Grouse hunters in the Upper Midwest this year will likely start to notice declining bird numbers - the periodic “cycle” of grouse populations is definitely trending down. On the positive side, spring came early to the North Country, and reproduction should have been generally good for both grouse and woodcock. Woodcock singing ground surveys are stable, even increasing in some areas, indicating that the bird’s long-term decline appears to have taken a break this year. We’ll provide ruffed grouse harvest data where it’s currently lacking (Minnesota and Michigan) when it becomes available. We’ll also add brood survey reports as we get them.
Although harvest data from 2011 were not yet available when this forecast was prepared, MINNESOTA probably retained its position as the nation’s number one destination for grouse. But the spring drumming survey produced counts that were half as high as they were just three years ago. That is indicative of a definite decline in the population of adult birds. Anecdotal reports of hens with large broods, coupled with the favorable spring and early summer weather, provide hope that the young birds of the year will at least partially compensate for overall declining numbers.
The grouse harvest in WISCONSIN showed a slight increase over 2010: 337,000 birds bagged versus 324,000. But the 2011 spring drumming count showed a statewide decrease of 25 percent. While that sounds like a lot, it’s actually quite similar to the 2010 drumming survey. This means that hunters should be able to look forward to bird numbers that are perhaps down slightly from last year, but much like those of two years ago. Although the drumming survey showed the sharpest decline in the northern region, grouse numbers there are still the best in the state. And singing ground surveys show that woodcock numbers have been increasing, slowly but steadily, for several years.