NORTHLAND NATURE JOURNAL: More bears and deer than grouse in recent years

Grouse season begins Sept 19. (Adobe Stock)
JohnCindy -

I got a text from a buddy yesterday asking how many grouse I was seeing while I was baiting bears and it hit me like a brick that I had seen more bears than grouse.

I know I have said for quite a few years now that we have more deer than grouse here in Zone 259.

So I got to looking through the Minnesota DNR website at harvest numbers. I found all kinds of stuff on deer and finally found some small game harvest numbers. I have been on a couple advisory boards and found many errors in the numbers. Looking at these did not disappoint.

I pulled up 2018. The DNR says the 2018 ruffed grouse (195,515) declined 30 percent from the 2017 estimate (285,180) and was lowest in the last 11 years.

Then I pulled up grouse hunter numbers (67,765) and harvest per hunter (2.9) and that comes to 195,518. I guess a 1,000 difference is “close enough” for an estimate.


I pulled up 2014 figures, which said 301,190 – yet from the number of hunters and harvest per hunter I got 298,872 so I guess we assume an error of at least a 1,000. I’d expect better. Just realize, as hard as I tried to get accurate numbers, these are DNR estimates and appear from some pretty sloppy work.

In 2018, we also killed 188,706 deer in the state. That’s pretty close. And hunters also killed 205,395 rooster pheasants. So in 2018 we killed more exotic rooster pheasants than all native ruffed grouse.

So I have been doing a little thinking…what’s changed since the 70s and early 80s of my youth when I was brought up in true, road hunting tradition when we killed lots of grouse, and the only time we left the vehicle was generally to pick up a dead bird? We sometimes got out and shot the bird(s) from around the back of the vehicle, but we were not walking trails. The trails back then were in tough shape, and a lot of forest roads needed 4-wheel drive to get through the mud holes – and even then they got stuck. There were lots of trails with clover and vegetation.

Now roads are maintained, allowing an invasion of ATVs and motor picks and dirt trails criss-crossing the forest all over and providing feeding lanes for an abundance of hawks and owls. We now have fisher, gray and red fox, raccoons, skunks, and bobcats at much much higher levels, yet we blame global warming and mosquitoes? Oh, I almost forgot we also lengthened the season.

An outdoorsman all his life, Dallas Hudson grew up in Akeley. He tracks the birds, animals, insects, plants of northern Minnesota in his daily journals. Hudson shares his nature observations and photos with KAXE’s Season Watch, the Minnesota Phenology Network and the Park Rapids Enterprise. He works at an official field camp of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) on Shingobee Lake, near Akeley.

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