Minnesota grouse hunters asked to help collect samples

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is asking ruffed grouse hunters in northern Minnesota to voluntarily submit samples for a West Nile virus research project that the DNR is conducting.

Researchers will test hunter-harvested birds for exposure and active infections of the disease.

“We want to learn more about West Nile virus in ruffed grouse, because of concerns that it might be impacting the production of young birds, which make up a large portion of what hunters see in the fall,” said Charlotte Roy, grouse project leader with the Minnesota DNR.

The adult grouse population has been cycling around a stable 10-year average.

Minnesota is collaborating on this project with researchers in Wisconsin and Michigan. This is the second year of the study and results from the first year are expected from the lab early this fall. The research is partially funded by the Ruffed Grouse Society and the Game and Fish Fund.

“Thank you to all our volunteers and hunters who help us collect these samples. Participation from hunters is critical to the success of the project,” Roy said.

West Nile virus has been present in Minnesota since the early 2000s, and cases have been found in wild birds, people and other mammals. Birds vary in vulnerability to the virus. Some bird species recover quickly and become tolerant to the virus while others, such as blue jays and crows, suffer higher rates of mortality. A study in Pennsylvania indicated the virus could impact ruffed grouse populations when combined with habitat stresses.

West Nile virus is carried by infected mosquitoes. Not all people or animals bitten by an infected mosquito will contract West Nile virus. There have been no documented cases of people contracting West Nile virus from consuming properly cooked meat.

How to participate
Hunters who would like to assist with the project will need to collect blood on filter paper strips within 30 minutes of harvest. They will also be asked to provide the birds’ hearts and few feathers for sex and age determination. Collection kits will be available for pickup at DNR area wildlife offices within ruffed grouse range after Labor Day on a first-come first-serve basis, and also at the regional DNR headquarters in Bemidji and Grand Rapids.

Contact information for wildlife offices is available at mndnr.gov/areas/wildlife and hunters are encouraged to call before stopping. Information can also be found in the Hunting Regulations Book. This year, the Ruffed Grouse Society is offering a shotgun and Pineridge Grouse Camp is offering a guided hunt as prizes in a drawing for participating hunters that submit samples correctly.

Hunters are also participating in sample collection at the Ruffed Grouse Society National Hunt in October, Pineridge Grouse Camp, Bowen Lodge, Hoot-N-Holler, and the Akeley Grouse Hunt. Private hunting guides and wildlife students at participating colleges will also contribute to reaching the desired sample size of 400 birds.

Return postage and complete instructions are included in the kits. Samples also can be dropped off at Pineridge Grouse Camp near Remer.

More information about ruffed grouse management can be found on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/hunting/grouse.

Questions about the West Nile virus study can be directed to Charlotte Roy at 218-328-8876 or charlotte.roy@state.mn.us.