Spring drumming counts in Minnesota, long known as one of the top ruffed grouse states in the nation, have declined by some 46 percent from last year, and biologists say the bottom of the ruffed grouse’s 10-year population cycle probably won’t come until next year. Will the lower numbers affect how many grouse hunters hit the woods this fall?

From this story in the Minnesota Star-Tribune:

Ted Dick has a glass-half-full attitude. While Minnesota’s spring ruffed grouse drumming counts indicate the population has fallen dramatically, Dick, an avid ruffed grouse hunter and the Department of Natural Resources grouse coordinator, said that news last week won’t affect him and other diehard hunters. “I’m still going to hunt, no matter what,” he said. “We’re still one of the top grouse states in the nation.” But it’s uncertain how other hunters will respond to the news of a 46 percent average decline from last year in drumming counts in northern Minnesota’s prime grouse range.

In the past, hunter numbers rose and fell with the cyclical grouse population. But in 2009, when the grouse population recently peaked, fewer than 90,000 hunters pursued them — 40,000 to 50,000 fewer than the previous peak.

According to the story, grouse have declined over the past three years, which tells biologists the birds are on the downslope of their 10-year cycle, which occurs range-wide. Scientists don’t know why ruffed grouse go through the population cycle, but it happens range-wide and is a phenomenon well-known to avid grouse hunters.

What’s more worrying however, is the number of grouse hunters pursuing grouse at the peak of the cycle. If, as the story states, 50,000 fewer hunters pursued grouse during the 2009 population peak than the previous peak, what’s going on? Is ruffed grouse hunting experiencing the sort of long, slow slide that southern quail hunters are all too familiar with? Will you be hunting grouse this fall?