At the risk of jinxing it, this is shaping up to be a very good fall if you’re an upland game bird hunter.
Whether sharp-tailed grouse, Hungarian partridge or ruffed grouse, the outlook is optimistic to downright bullish on both sides of the Red River.
Grouse and partridge season opens Saturday, Sept. 9, in North Dakota and Saturday, Sept. 16, in Minnesota. That’s followed a few weeks later by pheasant season, which opens Saturday, Oct. 7, in North Dakota and at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, in Minnesota.
In North Dakota, the Game and Fish Department hadn’t released results from its August roadside brood count surveys before the deadline for this column, but all signs point to good production. Jesse Kolar, upland game management supervisor for Game and Fish in Dickinson, hinted as much in last week’s
“North Dakota Outdoors” webcast,
a weekly video feature the department produces.
Sharptail broods in the survey were averaging four to seven chicks, “which is good — a little bit up from last year,” Kolar said in the webcast. RJ Gross, an upland game biologist for the department, made a
similar prediction for pheasants during a “North Dakota Outdoors” webcast
a few weeks earlier.
The roadside survey was still a work in progress at that time, “but I’m optimistic it’s going to be a real good fall,” Gross said in the webcast. Spring pheasant crowing counts were up 30% statewide from last year, with the highest counts in the southwest and northwest, at 19.5 and 16.6 crows per stop, respectively, Game and Fish reported in June.
Spring sharptail and Hungarian partridge counts were similar to 2022, which came as a bit of a surprise, given the severe winter, Kolar said in last week’s webcast. Spring drumming counts for ruffed grouse in the Turtle Mountains were also up 40%, Kolar said, but the department wasn’t able to conduct the spring drumming survey in the Pembina Hills.
The abundance of Hungarian partridge has been especially surprising, Kolar said.
“Partridge continue to surprise us every year,” Kolar said in the webcast. “Every year, we think that this is probably going to be the last year where we see partridge this high. This year again, they’re increasing — another year of really big brood sizes and lots of broods.”
In the webcast, Kolar said he didn’t expect upland birds to survive as well as they did during the severe winter of 2022-23.
“To be honest, it’s a little bit of a mystery why upland birds survived the winter as well as they did compared to deer or pronghorn,” Kolar said. It could be, he said, that there weren’t as many of the severe blizzards that trap and suffocate upland birds. Snow also provides thermal cover for both sharptails and Huns.
“As long as they can find food, the snow can be helpful in some ways,” Kolar said.
In northwest Minnesota, where ruffed grouse are the most popular quarry for upland bird hunters, anecdotal reports indicate good numbers of ruffed grouse brood sightings. The Department of Natural Resources doesn’t survey ruffed grouse broods, instead relying on spring drumming surveys to provide population insights.
Even when drumming counts are high, though, production holds the key to hunting success, and this summer’s dry conditions may have been just the ticket for a strong ruffed grouse hatch.
“Anecdotally, I am very optimistic about the grouse season around here,” said Charlie Tucker, manager of Red Lake Wildlife Management Area at Norris Camp south of Roosevelt, Minnesota. “I am normally optimistic — hard not to be — but this year I am more confident in my prediction. I’m definitely seeing more broods this year.”
The DNR on Tuesday, Sept. 5, released results of its summer roadside survey for pheasants and Hungarian partridge. The pheasant index increased 101% in the southwest region and 38% in the west central region, although numbers declined in the central, east central, south central and southeast regions.
Of special interest to hunters in northwest Minnesota, though, was the boom in Hungarian partridge numbers. In the northwest, the survey tallied 14.9 Huns per 100 miles driven, up from 2.2 per hundred miles in 2022. In the southwest region, by comparison, Hungarian partridge numbers ticked up from 2.7 per 100 miles last year to 7.6 per 100 miles this year.
Randy Prachar, manager of Roseau River Wildlife Management Area in northwest Minnesota, said he’s been “mildly impressed” by the number of Hun broods he’s seen and encouraged by the abundance of sharptail broods.
For many — and perhaps most — outdoors enthusiasts across the Northland, fall is the best time of year, and this fall offers plenty of reason for optimism.
It won’t be long now.