Northland is flush with grouse
Two weeks into ruffed grouse season, many hunters are already proclaiming it a banner year. Some hunters are finding mixed success depending on where they're hunting, but many are finding lots of birds.
"This is the best grouse hunting I've seen since the '90s," said Darrell Spencer of Duluth. "In certain areas, I'm flushing 20-plus a day, hunting three or four hours. Last Saturday, I flushed 35 birds."
Those numbers are outstanding, especially when compared to recent years.
Spencer has found most of his birds in the Chippewa National Forest area, although he's found decent numbers north of Duluth. So have others, said Ted Davey of Chalstrom's Bait and Tackle.
"Oh, gosh. There's lots of them," Davey said. "It seems like everybody has filled out no problem, from here up to toward Pequaywan (Lake). It's the best year I ever remember."
Jude Atkinson of Duluth has been out several times since the season opened.
"I was out on Monday or Tuesday, and we flushed seven birds in an hour and a half," Atkinson said. "Another buddy flushed 10 and got three."
Spring drumming counts were down 31 percent from last year across Northeastern Minnesota, but hens must have produced some healthy broods this past spring.
Last year was supposed to have been the peak in the ruffed grouse 10-year population cycle, and drumming count numbers this year remain respectable.
"In general, we're hearing very few complaints. People are saying good things. Not always exceptional, but some very good ones," said Ted Dick, ruffed grouse coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Aitkin. "I'm hearing about good numbers from Grand Marias over to Ely and up to Koochiching County.
"The birds are there. They were probably there last year. But with this weather, people are having a lot more fun."
Hunters also are reporting good woodcock numbers, Dick said. Spring singing-ground counts were up 21 percent in Minnesota.
"We think the numbers are pretty good," he said.
But most hunters are looking for grouse.
"There seems to be a lot of birds," said avid grouse hunter Doug Nelson of Virginia. "Last Saturday, out with a German shorthair, we flushed 20 birds and got six. So far, we're seeing a lot of birds -- or hearing them."
That's the only problem so far. Many leaves remain on the trees, so getting a clear shot at a flushing bird isn't always easy. But unlike last year, when leaf fall occurred late into October, this year's leaf fall seems to be progressing at a more typical rate.
Bear hunting guide Mike Bissonette of Babbitt said he's seen grouse all fall.
"Running my (bear) baits, I saw birds," he said. "The other day I went out. I expected to see a couple or three or four. I saw 24 birds from about 5 to 7 p.m. They were all singles, no coveys."
Minnesota DNR conservation officer John Velsvaag of Ely checked grouse hunters the first week of the season and reported a lot of success. Conservation officer Jeff Humphrey of Cromwell said hunters he checked reported mixed success.
Pat Kukull of Superior Shooter's Supply in Superior said she's heard good grouse reports from Bayfield County but hadn't heard any reports yet from Douglas County.
Minnesota's ruffed grouse season continues through Jan. 2. Wisconsin's season, in the north zone, continues through Jan. 31.