2009 Grouse and Woodcock Season Forecasts


07/07/09

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RGS News

This report has been compiled by the Ruffed Grouse Society Biologists:
Mark Banker, Senior Regional Biologist Mid-Atlantic
Dan Dessecker, Director of Conservation Policy, Minnesota & Alaska
Gary Zimmer, Senior Regional Biologist Western Great Lakes
 
Alaska
Drumming survey reported from the interior suggest another decline in grouse populations as they fall from the 2005 peak of the cycle. We can anticipate an additional year or two of declines before the population hits bottom.
 
Connecticut
Biologist Mike Gregonis reported that grouse numbers are generally low in Connecticut due mainly to limited and widely scattered habitat. Like much of the Northeast, cool temperatures and heavy rains in early June may have limited brood productivity. Hunters should generally expect birds to be widely scattered and challenging to locate.

There are few woodcock singing ground routes in the state, and they indicated continuing long and short-term downward trends, most likely due to limited habitat. Heavy flights of migrating birds in the fall can provide great action in favorite covers for the persistent hunter.
 
Georgia
Wildlife biologist Adam Hammond reported that spring grouse drumming counts were up slightly from last year, but still indicated very low densities. A relatively wet early spring gave way to dryer conditions later in the season, and coincided with the peak hatching period.

Few and widely scattered pockets of good habitat have resulted in low grouse densities through the state. Drumming counts conducted primarily with Ruffed Grouse Society volunteers indicate impressive concentrations of drummers where prime habitat exists.

Last year hunters indicated a generally poor season. This year enthusiasts should scout for concentrations of grouse near prime habitat.

Woodcock hunting can be excellent on any given day in the state and depends largely on productivity on the prime breeding grounds farther north and good timing during the fall migration. Singing ground surveys are not conducted in Georgia, but were generally positive in the Lake States and New England. The persistent woodcock hunter should have some good outings next fall and winter.
 
Illinois
Ruffed grouse are not hunted in Illinois and no spring drumming surveys are conducted. The US Fish and Wildlife Service woodcock singing-ground counts this year showed a 1.72% increase in singing males, with 0.67 singing males heard per route surveyed.
 
Indiana
Spring drumming counts once again confirmed that grouse numbers are extremely low in Indiana mainly due to very limited habitat, reported biologist Steve Backs. It will be difficult to find grouse in huntable numbers, but the best chance is in the larger forested tracts in the southern part of the state and the Hoosier National Forest.

Singing male woodcock numbers were down this year compared to last, but the breeding population has stabilized somewhat in the last 10 years. Heavy migration of woodcock out of the Lake States this fall could result in some good woodcock action where there is suitable habitat.
 
Iowa
Terry Haindfield, wildlife biologist in the Upper Iowa Wildlife Unit of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources reported,
Although early successional habitat conditions for ruffed grouse have declined in Iowa over the past 20 years, recent efforts to restore these habitats have improved grouse numbers from last year. Favorable spring weather conditions, along with the upswing in the cycle, should provide additional birds for die-hard hunters willing to kick the brush to experience the explosion of a flush. Continued habitat improvements on Iowa Department of Natural Resources public lands and the expansion of these efforts on private land will no doubt create the necessary conditions for future improvements for not only ruffed grouse but also woodcock.
 
Kentucky
Kentucky Small Game Biologist Ben Robinson reported that grouse hunters should expect this hunting season to be very similar to last year. The annual drumming survey results were very similar to last years results, or about .08 drummers per stop, which is a very low drumming rate.

The northeastern portion of the state seems to produce the highest grouse numbers in recent years. There have been several occurrences of ice and wind damage which has resulted in good grouse habitat.

Last year’s mast survey indicated a bumper crop of beech nuts and an average crop of white oak acorns statewide, which resulted in an abundance of fall and winter food for grouse.

Woodcock hunting can be excellent on any given day in the state and depends largely on productivity on the prime breeding grounds farther north and good timing during the fall migration. Singing ground surveys are not conducted in Kentucky, but were generally positive in the Lake States and New England. The persistent woodcock hunter should have some good outings next fall and winter.
 
Maine
Wildlife biologist Kelsey Sullivan reported that good weather in the spring probably provided grouse and woodcock with good initial nesting conditions. Late May was favorable, but very wet conditions in June may have impacted grouse chick survival. Northern Maine was much drier than the rest of the state and a better than average production year is expected there. Based on the grouse seen during 100 hours of moose hunting, Maine is experiencing an increasing population trend consistent with an over-all upswing in recent years.
 
Woodcock singing ground surveys were similar to last year. The breeding woodcock population has been stable over the last decade. Overall, Sullivan expects a better than average fall hunting season.
 
