats,” Dick said. “While Minnesota has an abundance of public land suitable for grouse hunting, these areas will help new hunters find a place to try grouse hunting, or help the seasoned hunter find a starting place in an unfamiliar area they want to check out.”
There are 528 wildlife management areas in the ruffed grouse range that cover nearly 1 million acres, 50 designated ruffed grouse management areas and 600 miles of hunter walking trails.
Search for hunter walking trails online at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/hwt. State forests, two national forests and county forest lands also offer many additional acres of public land for grouse hunting. Find public land on which to hunt by using the DNR’s Recreation Compass at www.mndnr.gov/maps/compass.html.
Submit samples for studies
Sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chicken hunters can voluntarily submit samples from birds they harvest in Minnesota for two DNR studies. One study aims to better understand how these birds move through the landscape. The other is assessing prairie grouse exposure to chemicals called neonicotinoids through consumption of treated seeds and other means. Hunters can choose to submit samples for either study or both.
For more information on grouse hunting and submitting samples for the DNR studies, see www.mndnr.gov/hunting/grouse.