Beyond a grouse hunter’s gear checklist — blaze-orange hat or vest, shotgun, pair of boots, small-game license — those with internet access who want to give grouse hunting a try have online tools available that can help make hunting plans a reality.
“Where can I hunt? That’s usually one of the first questions people ask when they want to get into grouse hunting,” said Ted Dick, forest game bird coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Thankfully it’s an easy question to answer here in Minnesota because we have some of the nation’s best grouse hunting, and it’s not hard to find public hunting land.”
Minnesota’s 2016 ruffed grouse season opens Saturday, Sept. 17, and runs through Sunday, Jan. 1.
“This looks to be another great year for grouse hunting, with spring drumming counts up 18 percent statewide likely as part of the rising phase of the 10-year grouse population cycle. So the birds are out there,” Dick said. “Grouse hunting is an inexpensive way to get into hunting, and it also happens to be a nice, active way to get kids outdoors.”
Minnesota has a network of land specifically managed for ruffed grouse habitat and hunting access. In all, 49 ruffed grouse management areas across northern and central Minnesota provide destinations for hunters and are located in areas with good potential for producing grouse and woodcock.
These management areas range from 400 to 4,800 acres in size, contain 184 miles of hunter walking trails and allow dogs. Search locations and find downloadable maps of ruffed grouse management areas at www.mndnr.gov/rgma.
“Grouse management areas are great places to start hunting, and they also give experienced hunters a way to try hunting in new regions,” Dick said. “They are well marked and the DNR maintains the trails. The Ruffed Grouse Society helped create these areas over time and last year they funded the effort to create the online tools to help people learn about them.”
Grouse hunters also can hunt woodcock using the same equipment in the same habitat, and woodcock season opens a week later on Saturday, Sept. 24.
Grouse and woodcock hunters have a wealth of public land from which to choose in addition to ruffed grouse management areas. There are 528 wildlife management areas (WMA) in the ruffed grouse range that cover nearly 1 million acres and 600 miles of hunter walking trails. State forests, two national forests and county forest lands also offer many additional acres of public land for hunting.
“You don’t need to travel to a grouse management area to find ruffed grouse, but they can be a great place to start if you’re not sure where to focus your efforts,” Dick said.
Hunters can search for hunter walking trails online at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/hwt, and the DNR website has a new search tool for finding WMAs that lets users search by county, species and wheelchair accessibility at www.mndnr.gov/wmas.
This year, sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chicken hunters can voluntarily submit samples for study by the DNR. For more information on the study and grouse hunting in general, visit www.mndnr.gov/hunting/grouse.