Maryland
Maryland Wildlife Biologist Bob Long reported that, while data is limited regarding Maryland's ruffed grouse populations, the bowhunter surveys suggest that grouse numbers may have declined somewhat last year. A grouse hunter cooperator survey was initiated in the 2008-09 hunting season and preliminary results indicate that cooperating hunters flushed 0.8 grouse per hour of hunting. Once several more years of data are collected, this survey will be a useful way to monitor grouse population trends.

Spring weather has been colder, wetter, and more severe than average this year, which could impact chick survival.

Garrett County continues to hold the highest densities of grouse, but they can also be found in fair numbers as far east as Washington County. Hunters looking for public land opportunities should focus on past timber harvests in the region's network of State Forests or Wildlife Management Areas.

The 2009 woodcock singing ground survey indicates a continuing long and short-term decline in breeding woodcock. Nonetheless, hunters targeting the early season will find the best success in the western region of the state and to a lesser degree in pockets where good habitat exists elsewhere. Late season hunting is typically limited to the eastern region and portions of the southern region where woodcock migrate through and often spend much of the winter.
 
Massachusetts
Wildlife biologist David Scarpitti reported that grouse drumming counts were up slightly in western and central parts of the state, with drumming males being heard in new areas. Unlike most other Northeastern states, weather conditions were good during the key hatching period. Hunters may encounter more birds in the covers this fall, but Scarpitti cautions that the lack of habitat in general will limit the potential for grouse population growth.

The woodcock singing ground survey suggested an increase in singing males this spring and a stable breeding woodcock population over the last decade. Woodcock hunting can be good on any given day, particularly during the peak of migration.
 
Michigan
Department of Natural Resources Eastern Upper Peninsula Region Wildlife Biologist Terry Minzey reported,
In 2009, drumming routes surveyed in the Eastern Upper Peninsula (EUP) heard an average of 1.7 drums per sample point. This is a 6% decrease over the 1.8 drums per sample point heard in 2008. This spring has been cool and wet up to this point, conditions not entirely suitable for high brood production.
 
Flush rates for ruffed grouse reported for the 2008 early fall hunting season showed a statewide slight decrease from the 2007 season. Last year 2.4 ruffed grouse were reported flushed per hour of hunting across the state while in 2007 2.5 ruffed grouse were flushed per hour by hunters.

In terms of woodcock Minzey reported, “The 2009 survey produced an average of 8.4 peenting woodcock/route in the EUP. This is the highest number of peenting woodcock heard since 1999 and represents a 13% increase over 2008 levels.”

US Fish and Wildlife woodcock singing-ground counts in 2009 showed a 1.4% percent increase, or 4.08 heard per route surveyed, in singing males in Michigan.

Woodcock flush rates declined dramatically in 2008 with 0.9 woodcock flushed per hour by hunters compared to 2.4 woodcock per hour in 2007.Wexford, Allegan, Gladwin, Kalkaska and Mackinac Counties had the highest flush rates for woodcock.
 
Minnesota
The ruffed grouse drumming survey results released from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources indicated 2.4 drums per stop this spring across the northern part of the state. This represents a 44% increase over last year’s counts. The bulk of Minnesota’s ruffed grouse habitat is in the northern areas.

Central Minnesota had 1.1 drums per stop, and the Southeast had 0.5 drums per stop. These results are similar to last year’s numbers.

Spring brood-rearing conditions were cool and wet, which is not the ideal weather for chick survival. However, there were no significant weather events that could be expected to elevate chick mortality.

Results from the US Fish and Wildlife Service woodcock singing ground survey showed an 11% increase from 2008 in the statewide woodcock population index. These results are somewhat surprising due to the severe snow storms that struck northern Minnesota in early April of both 2007 and 2008. These storms may not have had as dramatic an impact on local woodcock populations as was anticipated.
 
Missouri
Andrew Forbes, Missouri Department of Conservation Wildlife Biologist reported,
Grouse numbers are still low, and numbers of drumming males on standardized surveys on public land are similar to those of last year. This year there have been more opportunistic sightings of grouse in the River Hills Focus Area of central Missouri (of mostly single birds) than in recent years, however the frequency of reported are still far lower than desirable. Weather conditions this spring have again been poor, with lots of rain and local flooding.
 
Missouri is not included in the US Fish and Wildlife Services woodcock singing-ground surveys.
 
New Hampshire
Wildlife biologist Julie Robinson reported that things are looking up for ruffed grouse in New Hampshire. This year’s drumming surveys were up in every region for the first time. Spring came early this year with a long period of warm sunny weather. Reported of brood sightings also started early. Unfortunately, the weather turned rainy for nearly 3 weeks in late May and early June, but temperatures remained mild. This may have helped to limit any negative impact on chick survival.

The grouse wing and tail survey conducted during the 2008 hunting season indicated a much improved adult to juvenile ratio, meaning productivity improved last year. Hunter submission and participation also increased significantly. Robinson hopes this will continue in concert with state efforts to manage grouse habitat. Hunters should expect to find birds in good numbers again this fall, at least similar or better than last year.

