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Sharp-tailed grouse hunting and management

Attention Sharp-tailed Grouse Hunters: In light of scientific data and concerns over the future viability of the sharp-tailed grouse population in Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources will not issue permits for the fall 2021 hunting season. A scientific model created in cooperation with UW-Madison showed low probabilities of population persistence over the next 50 years. For 2021: no permits will be available, and no applications will be made available or accepted. Accumulated preference points will be retained and will not expire. The sharp-tailed grouse advisory committee will reconvene prior to fall 2022 to re-evaluate the possibility of an upcoming season.
female sharp-tailed grouse


Sharp-tailed grouse are a resident game bird of Wisconsin. These grouse are dependent on young, open pine and oak barrens and savanna ecosystems. Historically, sharp-tailed grouse were found throughout the state. Due to habitat loss and fragmentation, most sharp-tailed grouse in Wisconsin are now found in the northwest.

Sharp-tailed grouse management began in Wisconsin during the late 1940s and early 1950s in response to concerns of habitat loss. Today, the DNR and several partner groups are working to restore and preserve habitat necessary for sharp-tailed grouse and other barrens-dependent species. Some of the larger state-owned areas that focus on sharp-tailed grouse management include Crex Meadows Wildlife Area [exit DNR] and Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area.

Habitat management

Barrens management

Pine and oak barrens, vital habitat for sharp-tailed grouse, were once widespread in Wisconsin, but are now considered globally threatened. Due to land use changes and fire suppression, the barrens of northwest Wisconsin exist in scattered fragments, surrounded by a forested landscape. Habitat fragmentation can threaten the long-term viability of species native to this ecosystem.

The DNR is using the Northwest Sands Habitat Corridor Plan [PDF] to combat habitat fragmentation by identifying and restoring habitat corridors between existing barrens patches in the northwest sands ecological landscape. The goal is to create a non-fragmented landscape that could benefit sharp-tailed grouse and other barrens-dependent species.


Spring lek surveys

Each spring, surveys for sharp-tailed grouse are conducted on dancing grounds, also known as leks. Leks are a communal display area where males gather to attract and mate with females. Male sharp-tailed grouse have a unique mating display consisting of a series of rapid stepping motions with their tail pointed upward and wings outstretched.

Surveyors locate leks and count the number of birds present either using flush surveys or observation blinds. Lek survey data, along with past harvest rates are considered when determining the harvest quota each year.

Management plan

Wisconsin sharp-tailed grouse management plan

The Wisconsin Sharp-tailed Grouse Management Plan [PDF] contains information on sharp-tailed grouse taxonomy, natural history, habitat requirements, population status and distribution, along with management goals and strategies for ensuring long-term viability of sharp-tailed grouse populations in Wisconsin.

Advisory Committee

Sharp-tailed Grouse Advisory Committee

The Sharp-tailed Grouse Advisory Committee, a diverse group representing government agencies, non-governmental organizations, tribal interests and conservation groups, meets to discuss issues relating to sharp-tailed grouse management.

The Sharp-tailed Grouse Advisory Committee reviews and makes recommendations on the management of sharp-tailed grouse in Wisconsin. The Committee advises the Wildlife Policy Team on a variety of topics such as hunting regulations, surveys and research priorities.

Committee meeting information


Sharp-tailed grouse populations have been declining across North America since the early 1900s. Each year the sharp-tailed grouse Advisory Committee uses spring dancing ground surveys to recommend permit levels for the sharp-tailed grouse hunting season. Recommendations are considered by the Department of Natural Resources and a decision is made on how many permits are available.

The Sharp-tailed Grouse Advisory Committee and the DNR hope to allow harvest in future years when indices to population health suggest it appropriate to do so. We offer our continued thanks to those who remain passionate about Wisconsin's strong and historic tradition of sharp-tailed grouse hunting.

Although no permits will be issued this year, by state law sharp-tailed grouse will retain their status as a game species. DNR staff members are hopeful that the population will respond positively to ongoing significant, habitat management efforts [PDF] occurring in the northwest part of the state where critical barrens habitat remains. Visit our wildlife survey page for more information on lek survey results.

Lek viewing

Sharp-tailed grouse viewing opportunity

Sharp-tailed grouse, a native prairie bird, are currently found only in suitable habitat in isolated areas of the state. Similar to greater prairie chickens, sharp-tails gather at grassy openings called dancing grounds or leks during the early morning hours of spring. At the dancing grounds, males court the females by spreading their wings, rapidly stomping their feet and rattling their upturned tails as they coo and gobble with the aid of beautiful purple air sacks inflated on their necks. Viewing sharp-tails dancing is an experience you will never forget.

Dancing activity peaks from about April 15 to May 15, depending on the year. Wildlife management staff put up blinds on the NBWA to aid in viewing and surveying the spring population of sharp-tailed grouse.

To learn more and/or reserve a spot in one of the sharp-tailed grouse dancing ground viewing blinds contact the Friends of the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area (FNBWA) [exit DNR].