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Ruffed grouse management

Attention: The 2019-2020 ruffed grouse season dates have changed for Zone A. Per Emergency Board Order WM-18-19(E) [PDF], the 2019 ruffed grouse season in Zone A is now September 14 - January 5, 2020.

The change does not impact season dates for Zone B, which is October 19 - December 8, 2019. Bag limits remain 5 birds in Zone A and 3 birds in Zone B.

Ruffed grouse thrive in young, early successional forests, which is why the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has taken a proactive and highly collaborative approach to not just ruffed grouse management, but to young forest habitat management in general. As forest ownership and use continue to shift from large, working forests to small, non-industrial private forests, the importance of active young forest management on both public and private lands has grown. In response, Wisconsin DNR has taken numerous steps to address conservation challenges associated with grouse habitat, including active young forest management on state lands, extensive public outreach efforts, and establishing strong partnerships to deliver technical and financial assistance to private landowners.

Habitat management

Habitat partnerships

The department collaborates with a variety of partner groups to promote young forest management on both state-owned land and privately-owned land. One part of these partnerships is to provide private landowners with technical and financial assistance to manage their property for young forest, which benefit ruffed grouse. See below for more information on these partnerships.

  • Young Forest Initiative
    • In 2011, the DNR helped launch the Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership to educate and engage landowners on active forest management, with the intention of providing landowners with the technical and financial assistance needed to create young forest habitat that will benefit ruffed grouse and other early successional wildlife species.
  • Wisconsin forest wildlife specialists [exit DNR]
    • The DNR partners with Ruffed Grouse Society and USDA - Natural Resource Conservation Service to support 2 forest wildlife specialists in Wisconsin. These specialists promote young forest habitat on private lands by offering technical assistance and Farm Bill conservation program enrollment to landowners.


Population trends

Each year, biologists, wardens, foresters, members of the Ruffed Grouse Society, and other volunteers conduct ruffed grouse drumming surveys and summer brood surveys throughout Wisconsin. Ruffed grouse drumming surveys have been conducted since 1964 and brood surveys have been conducted since 1970. Other ruffed grouse surveys include the annual small game harvest survey and the summer wildlife inquiry. Together, these surveys provide information on ruffed grouse production and population trends.

The ruffed grouse population is known to cycle on a 9-11-year cycle, with peak population numbers typically in years that end with 9, 0 or 1. Over the last 50 years, the drumming and brood surveys indicate an overall downward trend in the grouse population, with the cyclical highs not as high as the past. This trend is likely the result of the long-term aging of Wisconsin's forests.

Management plan

Ruffed grouse management plan - January 2020

Starting in September of 2018, an ad hoc committee was formed to create Wisconsin's ruffed grouse management plan. The plan will serve as a tool for managing ruffed grouse in our state, and include topics such as ruffed grouse ecology, the history of the species and future goals of ruffed grouse management in Wisconsin. The committee assembled to produce this plan is a diverse group, representing government agencies, non-governmental organizations, tribal interests and conservation groups.

The Wisconsin Ruffed Grouse Management Plan 2020-2030 was approved by the Natural Resources Board on December 11, 2019.

Disease sampling

West Nile virus sampling

A region wide effort to better understand West Nile virus in ruffed grouse is underway in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The DNR is taking a 2-pronged approach to analyze disease prevalence in Wisconsin's ruffed grouse. First, the DNR is asking hunters to submit samples from harvested grouse using self-sampling kits. Second, the DNR is asking anyone out in the field, hunting or otherwise, to report any sick or dead grouse and submit it for sampling.

Self-sampling kits

Thank you to all hunters who submitted a self-sampling kit for the 2018 season. Samples are currently being processed, results will be posted publicly as soon as they become available. If you submitted a sample in 2018, you will be notified via email as soon as the results from your sample are received. If you have a kit from 2018 you were unable to fill DNR encourages you to fill it and send it in this year, nothing in the kit expires. If you are interested in a sample kit for 2019 please contact your local wildlife biologist.

Report sick or dead grouse

If you see any ruffed grouse that look or are acting sick, or if you find a freshly dead grouse in the field, take note of the location and promptly call your county wildlife biologist. If you are willing to collect the carcass for West Nile virus sampling, please follow the instructions below:

  • Please keep the entire bird intact.
  • Place it into a plastic bag and keep the bird cool, but not frozen. It is recommended you wear gloves whenever handling dead animals.
  • The same day or the next day, bring the whole ruffed grouse carcass to your county wildlife biologist. Prompt collection of ruffed grouse is necessary to prevent decomposition or scavenging.
  • If you are unable to drop off the carcass with your county biologist, you can ship the carcass to the DNR by contacting the Wildlife Disease Specialist, Nancy Businga, at 608-221-5375 for a pre-paid shipping box.
  • Carcasses in poor condition (scavenged with openings into the body cavity, having an odor, or maggots present) will not be usable for testing, but please take note of the location and report these sightings to your county wildlife biologist.
Contact information
For information on ruffed grouse management, contact:
Alaina Gerrits
Assistant upland wildlife ecologist
Bureau of Wildlife Management
Last revised: Friday December 27 2019