Minnesota is home to 17 million acres of forest land and 630 miles of walking trails open to hunters. Ruffed grouse habitats are primarily in the central and northern regions and extend into the southeast along the Mississippi River. In northern Minnesota, ongoing timber management aids in continued creation of excellent grouse habitat in various stages of growth, which provides hunters with many more options than other states.
“Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin are the top grouse-hunting states in the lower 48, but Minnesota has more young aspen forest [that grouse prefer] than Wisconsin and Michigan combined,” says Ted Dick, forest game bird coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
According to a recent DNR survey, “The ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) is the most popular game bird in Minnesota, with an annual harvest averaging more than 500,000 birds.” Even in below average years, hunters in other states envy Minnesota’s flush rates.
“The out-of-state grouse hunters love to come to Minnesota, because even our lowest bird population years are still better than their best.” says Ed Fussy of Pimushe Resort near Bemidji. Fussy has hosted avid grouse hunters for more than 20 years at his resort. “Just last fall, some of our hunters had 20- to 30-a-day bird flushes.”
Considered “the king of game birds,” grouse challenge hunters to use all their senses, DNR’s Dick says. Grouse hunters need to be careful, quiet and quick on the draw, but even novices can easily pick up the sport. The only equipment needed is a basic shotgun and some good boots; guides and hunting dogs are not required.
Wayne Jacobson, owner of the Sawmill Inn of Grand Rapids, has hosted the National Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock Hunt for more than 30 years. This prestigious annual hunt attracts hunters from all over the world. Jacobson says the two top reasons that Minnesota is so popular with grouse hunters are “more public hunting land available” and “more birds to hunt, even in our down years.”
Minnesota’s fall climate is perfect for grouse hunting—cool temperatures for ruffed grouse, hunters and dogs. The leaves begin to change to brilliant hues of gold and red in mid- to late September. Grouse hunting success tends to peak around the second and third week in October, while there’s still fall color but a lot of the leaves are off the trees. At peak grouse hunting season, temperatures can reach below freezing at night and a pleasant 55 to 60º by midday.
Noted for its muffled drumming sounds during the mating season. During courtship, ruffed grouse display banded fan-shaped tails. Males have a concealed neck ‘ruff’. Colors from gray to chestnut. In winter, they have comb-like fringes on their toes, allowing for easy travel on snow. Ruffed grouse are loners, except during mating season in April.
Length: About 12” • Weight: About 1.5 lb.
The sharptail is a large grouse, that lives in open grassy or brushland areas. Sharp-tailed grouse are a mottled brown and gray. During spring mating season, the male’s eyebrows are yellow and its air-inflated throat sacks are lavender. They make a cackle while flying.
Length: 15 – 20” • Weight: 2 – 3 lb.
Similar to the ruffed grouse, the spruce is darker with a head that’s a mix of red, yellow and white, especially during the spring mating season. The male tries to attract females by making one or two loud “claps” by beating air beneath its wings. They mate in April or May. Nicknamed fool’s hen or fool’s grouse because they aren’t afraid of people.
Length: 16 – 19” • Weight: About 1 1/5 lb.