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Spring Grouse Counts Reported

North Dakota Game and Fish Department upland game biologists have summarized the spring survey results for sharp-tailed grouse, ruffed grouse and sage grouse.

Statistics from the spring sharp-tailed grouse census indicate a 9 percent increase in the number of male grouse counted 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.

“Sharptails are beginning to rebound after the 2017 drought,” said Jesse Kolar, upland game management supervisor. “Historically, grouse populations have rebounded within three to five years after reaching low points in the population cycle.”

Survey results indicate a 25 percent 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 percent,” Kolar said. “The number of drums heard per stop in the Pembina Hills this year was nearly four times higher than in 2018.”

A total of 29 male sage grouse were counted on eight leks this spring, a 7 percent increase over the 27 males counted on five leks in 2018. North Dakota does not offer a hunting season on sage grouse due to a low population.

“The count was a little higher than last year, but the population and number of active leks remain far below the population objective of 250 males,” Kolar said.

Game and Fish plans to continue translocating sage grouse to North Dakota through next year, Kolar said, and will determine a path forward after observing the outcomes from the two remaining translocation seasons.

“It is unlikely we will reopen the sage grouse hunting season in the foreseeable future,” he said.

The spring grouse census serves as relative indices of breeding populations and are largely representative of production and recruitment from the previous year. For sharptails, they can be used in combination with reproduction data – brood surveys are completed in late summer – to predict fall populations.