Get Up Close and Personal with Sharp-Tailed Grouse
Up in the Lake of the Woods area, there is a lot of dancing going on lately. That’s because from early April through the first week of May, sharp-tailed grouse are conducting their annual mating rituals. The entire party takes part in areas of open brushland called a lek. A lek is defined as an assembly area where animals carry on display and courtship behavior (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In this case as is usually the case in nature, it is the males fighting for attention from the females.
“The males are dancing and fighting to protect their territory and gain the chance to breed with the females,” explains Scott Laudenslager, MN DNR Supervisor of the Baudette work area. “Typically a lek consists of an area about a half mile. It consists of short grass to the grouse can participate in their breeding activities. Sharp-tailed grouse are much more social than ruffed grouse, who drum in the woods and don’t participate in groups like the sharpies do,” explains Laudenslager.
The MN DNR has two blinds set up in prime viewing range of popular leks. “One blind is about 5 minutes from Baudette in which viewers need to walk about 200 yards to the blind. The other is about 15 miles south but only 50 yards or so from the road. The blinds hold 2-3 people, have five gallon pails for seating and are right in the heart of the action.”
To reserve a blind which is open to the public, interested viewers can contact the MN DNR in Baudette at 218-634-1705, extension 222 to make a reservation. It is important to get your sleep the night before as participants must be in the blind before daybreak. “It is not uncommon for folks to be walking to the blind and kick up the grouse,” explains Laudenslager. “When that happens, simply get set up in the blind and in about 15 minutes or so, they will start making their way back to the lek.”
In addition to sharp-tailed grouse, other wildlife can be seen up close and personal as well. “It is not uncommon to see white tailed deer, coyotes, eagles, hawks, etc during a sit. When a hawk swoops down in an effort to get the grouse, the grouse will normally fly off but typically return again within 15 minutes, it’s just part of nature.”
The best viewing times are before sunrise to about 9am. If work or school dictates you must leave the blind before that time, not a problem.
The area has excellent grouse habitat with literally thousands of acres of public hunting land with walking trails, ATV trails and dirt roads. A variety of trees mixed in with agricultural lands make this prime territory.
There are three species of grouse in the Lake of the Woods Lake of the Woods area. Ruffed, spruce and of course, our dancing variety, sharp-tailed! The most popular for hunting is the ruffed grouse. The Lake of the Woods chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society is very active and has done a lot of work creating and clearing trails for hunting, some of which in conjunction with the MN DNR.