Grouse Management Plan

Ruffed GrouseThe purpose of this management plan is to communicate the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' ruffed grouse long-range management goals, measurable management indicators and targets, identified conservation drivers, and management issues. Preliminary management strategies are also identified.

A guiding principle of this management plan is DNR's conviction that management strategies implemented for ruffed grouse will contribute to the overall health of Minnesota's forested landscapes. Forest management practices that are ecologically sound, and socially and economically beneficial to Minnesota citizens, will result in sustainable forests and sustainable ruffed grouse populations.


Minnesota is regularly one of the top three states in total ruffed grouse harvest, alternating with Michigan or Wisconsin for the number one rank. The three to seven birds annually harvested per hunter in Minnesota are unsurpassed.

The long-term average annual harvest in Minnesota is about 545,000 birds (since 1983). Minnesota harvested more than 1.2 million ruffed grouse per year when the grouse population was at or near its cyclic peak. Grouse populations and habitat suitability are strong in Minnesota, and the future of grouse in the state is encouraging.


Our long-range vision for ruffed grouse in Minnesota includes sufficient quantity, quality and distribution of habitat to support robust grouse populations throughout the species' range in the state. We also envision a fairly stable number of hunters enjoying a range of quality hunting experiences who have adequate access to public lands. With this ruffed grouse management plan, we strive to move Minnesota towards this vision.


Long-term goals for ruffed grouse management in Minnesota are to:

  1. Ensure the viability of ruffed grouse populations and their forest habitat;
  2. Manage ruffed grouse as an integral part of Minnesota?s forested landscapes; and
  3. Encourage and promote recreational opportunities for the enjoyment (hunting and observing) of ruffed grouse.

Grouse Plan FAQs

What is the forecast for ruffed grouse populations over the next years?

Ruffed grouse are widely distributed across the forested portions of Minnesota. Populations and habitat suitability are strong in Minnesota, and the future of grouse populations in the state is encouraging.

The southeast corner of the state is the only area experiencing a declining population trend. Trends in other areas are stable.

What is good ruffed grouse habitat?

In Minnesota, ruffed grouse occupy deciduous and mixed deciduous/coniferous forests. In southeastern Minnesota, ruffed grouse occupy forests dominated by oaks. While ruffed grouse occur in forest stands not dominated by aspen and in regions where aspen is sparse or nonexistent, they reach their highest densities in aspen forests. Classic grouse habitat consists of close juxtaposition of multiple age classes of aspen in relatively small patches.

The early successional deciduous forests favored by ruffed grouse were historically created by wind, fire, or disease, etc. Today commercial timber harvests and other forest management practices create more early successional forest conditions than natural disturbance.

What can I do on my private forest land to increase the number of grouse?

Ruffed grouse thrive in a dynamic forest landscape subject to periodic disturbance. Good ruffed grouse habitat provides a combination of food and cover within a small area. This juxtaposition allows individual grouse to access their daily and seasonal habitat needs within close proximity. Patches of young trees with high densities of vertical woody stems provide cover for avoiding predators, whereas patches of older trees provide more food in the form of aspen flower buds, buds and fruits of understory shrubs, and insects near the ground. Conifers, brush, and oaks that retain leaves provide thermal cover.

If forests are unmanaged they may eventually succeed or change to another forest type that will likely be of less value as ruffed grouse habitat. Active management to perpetuate the aspen or oak, and to create the proper mixture of habitat components, will achieve the highest quality habitat?and the highest long-term ruffed grouse population.

Review our grouse habitat brochure This is a PDF file. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to download it. for more information.

How does DNR decide where and how much forest land to manage for ruffed grouse? Why not do more?

Forest management on MN DNR-administered forestlands is planned through Subsection Forest Resource Management Plans (SFRMPs). SFRMPs are the primary tool for determining the mix of values and products (such as wildlife habitat, rare features, timber) that will be provided and sustained through management.

