Survey Results Put North Dakota Grouse, Partridge Declines Into Perspective

North Dakota hunters will encounter fewer sharptails this year, the Game and Fish Department says. North Dakota’s grouse season opens Saturday, Sept. 9. (Photo/ Craig Bihrle, North Dakota Game and Fish Department)

North Dakota’s grouse and partridge seasons open Saturday, but the Game and Fish Department sent out a news release after lunch with some gloomy news about hunting prospects.

In a nutshell: Roadside sharptail counts per 100 miles were down 29 percent in the annual summer survey, while Hungarian partridge counts were down 62 percent.

I’ll have more about the grouse outlook on Sunday’s Herald Outdoors pages, including a preview on next weekend’s Minnesota grouse opener. Ruffed grouse are the stars of the show in Minnesota, while sharptails are limited to parts of northwest and west-central Minnesota.

There’s cause for optimism, based on spring drumming count surveys, which were up 57 percent statewide. I spent a couple of days this past spring in a ruffed grouse blind near Norris Camp, headquarters of Red Lake Wildlife Management Area south of Warroad, Minn., and the woods were alive with drumming at times. I’ve heard grouse drumming hundreds of times over the years, but I’d never been lucky enough to see a drummer up-close-and-personal until I visited the grouse blind.

It’s a fun rite of spring to experience.

Personally, I’m skeptical the high drumming counts will translate into a corresponding increase in flushes and hunting success. In northwest Minnesota where I hunt, the “June monsoons” of recent years held off until the middle part of the month, so hopefully the impact on brood success was minimal.

There’s no easy way to sample brood success for the forest birds, and managers I talked to said they haven’t seen many broods recently. That’s not a surprise, given that trees and bushes still are in full foliage.

For hunters, there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to hit the trails and pound the brush. The drumming counts should translate into at least a few more birds in the woods, and that’s certainly cause for excitement as the best time of the year approaches.

Good years and down years, I looking forward to getting out in the woods and logging some miles, and this fall is no exception.

For a closer look, check out my preview in Sunday’s outdoors pages or online here.