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Ruffed grouse hunting

Attention ruffed grouse hunters: The 2020-2021 ruffed grouse season dates have changed for Zone A. The 2020 ruffed grouse season in Zone A is Sept. 12, 2020 - Jan. 3, 2021. The change does not impact season dates for Zone B, which is Oct. 17, 2020 - Dec. 8, 2020. Bag limits remain five birds in Zone A and two birds in Zone B.
ruffed grouse stands in road - Ryan Brady
Photo: Ryan Brady

Ruffed grouse are one of the most popular upland game birds to hunt. These birds are most commonly known for their distinctive "drumming" noise produced by males during the spring breeding season. Male grouse will display on drumming logs, rapidly beating their wings with the intention of attracting a female grouse.

View the 2020 upland hunting forecast.

Season information

Season dates

Regulations

  • 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 [PDF]
    • Spruce grouse are a state-threatened species and can be 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.

Disease sampling

West Nile virus sampling

A region-wide effort is ongoing to better understand West Nile virus in ruffed grouse is underway in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The DNR is taking a two-pronged approach to analyze disease prevalence in Wisconsin's ruffed grouse. First, the DNR is asking hunters to submit samples from harvested grouse using self-sampling kits. Second, the DNR is asking anyone out in the field, hunting or otherwise, to report any sick or dead grouse and submit it for sampling.

Self-sampling kits

Thank you to all hunters who submitted a self-sampling kit for the 2019 season. A news release on the results from 2019 can be found here. For the third and final year of this sampling effort (2020) DNR will not be assembling or distributing any new kits. If you have a kit from 2018 or 2019 you were unable to fill DNR encourages you to fill it and send it during the upcoming season (2020), nothing in the kit expires. If you are unable to fill the kit please consider giving it to a friend or hunting partner who can.

Report sick or dead grouse

If you see any ruffed grouse that look or are acting sick, or if you find a freshly dead grouse in the field, take note of the location and promptly call your county wildlife biologist. If you are willing to collect the carcass for West Nile virus sampling, please follow the instructions below:

  • Please keep the entire bird intact.
  • Place it into a plastic bag and keep the bird cool, but not frozen. It is recommended you wear gloves whenever handling dead animals.
  • The same day or the next day, bring the whole ruffed grouse carcass to your county wildlife biologist. Prompt collection of ruffed grouse is necessary to prevent decomposition or scavenging.
  • If you are unable to drop off the carcass with your county biologist, you can ship the carcass to the DNR by contacting the Wildlife Disease Specialist, Nancy Businga, at 608-221-5375 for a pre-paid shipping box.
  • Carcasses in poor condition (scavenged with openings into the body cavity, having an odor, or maggots present) will not be usable for testing, but please take note of the location and report these sightings to your county wildlife biologist.

Management

Ruffed grouse management

The department has taken a proactive and collaborative approach to ruffed grouse management, with emphasis placed on 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 has 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

ruffed grouse in snow
Photo: Ryan Brady

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, meets 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.

Habitat partnerships

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, with the intention of providing landowners with the technical and financial assistance needed to create young forest habitat that will benefit ruffed grouse and other early successional wildlife species.
  • Wisconsin forest wildlife specialists [exit DNR]
    • The DNR partners with Ruffed Grouse Society and USDA - Natural Resource Conservation Service to support two forest wildlife specialists in Wisconsin. These specialists promote young forest habitat on private lands by offering technical assistance and Farm Bill conservation program enrollment to landowners.

Surveys

Population trends

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 the past. This trend is likely the result of the long-term aging of Wisconsin's forests.