prime grouse hunting in northern minnesota
By Mark Orstad
Grouse Hunting in the Grand Rapids, MN Area. It’s no secret that Itasca County is home to some of the best ruffed grouse hunting in the country. Vast tracts of public lands provide excellent opportunities for upland hunters to seek this prized game bird. Every fall in Itasca County, eager hunters from around the state and country descend upon the seemingly endless acres of woods and miles of trail in search of the ruffed grouse.
The 2023 Spring Drumming Count Released by the Minnesota DNR reported drumming counts are up from the previous year. This is promising news for grouse hunters. One such hunter that takes advantage of this great hunting opportunity is Amanda Ballengee. For the past few years Amanda and her husband, Sam, travel over 1,000 miles from their home state of West Virginia to seek ruffed grouse in Itasca County. Amanda is a passionate grouse hunter who quickly realized how special northern Minnesota is in the fall. Amanda sums it by saying “What started as an adventurous trip in search of grouse hunting opportunities, has since turned into an extended vacation both my husband and I look forward to every fall. As a bird hunter, being able to flush more grouse in a single day, than we average during an entire season in West Virginia, is an opportunity I’m grateful for. While we enjoy the time with our setters in the grouse woods, we’ve come to appreciate all the area has to offer. From lake view cabins, the kind people, to the local businesses, and restaurants. We visited for the excitement of grouse hunting, and continue to come back for the entire northwoods experience.”
Minnesota offers a lengthy season to hunt grouse which starts in mid-September and typically ends on January 1st. Check the MN DNR website for 2023 season dates. This long season allows for hunters to be a part of seasonal changes in the forests from September to January. This makes grouse hunting the Grand Rapids, MN area so widely sought after. The early season provides green grass and leaves with cooler mornings and nights that lead into crisp fall foliage of brown, red and yellow, and then into barren white birch and tamaracks.
One of the best ways to hunt grouse is by walking forest trails. Grouse are what as known as edge birds. They are often found at “transition” areas in the woods. A trail creates an edge, or transition, that has the habitat the grouse seek for food and shelter. Often grouse come to these edges in the morning and evenings to pick gravel and feed on forage such as clover and berries. If you flush a grouse from the trail, pay attention to the cover from which it flew. You will increase your chances of harvesting a bird if learn the specific areas where grouse like to spend their time. As you gain experience you will learn to “think like a grouse”. One excellent resource to learn more about grouse hunting is the Minnesota DNR website. It contains great information on: basic gear needed, times of day to hunt, strategies on how to hunt grouse, as well as basic grouse biology. Here is the link: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/grouse/index.html
New to Grouse Hunting in the Grand Rapids, MN area: “How do I find public land in Itasca County open to hunting?”. Now days it’s easier than ever to find public lands in Itasca county. There are several cell phone apps that provide gps maps that show public land boundaries. These are not only helpful once you are in the woods, but they allow hunters to scout areas ahead of time. The MN DNR website also has a list of Ruffed Grouse Management Trails and Hunter Walking Trails.
Once you decide on the area you want to hunt, roll down the window and take a drive. The crisp fall air rushing through the window as you take in the vibrant autumn colors will set the scene for a great day afield. The fresh air is free and the memories are priceless.