I have fond memories of creating an artificial ruffed grouse drumming log on my property. I was hoping the fake log would attract a romantic male grouse, and would become the stage for his unusual, thumping love notes.
I’m happy to report a male grouse has used my faux log for three of the four years since I made it. Last year, the log was vacant. A possible reason: The extremely wet spring surrounded my log with water.
In the spring, a male ruffed grouse performs one of nature’s most captivating courtship rites. An amorous male bird will take to a fallen tree – its theater – where it performs its thump-thump-thump breeding call with exceptional reliability. The bird strikes the air with its wings vigorously enough to create a brief vacuum and a drumming noise that is by nature’s standard’s like a miniature sonic boom. (You can get an idea of a single drum by slapping your chest with an open hand.)
Most of my land located south of Brainerd is covered by sedge meadows, alder and willow. Tamaracks grow here and there. There are a few balsam firs and spruce, too. Bur oak inhabits my small spots of high ground. Bottom line: It’s obvious my property is not ideal habitat for ruffed grouse.
Yet, each spring a male ruffed grouse occupies a natural drumming log located in a corner of my land. It’s one of the only drumming sites available on the entire 70 acres. In the hopes of adding to that, I built and placed an artificial drumming log.
I assembled my drumming log by rolling up a 6-foot length of 2-inch by 4-inch welded wire fencing. Then I fastened outdoor carpeting to the wire using cable ties. It was my first attempt at building a lover’s lane for ruffed grouse.
I’ve seen many ruffed grouse drumming logs over the past 40 years. Grouse prefer to drum from the trunk of a downed tree that has its roots sticking up. A male grouse almost always chooses its spot on the log about two or three feet from the root mass.
To satisfy this preference, I affixed some extra wire to one end of the fake log and attached sticks and grass to simulate a natural root structure.
I placed the drumming log among the willows where there were no other probable drumming sites. The entire undertaking was more of an experiment for me: first, to see if a grouse would use the log and, second, to determine if a grouse could be enticed to drum in a wet, lowland area if it had a suitable stage. I also was curious to see if placing a fake drum in an area that wasn’t a natural location might be used to boost the bird’s population.
The results were mixed. Three out of four years a male ruffed grouse has used my drumming site. I don’t know if my experiment has raised the grouse population. Yet, I feel some satisfaction knowing my trial was successful.
I plan to place more faux drumming sites. The results? To be determined.
Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.