Up the Creek: Ruffed Grouse hunting season is on the horizon
By Ken Blomberg
On Saturday, September 15th, the 2018 ruffed grouse hunting season begins. That’s only a week from now. A Wisconsin tradition that goes back decades. The current hunting regulations show the season running from September 15th until January 31st. From warm, jungle-like conditions in mosquito laden foliage to sub-zero temperatures and knee-deep snow – the ruffed grouse season lasts four and a half months. The month of October is an upland hunter’s dream. Cool, crisp mornings, peak autumn foliage and towards the end, as the leaves fall to the ground, open shooting. After deer season ends in November, December and January offer dedicated diehard hunters an extended season. But, wait! Perhaps not this year.
Ruffed grouse populations are cyclic in nature, predictively rising and falling every 10 or 11 years. Researchers have traced that fact back to the 1850s! In 1935-36 ruffed grouse numbers crashed. In 1945-46 their numbers crashed. In 1955-56 their numbers crashed. In 1965-66, 1975-76, 1985-1986, 1995-1996, 2005-06 their populations crashed. And in 2015-16 their numbers crashed once again. Come 2021-22, Great Lakes State grouse populations should rebound to another high. And predictively, ruffed grouse numbers will crash once again in 2025-26.
But something unpredictably happened in 2017. On May 22nd the District Leadership Council (DLC) of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress met and WCC Executive Committee members discussed West Nile virus, cutting bag limits and shortening the grouse season by two months – based on antidotal evidence presented by one member of the Executive Committee. With support from the DLC, 2 WCC Executive Committee officers testified the very next day at a regularly scheduled Natural Resources Board (NRB) meeting. NRB members were convinced and directed staff to start the emergency order process. In addition, it appears WCC’s Turkey and Upland Game Committee was left out of the loop and had no input in the Executive Committee’s action. No evidence of West Nile virus in Wisconsin grouse has been documented.
According to a DNR press release, “A region wide effort to better understand West Nile virus in ruffed grouse is underway in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The Wisconsin DNR is asking hunters to submit samples from harvested ruffed grouse to be tested for West Nile virus. West Nile virus sampling kits will be distributed through DNR Wildlife Management staff. If you are interested in acquiring a West Nile virus sampling kit, please review the sampling protocols [PDF] and contact your county wildlife biologist (filter the results in the staff directory by using the “county serves” filed). The DNR will also be working with the Ruffed Grouse Society and Wisconsin Conservation Congress to distribute kits to their membership.”
On Thursday, September 6th at 6:30 pm the DNR will hold a public hearing to discuss the early closure proposal for the 2018-2019 grouse hunting season. It will be held at the Rhinelander DNR Service Center, 107 Sutliff Avenue. Comments will be accepted until September 12, 2018. An online survey will also be posted on the DNR’s web site at https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/hunt/ruffedgrouse.html.
Blomberg is the author of two books, UP THE CREEK, and WISCONSIN BIRD HUNTING TALES. Both are available at either amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com or arcadiapublishing.com. Autographed copies are available from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.