There should be more grouse in the woods this fall, though you might have to travel to northeastern Minnesota to find significantly more birds.
Hunters in central Minnesota should have started seeing grouse rebound from the low point of their 10-year population cycle several years ago. But for some reason, the birds have been slow to come around this time.
Drums per stop on Brainerd survey routes this spring were .75, compared to 1.06 in 2006 and .52 in 2005. That would appear to indicate that grouse are down again this year. But not so, according to Gary Drotts, DNR area wildlife manager in Brainerd.
"One of our 2006 routes had a suspect high reading last year," Drotts said. "If we compare this year's .75 to our 2005 number of .52, that's an increase of 50 percent over two years ago. That's probably more accurate. While our .75 is a lot less than the 1.5 found in the northeast region, we're on the far south edge of the region and don't have as much aspen habitat as the rest of the region. Therefore, our numbers are always a bit less than the heart of the ruffed grouse range."
Drotts said DNR staffers saw a lot more grouse this past winter and spring and a few dead birds on the road as well. While doing my deer stand work this spring, I heard more drumming in the woods I hunt near Randall. While not scientific, these observations point to a good year.
The huntable population in the fall consists of 20 percent adult birds and 80 percent juveniles. Dry and warm weather in June is critical to nesting success. While our weather was cold and wet during the last part of May and into early June, it dried out and got warmer after that, hopefully leading to a successful hatch and healthy broods.
"As always," Drotts points out, "the answer will be in the hunter's bags this fall. It won't be a banner year in the Brainerd area, but with a decent hatch, it should be average or above."
Meanwhile, sharp-tailed grouse numbers also are up. Sharptails are counted on leks, or dancing grounds. This year's statewide mean of 11.7 grouse counted per lek was as high as any year since 1980 and well above last year's average of 9.2. Over the past 25 years, the sharp-tailed grouse index has been as low as seven birds per lek.
VINCE MEYER, outdoors editor, may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5862.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.