Game wardens across Minnesota’s grouse-hunting range witnessed a decent effort but scant success last weekend during the season opener for ruffed grouse, spruce grouse and Northwest Zone sharptailed grouse.
The hunt dragged in many places because of rain and excessive greenery, even as far north as Lake of the Woods.
“The Beltrami Island State Forest was alive this past weekend with small game hunters,” DNR conservation officer Eric Benjamin wrote in his weekly summary from Warroad. “Wind, rain and thick foliage put a damper on the grouse hunting, but many still put in their time.”
Lots of leaves on trees and bushes make it difficult for hunters to shoot a flushing grouse. Moreover, extensive ground cover provides the birds more places to hide.
In the Ely area, DNR conservation officer Sean Williams said in his weekly report that the cover simply was too thick.
“Although grouse were present, hunters reported very little luck, most having hunted all weekend without seeing a bird,” Williams said.
In other reports, officers affirmed the recent, cyclical upswing in the state’s grouse population. Spring drumming counts for ruffed grouse were up 57 percent statewide this year compared to last year. In addition, the number of grouse hunters last fall was 82,348, up slightly from 2015. Those hunters harvested 309,000 grouse in 2016, an increase of 15 percent from the year before.
Matt Frericks, DNR game warden in Virginia, said high numbers of the birds were heard by hunters “who got off the beaten path.” Still, bags were mostly empty, he said.
Similarly, officer Dustie Speldrich of Willow River said grouse numbers appear to be up.
Minnesota is home to 528 designated hunting areas in the ruffed grouse range covering nearly 1 million acres. There’s more than 40 designated ruffed grouse management areas in the state and 600 miles of hunter walking trails.