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Northland ruffed grouse drumming counts fall significantly

Better make sure you have good hunting boots this fall. You might be walking a little farther between grouse flushes. Minnesota's ruffed grouse spring drumming counts showed an average decline of 24 to 60 percent across the northeast survey regio...

Drumming count changes

Better make sure you have good hunting boots this fall. You might be walking a little farther between grouse flushes.

Minnesota's ruffed grouse spring drumming counts showed an average decline of 24 to 60 percent across the northeast survey region, which is the core of the state's grouse range, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced this past week.

Drumming counts in the northwest declined 33 to 73 percent. Drumming counts did not change significantly in the central hardwoods or southeast regions.

Minnesota's ruffed grouse population tends to rise and fall on a 10-year cycle, and biologists had expected a decline in drumming counts this spring.

"The grouse population is in the declining phase of its 10-year cycle," said Mike Larson, DNR wildlife research group leader and grouse biologist at Grand Rapids. "The most recent peak in drum counts was during 2009, but hunter harvests remained relatively high through at least 2010."

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Wisconsin's drumming counts, announced earlier this month, were down 25 percent statewide.

After peaking in 2009, grouse drumming counts remained near the high for the past two years.

"I think last year, we were surprised it held its level or even went up a little," said Ted Dick, DNR grouse coordinator at Grand Rapids.

Grouse populations usually fall to their 10-year lows in the middle of the decade.

"We're looking at 2013 to 2015 being the low end," Larson said.

Ruffed grouse populations are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state's forested regions. This year observers recorded 1.0 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2010 and 2011 were 1.5 and 1.7 drums per stop, respectively. Counts vary from about 0.8 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 1.9 during years of high abundance.

Minnesota frequently is the nation's top ruffed grouse producer. On average, 115,000 hunters harvest 545,000 ruffed grouse in Minnesota each year, also making it the state's most popular game bird. More hunters typically go afield in years when the grouse population is higher, although in recent peaks in the grouse cycle, hunter numbers haven't matched those of other peaks.

The DNR also announced that its long-rang grouse habitat and population management plan has been released and is available online at www.mndnr.gov/grouse .

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Sharp-tailed grouse counts in the northwest survey region decreased about 18 percent between 2011 and 2012, Larson said. Counts in the east-central region declined approximately 33 percent. Sharptail populations appear to have declined over the long term as a result of habitat deterioration.

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