While sage grouse are off-limits to hunters in North Dakota due to a low population, two other types of grouse are fair game.
The season for sharp-tailed grouse — which most hunters pursue — and ruffed grouse opens Sept. 14 and runs through next Jan. 5. The daily limit for each is three and the possession limit is 12. Shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset.
The sharp-tailed grouse season is statewide; the ruffed grouse season is restricted to Bottineau, Rolette, Cavalier, Pembina and Walsh counties, along with a portion of the J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge in McHenry County.
"Ruffed grouse are a woodland-dependent species, especially aspen-dependent, and we only have three or four spots that support a ruffed grouse population," said Jesse Kolar, upland game management supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
The agency's spring sharp-tailed grouse census indicated a 9% increase in the number of male grouse compared to last year. Statewide, 2,267 sharptails were observed on spring dancing grounds this year, compared to 2,088 in 2018. Male grouse recorded per square mile increased from 2 to 2.2. Nearly 800 square miles were covered in the survey.
“Sharptails are beginning to rebound after the 2017 drought,” Kolar said. “Historically, grouse populations have rebounded within three to five years after reaching low points in the population cycle.”
Survey results indicated a 25% decrease in the number of ruffed grouse drums heard compared to 2018. The number of drums heard per stop was 0.53, down from 0.71.
“The majority of the trend was due to declines in the Turtle Mountains, which was down 41%,” Kolar said. “The number of drums heard per stop in the Pembina Hills this year was nearly four times higher than in 2018.”
The reasons aren't clear, he said, especially since ruffed grouse in Minnesota, neighboring the Pembina Hills, suffered from West Nile virus this year.
The population increase noted in the sharp-tailed grouse spring survey won't necessarily translate to better hunting in the fall. Bad weather during the nesting period can take a toll on chicks. Summer brood surveys that Game and Fish is finishing up will be a better indicator of what hunters can expect.
Hunters harvested 45,600 sharptails in 2018 and 46,900 in 2017, following severe drought. But the previous two years the harvest count was much higher — 65,500 in 2016 and 83,000 in 2015.