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Drumming up excitement

That sound you may have heard in the woods recently is a celebration of sorts — as in a spring ritual.

For Brainerd area grouse hunters, it’s a celebration of what could come this fall.

If you’ve spent time in the woods this spring, you may have heard the drumming of ruffed grouse — the male grouse raises his wings and, cupping them forward, beats the air, creating a reverberating drum roll in hopes of attracting a mate.

Yes, music to grouse hunters’ ears.

But will that mean higher ruffed grouse numbers in the Brainerd area when the ruffed grouse season opens Sept. 17?

Drum roll, please ...

Possibly. According to a recent count in the six routes in the greater Brainerd lakes area, the average drums per stop were up from 1.2 in 2010 to 2.1 in 2011. The statewide numbers are yet to be released, but last year the state average was 1.5 drums per stop.

“The numbers have increased. Not a lot, but they’ve increased,” said Gary Drotts, DNR wildlife manager in Brainerd. “From what people have been telling us and seeing in the field it looks like it should be a decent year.”

Since 1990, the greater Brainerd lakes area included eight routes — until last year, when two Crow Wing County routes were dropped. Now Drotts’ territory spans six routes — two in Aitkin County, three in lower Cass County and one in Crow Wing County. Four of the six routes showed at least a slight increase in drums this year.

“When times are bad, hunters will tell us that the flush rate is one to two birds an hour and when times are good it’s in the four-, five- and six-birds-an-hour range,” Drotts said. “If it’s a decent enough hatch, it should be as good as last year.

“There was awesome hunting last fall. It was a good year. And there was some deep snow (this winter) — good conditions for the birds to roost, so they should have a good carry-over. When it comes to grouse, it’s tough to predict, but things are up in the area.”

For the most part, the number of drums in the area has climbed since 2004, when it was at .5 — the lowest since the survey began in 1966. That number increased to .9 in 2005, 1.2 in 2006, dropped slightly to 1.0 in 2007, then rose again in 2008 (1.3) and 2009 (1.6). This year’s average is the eighth highest since 1966 and the highest since a 2.8 in 1998. The state average that year was 1.8. The Brainerd area’s drum numbers have been below the statewide average since 2007.

“It flies in the face of our long-term cycles,” Drotts said of the increase in drum numbers in the area this year. “It should be going down a little now. But to have that high extend for a couple extra years is not unusual.”

Now, as the crucial hatching period approaches, weather will go a long way toward determining the health of the area ruffed grouse population.

“The biggest thing that hurt us (in the past) is that we typically got bad weather when they hatched the first few weeks of June,” Drotts said. “They’re not ducks. They get damp and they don’t survive. And we’ve had a lot of that kind of weather (in recent years). The hard part for us as humans is we want that (strong) population every year. Biologically and naturally that doesn’t happen. We can do some things through management to get that mitigated. But Mother Nature holds the biggest cards.”

BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at or 855-5864. To follow him on Twitter, go to www. For his blogs,       go to