Hunters are optimists, and Ted Dick fits the mold.
Dick, 53, an ardent ruffed grouse hunter and forest game bird coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources, expects a successful fall for Minnesota’s ruffie season, which opens Saturday.
In the Q and A below, he talks about hunting prospects, the best places to find birds, why fewer people are hunting grouse and more.
Q: The ruffed grouse drumming counts were flat this spring. What do you expect hunters will find in the woods this season?
A: We’re saying it’s going to be pretty good. The number of chicks that are produced in June can make a big difference come fall, and it was warm and mostly dry during the nesting season. We’re hearing anecdotal reports that chicks survived in good numbers. I’m expecting good things.
Q: The population should be increasing in the next few years in the birds’ 10-year boom-to-bust cycle?
A: I think we’re on the way up. We didn’t see an increase this year (in the drumming counts) because of the lack of snow, I think. (Birds roost in deep snow, protecting them from cold and predators.) We think winter survival was lower. I would hope the drumming counts go up next year, given decent weather conditions. The population cycle now should peak in the years toward the end of the decade.
Q: Where should hunters look for birds early in the season?
A: I like to stay on wetter edges early, along beaver ponds or swamps. The general rule is find the thickest, ugliest stuff to walk, where shrubs grow thick and provide lots of food and cover. Generally, you want 5- to 10-year-old aspen — stuff that is the diameter of a broomstick to maybe 2 inches.
Q: For young hunters especially, some say, grouse hunting is tough to beat because it’s easier than hunting waterfowl or pheasants.
A: It’s a great entry-level sport; all it takes is a shotgun and a pair of boots. There’s nothing easier. And there’s an abundance of public land: 17 million acres of forest, and 11 million of that is public where you don’t have to ask permission. It’s a beautiful way to get out in the fall. And a very inexpensive way to give hunting a try.
Q: More than 83,000 hunters pursued ruffed grouse last year, an 11 percent increase from 2013. Their numbers tend to ebb and flow with the grouse population. But we don’t see nearly as many grouse hunters as we used to in the past. (There were 142,000 in 1998.) Why not?
A: It’s a problem we have with all outdoor shooting activities. The average age of hunters is getting older, and the trend (in hunter numbers) is going down. We’re struggling because of a lot of factors. People have lots of other things to do in the fall. That’s one reason my job (paid for by the Ruffed Grouse Society and DNR) was created, to try to keep people informed on grouse hunting opportunities. Because Minnesota ruffed grouse hunting is as good as it gets anywhere.
Q: Hunting dogs getting accidentally caught — and sometimes killed — in traps has been a recent concern. The Ruffed Grouse Society and DNR went on record last spring supporting legislation to restrict the use of body-gripping traps in an attempt to reduce accidental dog deaths. The legislation didn’t pass. Your thoughts?
A: It concerns me. I know several people who have had dogs killed in traps. RGS supports trapping, but we want it safer (for dogs). Most people have no idea how traps work. You have to learn how to remove them quickly and efficiently. I practice ahead of time. There’s a good chance you can save the dog if you’re prepared. I try to train my dogs to stay away from traps.
Q: The DNR through the Ruffed Grouse Society offers mentored grouse hunts to introduce people to the sport.
A: We have 14 people signed up this fall. It used to be for kids, but we’ll take anyone out who wants to learn more about grouse hunting.
Q: Will you be hunting Saturday?
A: I wouldn’t miss it. I have a 5-month old English setter puppy, so we won’t hunt all day. I want to expose him to wild birds and guns. Everything is new for him. It’s a lot of fun.