Sharp-tailed grouse hunters in North Dakota have reason for optimism this fall.

Statistics from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s spring sharp-tailed grouse census showed a 9% increase in the number of male grouse counted on their spring dancing grounds, or leks, compared with last year, the Game and Fish Department said.

Hunting season for sharptails, ruffed grouse and Hungarian partridge opens Saturday, Sept. 14, in North Dakota.

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

Statewide, Game and Fish crews observed 2,267 sharptails on spring dancing grounds this year, up from 2,088 in 2018. Male grouse recorded per square mile increased from 2 to 2.2. Nearly 800 square miles were covered.

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Ruffed grouse numbers were down 25% from last year, based on results from spring drumming count surveys, the department said. The number of drums heard per stop was 0.53, down from 0.71.

A forest species, ruffed grouse in North Dakota are mostly limited to woodland areas in the Turtle Mountains and Pembina Hills.

“The majority of the trend was due to declines in the Turtle Mountains, which was down 41%,” Kolar said. “The number of drums heard per stop in the Pembina Hills this year was nearly four times higher than in 2018.”

North Dakota hunters last year shot 45,600 sharptails, down 3% from 2017, when hunters took 46,900 sharptails, and 23,000 Hungarian partridge, down 30% from the 2017 tally of 32,800 partridges.

The number of hunters pursuing grouse and partridge in North Dakota pales in comparison to pheasant hunting. Last year, more than 58,200 hunters pursued pheasants, Game and Fish said, compared with 13,100 grouse hunters and 11,200 partridge hunters.

Seasons for grouse and partridge continue through Sunday, Jan. 5. Bag limits for all three species are 3 daily and 12 in possession, with shooting hours from half an hour before sunrise to sunset.

All hunters, regardless of age, must have a general game and habitat license to hunt grouse and partridge in North Dakota. In addition, hunters age 16 and older need a small game license.

For more information, check out the North Dakota 2019-20 Hunting and Trapping Guide.