SFRMPs are vegetation management plans not wildlife plans. However, since forest management greatly influences the type of forest habitat on the landscape, wildlife populations are affected by these plans. During the development of SFRMPs, wildlife staff is part of a planning team in order to ensure that the needs of wildlife are considered in these plans. All forest wildlife species are important, and their habitat needs are diverse. Therefore, these SFRMPs must be balanced. In other words, the habitat needs of ruffed grouse must be considered just as those for deer, eagles, bears, forest interior birds, etc. Given those sideboards, there are several things SFRMP team members do to incorporate ruffed grouse management objectives into SFRMP plans.

One major step is the identification of existing and new Ruffed Grouse Management Areas (RGMAs). On RGMAs the habitat requirements of ruffed grouse become the primary consideration when the vegetation is managed. Ruffed grouse management objectives are considered during the SFRMP process (for example, when establishing rotation age, placing extended rotation forest (ERF) acreage, balancing age classes, setting cover type conversion goals, etc.). All these aspects affect the amount of grouse habitat on the landscape. For example, aspen conversion and management for older forest stands are focused away from RGMAs. Balanced age classes in the aspen cover type is a particularly important goal for ruffed grouse as it helps provide the mix of young and older aspen that grouse need.

How does Minnesota's commercial timber industry impact the quality and quantity of ruffed grouse habitat?

Most ruffed grouse habitat management is accomplished in the course of forest management activities by federal, state, and county agencies. Additional habitat is managed when logging occurs on industrial and non-industrial private forestland. Managing ruffed grouse habitat via commercial logging is the most economical and efficient method, and affects the greatest amount of grouse habitat on an annual basis. Planning is typically at the landscape scale, where decisions are made to regenerate aspen forests through commercial clear cutting, or at the stand level when deciduous inclusions are retained in other forest types.

Minnesota's commercial timber industry has produced forest habitat conditions that favor ruffed grouse. Forest products manufacturing shipments in 2008 were valued at approximately $8.6 billion and is the fourth largest manufacturing industry in Minnesota (based on employment). In 2009 Minnesota's timber industry consisted of: five pulp and paper mills, 3 recycled pulp and paper mills, 3 hardboard and specialty mills, 2 oriented strand/structural board facilities, over 500 sawmills, and nearly a thousand associated businesses and secondary manufacturers.

Recent economic downturn in timber markets has changed commercial timber activity on state, federal, county, industrial, and non-industrial private land. In 2007 total wood harvest from Minnesota timberland dropped below 3 million cords for the first time in ten years. Estimates for 2008 and 2009 indicate that harvest levels have remained in the 2.7 to 2.9 million cord range. Changes in commercial timber activity will change the amount and distribution of ruffed grouse habitat in Minnesota.

Indicators and targets

Indicators and targets of meeting ruffed grouse management goals include:

  1. Annual harvest will be consistent with long term average annual harvest;
  2. Minnesota will remain the top ranked state for average annual harvest;
  3. Satisfaction of ruffed grouse hunters, as measured through periodic surveys, will remain constant or improve; and;
  4. At least 65 percent of mixed hardwood/hardwood forest types of DNR timberland will be in a younger forest condition.

Challenges and strategies

A formidable array of challenges is shaping forests today: fragmentation, invasive species, climate change, disease, and changes in forest-based economics and recreation. Global competition in the forest products industry is inducing changes in the species and size of timber used by forest industries, increasing demand for woody biomass, changing forestland ownership, and shrinking access to forestland for public recreational use.

In this plan, management issues that affect our ability to achieve management goals for ruffed grouse are discussed. Management strategies, measures taken to resolve or minimize management issues in order to achieve the goals, also are presented.

To better engage people in ruffed grouse management, we present a comprehensive review of biology, ecology, and habitat needs of ruffed grouse in Minnesota. Trends in grouse populations, recreation, and forest composition also are discussed.