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A better way to try ruffed grouse? DNR investigates whether brood survey can better predict hunt prospects – Grand Forks Herald | Gmx Pharm

GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. – It’s a work in progress, but the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is investigating whether a brood census for Ruffed Grouse would give hunters a better idea of ​​what to expect in terms of fall hunting prospects.

The survey would complement the drum counts that DNR staffers conduct each spring with the help of other staffers, including Native American tribes and other natural resource agencies.

Charlotte Roy Female Spruce Grouse.JPG

Charlotte Roy, grouse researcher with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, holds a female spruce grouse in this undated photo.

Post/Charlotte Roy

Historically, the drum count survey has been the only tool for DNR wildlife managers to sample ruffed grouse, as the forest habitat they live in makes counting them difficult. As part of the survey, staff follow predetermined routes and listen for the drumming sound of male ruffed grouse as they flap their wings rapidly to attract a mate.

In recent decades, however, drum count surveys have not correlated very well with fall conditions, said Charlotte Roy, grouse research scientist for the DNR in Grand Rapids, who coordinates the brood count survey.

Roy says that could be for a number of reasons, including West Nile virus and climate change, both of which could negatively impact nesting and breeding success.

“Since 2019, we’ve been trying to see if we can get a better handle on the fall forecast,” she said. “And so the brood census survey we’ve been doing – and I would say explore is the right word – is just to try and see if we can get a better handle on the fall forecast for hunters.

“A lot of people travel from out of state and travel long distances to hunt for gray deer, and that’s information that hunters like to know.”

In developing the survey, now in its fourth year, Roy first asked the staff on the Spring Drum Count survey if they would be willing to track their time in the field, both on foot and while driving, and indicated whether they would saw – or didn’t see – variety spawn.

“It’s important to also include observations when people aren’t seeing broods because it gives us an indicator of the effort that’s being put in,” Roy said. “If people only tell us when they see breeding but don’t tell us when they don’t, that would inflate our estimates.”

Since the initial survey, the brood count study has expanded to include staff from different departments of the DNR and even private rangers, says Roy. This year, 52 observers from across the state’s variety area—all wildlife and natural resource professionals—provided data on breeding numbers.

“They basically keep — it’s like a diary: ‘I’ve spent so much time in the field in the woods today and I haven’t seen anything. Or, that’s what I saw,'” Roy said.

The numbers are compiled by county in June, July and August, after which Roy summarizes the data and writes a report.

Ideally, the results document patterns between what observers see in the field and what hunters encounter in the fall. So far, however, the results have been mixed, says Roy.

In 2021, for example, widespread spring and summer drought created ideal conditions for heavy variety production, Roy says, and anecdotal reports from hunters indicated that they were generally pleased with the previous fall’s hunting success.

However, the results of a mail-in survey of small game hunters conducted by other DNR staff showed that last year’s ruffed grouse harvest statistics were similar to the previous two years, Roy said. The average ruffed grouse harvest has been between 3.5 and 3.7 birds per hunter since 2019, when they began investigating the brood survey.

That’s “not really a lot” of variability, says Roy.

“To date, those crop stats remain pretty much the same, even in years where we have strong production like last year,” she said. “We’ve seen good numbers in the brood survey, but then that doesn’t really reflect in the harvest statistics.”

Based on this summer’s census, counties in northeast and north-central Minnesota, including Hubbard, Cook, Itasca, Lake, and St. Louis, had the best variety production as measured by the number of broods seen “per unit time in.” the field, either on foot or while driving,” says Roy. Other counties included in her report are Becker, Beltrami, Carlton, Cass, Crow Wing and Koochiching, she says.

Districts must have at least 100 hours of observations before Roy includes them in the report.

Time will tell, Roy says, if brood counting is ultimately a reliable indicator of fall chicken hunting prospects. First, she needs a few more years of data.

“I hope so,” she said. “My goal is to develop a useful product. But if we just find that it’s not predictive, then the answer is no, because we don’t want to just release something that isn’t very useful.”

Despite the uncertainty, Roy believes the brood count has potential. Studies have shown that up to 70% of the ruffed grouse harvested in any given fall are from that year’s hatch, she says.

“If we have a bad year in production it can really impact what hunters see and experience in the fall, so I’m very confident that we can make something meaningful out of it,” Roy said. “But I want to make sure it makes sense before we have people expecting the information to be released.”

Updated: September 17, 2022 — 12:32 am

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