Will Wisconsin grouse hunters see earlier end to pending season?

Whether Wisconsin’s ruffed grouse hunters see an earlier end to their season this year remains to be seen.

The DNR will bring a proposal to the Aug. 8 Natural Resources Board (NRB) meeting to close the season Nov. 30 in northern and western counties.

Resource managers are concerned over the failure of ruffed grouse drumming surveys to show an upturn in the statewide population. The surveys are just an index to the population. While the southeast shows an increase, the grouse stronghold of the north was down 38 percent, with central counties down 29 percent.

Grouse populations normally fluctuate on a 10-year cycle, but populations have not bounced back. The feeling is that “something has happened.”

At the board’s June 27 meeting, Dr. Frederick Prehn, board member from Wausau, introduced a motion to end the season in early January. His concern is saving adult birds that would be breeders the following spring.

Mike Riggle, of the Conservation Congress, told the board that because of the “additive effect” of late-season hunting on grouse population, he recommended ending the season Nov. 30. That is often when grouse switch from feeding on ground vegetation to “budding” in treetops as snow covers the ground.

The DNR made no recommendation on a shortened season, saying that habitat is the key factor in grouse survival.

Hunting is compensatory:  Those birds not harvested during the season are often killed by predators, though late-season harvest may have an impact on spring breeders.

Riggle said he thinks that the West Nile virus had an impact on ruffed grouse last year, though there were no documented cases in Wisconsin – only in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The DNR will attempt to gather samples from grouse this fall and make kits available to hunters to provide samples. Hunters and landowners who see sick grouse are asked to contact the DNR.

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