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Will grouse drumming counts hold up?

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We know the facts: Ruffed grouse drumming counts were up modestly in both Minnesota and Wisconsin this past spring.

Here's what we don't know: How did the extended cool, wet weather in early June affect survival of nesting grouse chicks?

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Mike Larson, grouse biologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources at Grand Rapids, isn't worried. Yes, he says, weather can be a factor in local areas -- but usually not regionwide or statewide.

Ruffed grouse hunting season opens Saturday in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"I'm not a huge believer in weather having a huge effect on grouse," Larson said. "They're hardy birds. They've evolved with all this stuff."

Minnesota ruffed grouse drumming counts were up 9 percent in the northeast,

Eight percent statewide, after large increases in the past two years. Last fall's harvest dropped unexpectedly compared with the previous year, but that was an exception, Larson thinks.

"I'm optimistic that we'll rebound on the harvest end of things this fall," Larson said.

In Wisconsin, drumming counts were up 12 percent in the northern region this past spring. As in Minnesota, the grouse population appears to be increasing each year as it works toward the peak of its 10-year cycle.

"Drumming counts were up, but not as much as we expected them to be," said Fred Strand, Wisconsin DNR wildlife manager in Superior. "Just talking with people who have been out, the results have been mixed. Some say they're seeing a fair number of broods. Others say they're not seeing much."

Consider this as you look forward to this fall's grouse hunting: Last fall, in Minnesota, hunters took an average of 3.2 grouse per hunter for the entire season. At the last peak in the grouse population cycle (1998), the average was 6.7 birds harvested per hunter. From the best year to the worst year -- about three birds per year difference per hunter.

Which is why Strand reminds hunters not to get too hung up on the numbers.

"The most important part is to go," he said.

The seasons

MINNESOTA: Sept. 13 to Jan. 4. Limit: Five (ruffed and spruce grouse combined)

WISCONSIN: Sept. 13 to Jan. 31 (northern zone). Limit: Five

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