Area drumming counts are an indicator of the local ruffed grouse population but many factors can influence, either positively or negatively, the number of drums at any particular stop.
Statewide, those who traveled the drumming routes this spring heard an average of 1.7 drums per stop. In 2009 the figure was 2.0 and in 2010 the average was 1.5..
In the Northeast region this year's figure was 1.9, an increase of 18 percent from 2010. The counters in the Northwest region recorded 2.1 drums per stop this spring, a figure which represents a 16 percent increase from the 1.9 drums in 2010.
The Bemidji area is located within the cusp of the Northwest and Northeast regions in terms of the grouse survey and this spring the counts on the two area drumming routes were significantly higher than in 2010.
In the Pennington route the number of drums jumped from seven in 2010 to 24 this spring. And in the Buena Vista area the count increased from four to 17.
Based on those figures the area grouse hunters were hoping for a banner year and in some areas those hopes have been realized. In other locations, however, hunters have struggled to find birds.
The hot-and-cold aspects of the 2011 grouse hunting season were evident Saturday as a group of area hunters participated in the 32nd annual Grouse Out tournament. Traditionally the tournament is held on the second week of the grouse season but this year, because DNR officials moved the duck opener up a week, tournament officials decided to postpone the event until the third weekend of the grouse season.
The 12 pairs of Grouse Out hunters worked a variety of trails including likely grouse haunts near Shevlin, Kelliher, Northome, Gully, Sugarbush, Morph Meadow, Alvwood, Debs, Nary and along Hwy. 89.
In three of the areas the hunters reported 20 or more flushes while three other groups encountered at least 10 birds.
In the other locations, however, grouse were scarce as indicated by the five or fewer flushes reported by six of the groups.
Collectively the 12 parties shot 45 ruffed grouse and one spruce grouse, the latter found near Kelliher. The hunters also flushed 114 grouse and 16 woodcock, bagging four of them.
In 2010 the Grouse Out, which was held on the second weekend of the grouse season, featured 34 hunters (17 groups). The totals last fall included 88 grouse bagged, 206 grouse flushed, 14 woodcock flushed and no woodcock killed. The number of grouse flushed and killed represented record numbers for the 32 years of the tournament.
This year's hunters averaged 9.5 grouse flushes and 3.8 grouse kills per team. Last year the figures were 12 grouse flushed and 5.2 grouse killed per team.
Many of the grouse found in relatively open areas Saturday appeared unusually skittish and flushed well out of gun range, perhaps the result of another week of hunting pressure prior to the tournament. The birds encountered in the thick brush seemed willing to allow the hunters to pass by and only flushed when they sensed no other option.
Those birds, however, usually escaped without the hunters getting off a quality shot.