Early reviews of this fall’s ruffed grouse season, which opened Sept. 17 in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, are mixed at best, according to anecdotal reports. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officer reports over the past three weeks reflect generally tough hunting for many hunters with a few hunters doing well away from main roads.
“Grouse hunting has been decent,” said Ted Dick, forest game bird coordinator for the Minnesota DNR. “Two of us were out Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and we were averaging about 30 grouse flushes a day.”
The surprise of the upland season so far, Dick said, is not grouse.
“The highlight is the unlimited woodcock,” he said. “I think it’s more than I’ve ever seen. It’s pretty phenomenal.”
He said a friend had flushed 75 woodcock from water holes along a trail he was on recently.
“They’re fun with dogs. They’re fun without dogs,” Dick said. “They’re good to eat if you find a good recipe. It can add a lot to your day in the woods.”
Meadow Kouffeld-Hansen, Minnesota and Western Upper Peninsula regional biologist for the Ruffed Grouse Society, said Monday that her assessment of grouse numbers is still “up in the air right now.”
“I went out the last couple of days, and grouse are spotty,” Kouffeld-Hansen said Monday. “I have not been getting into them, but others have. Woodcock are doing well. This is similar to how it has been over the last couple of years…”
Nick Larson, a regional director for the Ruffed Grouse Society in Minnesota and other states, has spent 18 days in the field with his pointing dogs this fall in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. He’s averaging nearly four grouse flushes per hour and more than five woodcock flushes per hour. He has hunted nearly 40 hours and walked 66 miles.
“I believe the grouse numbers are up this year, true to the drumming counts,” Larson said. “Over the last week, many of the leaves have fallen and the grouse are spreading out, making bird contacts more consistent throughout the day. The woodcock should be migrating very soon, if not already. The hunting has been good and we’re hitting the prime of the season now.”
Spring ruffed grouse drumming counts were up 18 percent statewide in Minnesota and up just 1 percent in Wisconsin.
In Wisconsin, DNR wildlife biologist Greg Kessler at Brule said grouse hunters are seeing a few more birds than last year.
“Due to light frost and dying of at least some aspen leaves, grouse are feeding more on the ground and near trails where sunlight encourages the fresh greens they like to feed on,” Kessler said on Tuesday. “Woodcock started migrating through in good numbers about 10 days ago.”
Conservation officers with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources have run across some hunters having success with grouse, but most officers say hunter success has been low, even as leaves begin to come down. Here are some snippets of reports from Monday’s conservation-officer reports:
From Colleen Adam at Ray: “Foliage is starting to fall, making pursuit a little easier. Hunters walking with dogs on side trails are finding more birds due to the volume of traffic on forest roads.”
Darrin Kittelson, International Falls: “Small-game hunters were out in the field between rain showers. However, few birds were seen in the bag.”
Sean Williams, Ely: “Grouse hunters reported seeing more birds, as the understory is finally leaving. One group targeting woodcock had limits for both days they hunted the area.”
Darin Fagerman, Grand Marais: “Even with the leaves gone in the lower brush areas, hunters are reporting poor results as far as grouse go. Most success has been with young-of-the-year birds. Many walking trails are impassable (due to) the heavy snow from last December that has pushed the alder brush and willows over the trails.”
Mary Manning, Hovland: “(Manning) reports an uptick in numbers of grouse hunters, although not in numbers of birds taken.”
Minnesota’s ruffed grouse season continues through Jan. 1. Wisconsin’s grouse season continues through Jan. 31 in Zone A. The woodcock season in both Minnesota and Wisconsin closes Nov. 7.