Saturday marks opening day of Minnesota and Wisconsin’s bow deer hunting seasons and small game seasons, including ruffed grouse. Both seasons continue through the end of the year or into January (check regulations for exact dates). And the city of Duluth’s bow hunt for deer also opens Saturday, continuing through Dec. 31.
You probably won’t see bow hunters in the woods. They tend to travel alone, and, except in a few open areas, they sit in tree stands high above the ground. I wouldn’t doubt that many Duluth bow hunters have watched hikers and dog-walkers pass beneath them at times in the hunt’s five-year history. But in five years, the hunt has had no accidents or safety issues involving the general public.
Grouse hunters, required to wear blaze orange, will be easier to pick out on back country trails, and lots of them will be riding ATVs. The peak of the ruffed grouse 10-year population cycle was last fall, but wet conditions and leaves that remained on trees well into October made it hard for hunters to capitalize on that population. This year, grouse drumming counts were down 31 percent in Northeastern Minnesota, but plenty of birds will be out there.
The number of grouse hunters has been trending downward for the past 10 years. That’s not good news for the state wildlife agencies, which need the license dollars, nor for manufactures of hunting gear and ammunition. But it could be mean that hunters who do venture out will have less competition for their spots.