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June 14, 2011

Three out of four regions show increase

MADISON - There is good news for ruffed grouse hunters coming from 2011 spring drumming counts. Department of Natural Resources wildlife officials report that Wisconsin's ruffed gouse population appears to have increased from last year, according to data collected by wildlife staff, foresters, wardens, and countless volunteers.

"Statewide, the ruffed grouse population increased about 38 percent between 2010 and 2011," said Scott Walter, DNR upland wildlife ecologist.

"The southwest study region showed the greatest increase in drumming activity over the last year with a 118 percent increase, with all routes either increasing or remaining stable," said Walter. "The central and northern regions both showed healthy increases of 31 percent and 43 percent, respectively." No drumming grouse were heard on transects run in the southeast region, which contains the least amount of grouse cover in the state.

Grouse populations in northern Wisconsin tend to cycle predictably over an 8- to 11-year period. The previous high was in 1999, and it was assumed that Wisconsin had reached the peak of the current grouse cycle two years ago, in 2009. Biologists interpreted the reported 5 percent decrease in drumming activity observed during the 2010 survey as an indication that the ruffed grouse population had begun its cyclic downswing.

This year's robust increase in drumming activity, however, suggests that perhaps Wisconsin hunters and wildlife enthusiasts have yet to see the peak in the current population cycle.

"This is surprising, and potentially very good news for grouse hunters in the state," said Walter. "It will be interesting to see if survey results indicate similar increases in other parts of the upper Midwest. It's important to note, however, that good brood-rearing conditions over the next few weeks will also be important in determining how many grouse hunters can expect to flush come September."

Ruffed grouse are one of Wisconsin's most popular upland game birds. Their characteristic "drumming" noise is readily recognized and is produced by males during the spring breeding season. The male grouse will stand on drumming logs and rapidly beat their wings with the intention of attracting female grouse. They are closely linked to young forest habitats that develop following large disturbances, notably logging activities.

"While we often focus as hunters on grouse numbers in a single year, it's important to remember that the long-term health of grouse and other early-successional wildlife is dependent upon our ability to create the dense young cover they require," Walter added. "Lacking significant, broad-scale forms of natural disturbance such as fire, we need to ensure that intensive timber harvests remain a component of our forest management activities."

Ruffed grouse drumming surveys are divided into four regions around the state. Each spring since 1964, wildlife biologists, wardens, foresters, members of the Ruffed Grouse Society, and other volunteers have driven survey routes, stopping to listen at predetermined locations for the unmistakable sound of drumming ruffed grouse. These drumming counts and observational data on breeding success allow biologists to track grouse population changes.

"Ruffed grouse drumming surveys are helpful in tracking statewide population changes over the long term," says Sharon Fandel, assistant upland wildlife ecologist. "However, they are not necessarily the best predictors of local harvest or hunting opportunities. The most successful hunters are usually those who spend the most time in the field and cover the most ground."

There are two ruffed grouse hunting zones (pdf) in the state. The hunting dates for Zone A are Sept. 17, 2011 through Jan. 31, 2012. The dates for Zone B are Oct. 15, 2011 through Dec. 8, 2011. Daily bag limits are five birds per day in Zone A and two birds per day in Zone B. Possession limits are twice the daily bag limit. Additional information can be found on the ruffed grouse page of the DNR website.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Scott Walter, Upland Wildlife Ecologist, (608) 267-7861 or Sharon Fandel, Assistant Upland Wildlife Ecologist, (608) 261-8458 Krista McGinley, Assistant Upland Wildlife Ecologist (608) 264-8963

Last Revised: Tuesday, June 14, 2011

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