Population increase follows a closure of the 2021 season

Minnesota’s sharp-tailed grouse population has increased significantly in the east-central portion of the state, according to spring population counts conducted by the DNR and cooperating organizations.

The population increase follows the closure of the 2021 hunting season in east-central Minnesota, but does not signify long-term recovery of the population. The number of leks—traditional male display areas also called dancing grounds—counted in the east-central region remains low and the leks are smaller than those in areas with abundant sharp-tailed grouse.

“The increase in the east-central region should be regarded cautiously, as warm, dry conditions during spring and summer 2021, followed by favorable winter snow roosting conditions, likely resulted in strong nest success, chick survival and overwinter survival,” Roy said. “But we know threats remain for the birds in this area, including habitat loss, as well as more random events like strong storms, flooding and disease outbreaks.”

To count sharp-tailed grouse, observers look for males displaying on leks. This year’s statewide average of 12.2 sharp-tailed grouse per lek was similar to the long-term average since 1980, but a drop in the number of leks in the east-central region, in the absence of changes in survey effort, indicate that the population has dropped significantly in that portion of the range. These changes are thought to be driven largely by habitat loss.

“We’ve known for some time that in the east-central region the large, open areas of grassland and brushland that sharp-tailed grouse need are changing and becoming less suitable,” Roy said. “These birds require areas of approximately one to three square miles of grassland and brushland, so managing their habitats often requires cooperation between multiple landowners.”

The Minnesota Sharp-tailed Grouse Society (MSGS), Pheasants Forever and others have collaborated with the DNR on targeted habitat management for sharp-tailed grouse in the east-central range and remain committed to enhancing open-land habitats.

The sharp-tailed grouse survey report can be found on the grouse management page of the DNR website.

Hunting seasons

The Minnesota ruffed grouse and spruce grouse hunting season will be from Saturday, Sept. 17 through Sunday, Jan. 1. The sharp-tailed grouse hunting season will remain closed in Minnesota’s east-central zone. There will be a 2022 hunting season in the northwest sharp-tailed grouse zone from Sept. 17 through Wednesday, Nov. 30.

Grouse hunting information can be found on the grouse hunting page of the DNR website.