Ruffed grouse hunting
INFORMATION ON RUFFED GROUSE AND HPAI
Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been detected in Wisconsin in domestic poultry and some species of waterfowl and raptors. In general, upland birds such as ruffed grouse have behaviors and prefer habitats that make them less likely to encounter avian influenza viruses in the wild.
Hunters should never harvest wild birds that appear sick. If you observe a ruffed grouse that appears sick, contact the DNR's Wildlife Hotline by emailing DNRWildlifeSwitchboard@wisconsin.gov or by leaving a voicemail for a return phone call at 608-267-0866.
This strain of HPAI does not pose a food safety risk. However, hunters should always ensure proper handling of game meat. Harvested birds should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F.
- Small game hunting regulations
- Harvest Information Program (HIP)
- Many hunters pursue ruffed grouse and woodcock at the same time. If you plan to hunt woodcock or other migratory birds as a mixed bag, you must be HIP certified and follow the migratory game bird hunting regulations.
- Grouse identification guide
- Spruce grouse are a state-threatened species found in many of the same areas as ruffed grouse. Be sure you know the difference between the species to avoid the accidental harvest of spruce grouse.
Where to hunt
Find the best habitat
Ruffed grouse use a variety of habitat types, but young, early successional forest types are most important when trying to find a good grouse hunting spot. Seeking out the densest woody cover available is usually the quickest way to locate grouse in a new hunting area.
- Fields & Forest Lands Interactive Gamebird Hunting Tool (FFLIGHT)
- Use this interactive map to find public land and suitable habitat for grouse and woodcock.
- Grouse hunting maps in Wisconsin county forests
- The Wisconsin County Forest Association created a collection of maps showing various ruffed grouse management areas on county-owned forests throughout Wisconsin.
- Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest
- The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is over 1.5 million acres in northern Wisconsin open to outdoor recreation including hunting, fishing and camping. See the website or contact the forest headquarters office for more information.
- Hunt Wild Wisconsin
- Use the new DNR mobile app to find ideal ruffed grouse and woodcock habitats, explore new public lands, brush up on hunting regulations, listen to podcasts and see up-to-the-minute shooting hours.
- Public land access
- From hunting and fishing to camping and hiking, use this resource to find everything you need to enjoy the outdoors.
West Nile Virus Sampling Project 2018-2021
2021 was the fourth and final year that a region-wide effort took place to better understand the West Nile virus in ruffed grouse in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The primary objectives of this multi-year monitoring effort were to:
- Assess the feasibility of utilizing hunter-harvested ruffed grouse to obtain biological samples from harvested birds for disease screening and collecting relevant metadata.
- Determine the prevalence of exposure to WNV in ruffed grouse populations and if there is a significant change by year in Wisconsin.
- Evaluate if samples can be collected in sufficient numbers to assess prevalence across different regions of the state.
- Examine submitted samples for evidence of clinical disease associated with WNV infection.
Thank you to all hunters who submitted a self-sampling kit for the 2018-2021 seasons, a final report on results by year can be found below.
Ruffed grouse management
The department has taken a proactive and collaborative approach to ruffed grouse management, emphasizing increasing available habitat, developing partnerships and outreach strategies, engaging private landowners, monitoring the population through surveys and providing tools to improve the hunter experience on public lands.
Ruffed grouse thrive in young, early successional forests, which is why the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has taken a proactive and highly collaborative approach to not just ruffed grouse management, but to young forest habitat management in general.
As forest ownership and use continue to shift from large, working forests to small, non-industrial private forests, the importance of active young forest management on both public and private lands have grown. In response, Wisconsin DNR has taken numerous steps to address conservation challenges associated with grouse habitat, including active young forest management on state lands, extensive public outreach efforts and establishing strong partnerships to deliver technical and financial assistance to private landowners.
Ruffed Grouse Management Plan
Starting in September of 2018, an ad hoc committee was formed to create Wisconsin's ruffed grouse management plan. The Wisconsin Ruffed Grouse Management Plan 2020-2030 was approved by the Natural Resources Board on Dec. 11, 2019.
Ruffed Grouse Advisory Committee
The Ruffed Grouse & Woodcock Advisory Committee, a diverse group representing government agencies, non-governmental organizations, tribal interests and conservation groups, meet to discuss issues relating to ruffed grouse and woodcock management and the management of young forest in Wisconsin.
The Ruffed Grouse & Woodcock Advisory Committee reviews and makes recommendations on the management of ruffed grouse and woodcock in Wisconsin. The Committee advises the Wildlife Policy Team on a variety of topics such as hunting regulations, surveys and research priorities.
The department collaborates with a variety of partner groups to promote young forest management on both state-owned land and privately-owned land. One part of these partnerships is to provide private landowners with technical and financial assistance to manage their property for young forests, which benefits ruffed grouse. See below for more information on these partnerships.
- Young Forest Initiative
- In 2011, the DNR helped launch the Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership to educate and engage landowners on active forest management, and to provide landowners with the technical and financial assistance needed to create young forest habitats that will benefit ruffed grouse and other early successional wildlife species.
- Wisconsin forest wildlife specialists
- The DNR partners with the Ruffed Grouse Society and USDA - Natural Resource Conservation Service to support two forest wildlife specialists in Wisconsin. These specialists promote young forest habitats on private lands by offering technical assistance and Farm Bill conservation program enrollment to landowners.
Each year, biologists, wardens, foresters, members of the Ruffed Grouse Society, and other volunteers conduct ruffed grouse drumming surveys and summer brood surveys throughout Wisconsin. Ruffed grouse drumming surveys have been conducted since 1964 and brood surveys have been conducted since 1970. Other ruffed grouse surveys include the annual small game harvest survey and the summer wildlife inquiry. Together, these surveys provide information on ruffed grouse production and population trends.
The ruffed grouse population is known to cycle on a 9-11-year cycle, with peak population numbers typically in years that end with 9, 0 or 1. Over the last 50 years, the drumming and brood surveys indicate an overall downward trend in the grouse population, with the cyclical highs not as high as in the past. This trend is likely the result of the long-term aging of Wisconsin's forests.