The RGS reports national ruffed grouse and woodcock hunt results. The Ruffed Grouse Society’s National Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock Hunt is conducted during the second week in October each year in and around Grand Rapids, Minnesota. This world-class event is sponsored and coordinated by the Grand Rapids MN Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society. Chapter volunteers contribute literally thousands of hours of their time to make the Hunt happen. The hunt is hosted at the Sawmill Inn, owned by the Jacobson family. “We are proud to host this annual event each year; it gives us an opportunity to showcase the very best Grand Rapids has to offer,” Wayne Jacobson shares.
The Hunt provides an unparalleled opportunity to study the population ecology of ruffed grouse and woodcock. The manner in which the Hunt is structured is what makes it so unique in the field of wildlife research and so valuable to wildlife conservation.
The late Gordon W. Gullion, universally acknowledged as the world’s expert on ruffed grouse, immediately recognized the scientific potential of the Hunt when the event was first held in 1982. Gullion understood that because the Hunt is conducted in the same locale, at the same time each year and using the same methods, it provides an outstanding opportunity to study the annual variation of the local ruffed grouse population and how that variation relates to the 10-year cycle.
Ruffed grouse populations in northern Minnesota, and elsewhere throughout the northern portions of the grouse range, exhibit a cycle of approximately 10 years. Cyclic lows typically occur in years ending in “4” or “5”. These lows are followed by four to five years of increasing populations toward the cyclic high, which typically occurs in years ending in “9” or “0”. Four to five years of subsequent population declines lead to another low, and the cycle again begins.
These population cycles have been documented in Minnesota for over 60 years. Not surprisingly, the ruffed grouse harvest at the Hunt shows a strong correlation with the ruffed grouse population cycle in northern Minnesota. During cyclic highs, each hunter at the Hunt will harvest 2.0 to 2.5 ruffed grouse each day during the two-day event. Daily harvest per hunter during cyclic lows is only 0.6 to 1.0 grouse.
Like ruffed grouse, the harvest of American woodcock at the Hunt is related to trends in Minnesota’s woodcock population. Since 1997 when the woodcock daily bag limit was reduced from five birds to three, Hunt participants have harvested on average one to two woodcock per day.
In total, the 50 teams at the Hunt (two hunters per team) will harvest approximately 200 to 400 ruffed grouse and 300 to 400 woodcock. Although these totals may seem quite large, this harvest is in reality merely a drop in the bucket as it is distributed over almost 8,000 square miles of public and private land.
The 32nd National Hunt was conducted on October 10 and 11, 2013. This year marked the 4th consecutive year that Minnesota’s ruffed grouse drumming survey documented a decline in the ruffed grouse population, although the decline from 2012 wasn’t dramatic. As expected, the 2013 ruffed grouse harvest at the Hunt was very similar to that recorded in 2012. In 2013, each hunter harvested an average of 1.06 grouse per day; the average daily harvest in 2012 was 1.05 grouse.
The 2013 woodcock harvest was down from that achieved in 2012. In 2013, each hunter harvested an average of 2.03 woodcock per day; the average daily harvest in 2012 was 2.35 woodcock. In 2012, weather conditions led to large numbers of migrant woodcock in local covers, so the decline in hunter success in 2013 wasn’t surprising.
Physical examination of ruffed grouse and woodcock harvested at the Hunt demonstrated that the unusually cold and prolonged spring of 2013 may have affected local populations. Numerous small ruffed grouse were taken, including several that were determined to have hatched in mid-July based on the progress of wing feather molt. Peak grouse hatch in northern Minnesota typically occurs during the first two weeks in June. Likewise, wing feather molt on some adult female woodcock showed that these hens probably had relatively late broods. Females that breed later than normal have less time to recover physically before the trials of migration (woodcock) or winter (ruffed grouse).
Each year the data collected at the National Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock Hunt give us a chance to better understand these two important game birds. In essence, the Hunt serves as a window through which we can view their world.
Established in 1961, the Ruffed Grouse Society is North America’s foremost conservation organization dedicated to preserving our sporting traditions by creating healthy forest habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock and other wildlife. RGS works with landowners and government agencies to develop critical habitat utilizing scientific management practices.
Information on RGS, its mission, management projects and membership can be found on the web at: www.ruffedgrousesociety.org.