A Walk in the Woods

Grouse hunting begins next weekend and it’s about the only time of the year I can get my son to go hiking with me. We have seen lots of grouse this year on the Gunflint Trail and it looks like more of the young ones have survived through the summer than usual. In the spring there’s a long line of chicks behind the momma grouse and normally by fall there’s just two or three left.  This year there are families with five or six chicks still hanging out.  We’ll see how many of them make it through the hunting season.

DNR NEWS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                              Sept. 4, 2014

Enjoy fall, hunt grouse this year; season opens Sept. 13

Picture yourself walking on a trail through stands of young aspen trees with blazing yellow leaves overhead. The fall air is crisp. Shotgun in hand, you’re enjoying a hike while hunting grouse – Minnesota’s most popular game bird.

Something akin to this scene will soon be reality for the nearly 100,000 grouse hunters in Minnesota. The season for ruffed and spruce grouse runs from Saturday, Sept. 13, until Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015; and for sharp-tailed grouse from Sept. 13 to Sunday, Nov. 30.

“Grouse hunting in Minnesota is some of the best in the nation,” said Ted Dick, forest game bird coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Minnesota has 17 million acres of forest land, much of it public, and an extensive system of nonmotorized hunter walking trails open to grouse hunters. This fall is a great time to get out there and hunt grouse.”

Spring drumming counts were up 34 percent compared to 2013, possibly signaling the start of an upswing in the 10-year grouse cycle that since 2009 has been in the declining phase. However, brood rearing success may have been affected by a cold, wet spring.

“When grouse hunting season starts we will get a better idea how successful grouse were at rearing broods,” Dick said. “So far, we’re hearing optimistic reports.”

Unlike some types of hunting, grouse hunting requires little investment. Hunters need only a blaze-orange hat or vest, a shotgun, a sturdy pair of boots, a valid small-game license and a willingness to walk.

“In a 2011 survey, many hunters indicated that bagging a limit of birds was far less important than getting out in nature and spending time with family and friends,” Dick said. “Yet, grouse make great table fare. They fly fast, making them a challenge to hunt. Despite the challenge, because of their high numbers in this state and grouse hunters’ ability to hunt with friends, family and dogs, they can make for a good introduction to upland bird hunting.”

Grouse tend to be drawn to young forests where trees are less than a few inches in diameter, and they often are found on the edges of younger woods or the edges of trails where they can feed on clover and broad-leafed plants.

There are 528 wildlife management areas in the ruffed grouse range that cover nearly 1 million acres, 43 designated ruffed grouse management areas and 600 miles of hunter walking trails. Search for hunter walking trails online at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/hwt. State forests, two national forests and county forest lands also offer many additional acres of public land for grouse hunting. Find public land on which to hunt by using the DNR’s Recreation Compass at www.mndnr.gov/maps/compass.html.

Grouse hunters usually use 12- or 20-gauge shotguns and No. 7-1/2 target or field loads. The daily limit for ruffed and spruce grouse is five combined, with a possession limit of 10. The daily limit for sharp-tailed grouse is three, with a possession limit of six. For more information on grouse hunting, see www.mndnr.gov/hunting/grouse.

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