When you think of Lake of the Woods and the Missouri River, you likely think fishing.
Well, think again.
Upland game bird hunting.
Grouse hunting is the subject of two stories set to appear in the fall issue of Northland Outdoors magazine (subscribe for free at http://www.northlandoutdoors.com/subscribe/). With the Lake of the Woods area as a backdrop, one of those pieces will tell the story of a 67-mile ruffed grouse-hunting trail in the works in nearby Beltrami Forest. And, set along the Missouri River, a sharp-tailed grouse hunt is the subject of that other piece.
That’s not to say fishing still isn’t big in the Northland in the autumn. Musky fishing is huge in the fall, when the region’s largest predatory fish species seems to be at its largest. And the fall magazine will revisit the story of the largest musky on record, caught 67 years ago this fall in Wisconsin.
Musky-fishing remains big in Wisconsin. But it’s not just muskies — Wisconsin has some of the best multi-species fishing in all of the Northland. When you think Wisconsin, you think fishing.
Well, think again.
Think grouse hunting here, too.
And, in turn, think habitat.
According to a report by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, roadside ruffed grouse surveys completed this spring show that numbers should be similar to last year as the population cycle begins to trend upward.
“While statewide trends were essentially stable, the two regions that make up the primary grouse habitat in the state showed increased drumming activity in 2016,” Brian Dhuey, DNR wildlife survey coordinator, said in release documenting the survey results. “Ruffed grouse populations are known to rise and fall over a nine- to 11-year cycle, and the last peak in Wisconsin’s cycle occurred in 2011. Survey results suggest that we have reached the low point in the population cycle and may have started the increasing phase, which should continue the next few years as the grouse population moves toward the next peak.”
According to the DNR, roadside surveys monitoring the number of breeding grouse have been conducted by the department, U.S. Forest Service, tribal employees, and numerous grouse enthusiasts and volunteers since 1964. Surveys begin 30 minutes before sunrise and consist of 10 stops at assigned points. Here, surveyors listen for four minutes for the distinctive thumping sounds made by drumming male grouse. Surveyors monitored 99 routes this year.
While the number of drums heard per stop statewide in 2016 was similar to last year, there were some notable differences among regions, according to the release. Both the northern and central forest regions showed increases in drumming activity. The largest increase occurred in the central forest, with an 8 percent rise, followed by the northern forest regions with a 4 percent increase.
But, as is the case in areas across the Northland, maintaining suitable grouse-breeding habitat remains a huge concern in Wisconsin: Likely driven by aging forests and the loss of prime breeding habitat, the southwest region saw a 67 percent decline in drum activity from 2015 to 2016, according to the release.
But this sort of thing is nothing new here. According to Mark Witecha, DNR upland wildlife ecologist, the maturation of southern Wisconsin’s forest community and the resulting loss of dense, brushy areas that grouse need for cover has resulted in lower numbers of grouse in the region in recent decades.
“Ruffed grouse are closely associated with dense, young forest cover,” Witecha said in the release. “Young forests are generally the result of some disturbance, like logging or intense wildfires. Forest management and fire prevalence in southern Wisconsin have declined in recent decades, leading to more mature forest communities that are not as suitable for grouse.”
Enter the Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership, where the DNR is joining forces with other agencies to provide young forest cover, offering technical and financial assistance to private landowners interested in managing young forests.
According to the DNR, the program is helping to create habitat for ruffed grouse and other wildlife species and helping to maintain healthy and diverse forest communities.
To learn more about managing habitat for ruffed grouse and other wildlife species, go to http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/WildlifeHabitat/youngforest.html. For complete 2016 ruffed grouse survey results, go to http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/WildlifeHabitat/documents/reports/finaldrum.pdf.