The woodcock singing ground survey showed a marked increase in breeding woodcock this spring. The woodcock survey indicated that the population has stabilized over the short and long-term in New Hampshire, suggesting that woodcock hunters will be rewarded for their efforts in the field this fall.
 
New Jersey
Wildlife biologist Andrew Burnett reported that spring weather conditions have been less than optimal in terms of temperature and precipitation for both woodcock and grouse. Suitable habitat for these species is also in short supply. This year more male woodcock were recorded on singing ground survey routes compared to many previous years. However the forecast for the hunting season this year remains poor to fair.

Burnett noted that the New Jersey Fish and Game Council has adopted a split season for ruffed grouse hunting this year. The north zone will begin the third Thursday in October and the south zone will begin November 7. Zones are delineated by State Hwy 70 and coincide with woodcock hunting zones. Grouse hunting throughout the state will end December 31, and the daily bag limit is two grouse.
 
New York
Wildlife biologist Mike Schiavone reported that hunter flush rates last fall were slightly better than the year before, with good hard and soft mast production last summer and fall. Flush rates were relatively good last year, but the productivity this year is expected to be impacted due to a very wet June. Hunters should expect fair to good hunting this year.

Spring woodcock singing ground surveys indicated an increase in singing males over last year. Breeding woodcock numbers in the state have been stable over the last 10 years. Hunters should expect good woodcock hunting, particularly during the migration period.
 
North Carolina
Wildlife biologist John Wooding reported that grouse numbers are low in western parts of the state due to consecutive years of poor productivity. Last season, hunters reported the lowest flush rates in the 25-year history of the survey. Drumming counts suggest a somewhat more positive outlook, though not all the data has yet been analyzed. The spring weather was also favorable during the peak hatch period. Hunters may expect somewhat better success this year compared to last, but Wooding cautions that the potential for a significant population increase is limited due to very low levels of habitat in the western region of the state.

Woodcock hunting is largely dependent on timing the fall migration of birds from the primary breeding grounds north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Birds tend to concentrate along the coast and may stay all winter. The persistent hunter may also find high concentrations of birds in the Piedmont and the mountains on any given day during the fall migration in suitable covers.
 
Ohio
Wildlife biologist Mike Reynolds reported that spring drumming counts remain depressed throughout Ohio grouse range. Wet weather during incubation and hatch period occurred in southern Ohio, but dry, more favorable conditions occurred in the northern part of the state. Temperatures were average.

Hunters should scout early for concentrations of grouse in pockets of forest with good habitat, which exist primarily where ice storms and timber salvage have created prime habitat.

Reynolds also reported that woodcock hunting may be better if soil moisture remains good, but things are drying out fast. In the last year or two, conditions were very dry in Ohio during the peak migration of early November – and woodcock did not seem to be as abundant in traditional covers. The spring singing ground survey suggests that the number of singing males was nearly identical to last year. Ohio is still seeing long and short term declines, but numbers seem to be stabilizing. Birds coming out of the primary breeding range in the Lake States can mean very good woodcock hunting on any given day in late October and early November.
 
Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is a bright spot for eastern grouse hunting. Hunter flush rates last hunting season were the best in 7 years and roughly equal to the 44-year average of the survey, according to Bill Palmer, recently retired forest wildlife biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The north central and northwest regions that are heavily forested and offer millions of acres of public hunting had the highest flush rates.

Drumming counts were also up at the Barrens Grouse Study Area on SGL 176. On the down side, cold, heavy rains in the first weeks of June most likely impacted chick survival, so no further upswing in grouse numbers is expected.

A multitude of options for grouse hunting on public lands in available in all parts of the state. Very large state forests, the Allegheny National Forest, many state game lands and even Corps of Engineer lands offer good grouse hunting.

Woodcock populations remain stable in the state. Spring singing ground surveys indicate similar numbers to last year. There has been little change in the singing ground survey since the mid-90’s. Woodcock enthusiasts should keep in mind that hunting is allowed on state parks, where some of the best old-field woodcock habitat can be found.
 
Rhode Island
Wildlife biologist Brian Tefft reported that, while grouse numbers are low, the state is actively managing for grouse on several state wildlife management areas and is optimistic that these areas will host more grouse in the future.

Tefft also reported increased attention to woodcock habitat management on state lands. Woodcock numbers seem relatively stable. Hunting is heavily dependent on migrating birds funneling out of northern New England and Canada and can be very good on any given day, depending on your timing.
 
Tennessee
Wildlife biologist Roger Applegate reported that grouse populations have been low and quality grouse habitat is scarce statewide. Where pockets of grouse exist, grouse production should be fairly good in the Ridge and Valley region, Cumberland Mountains, and eastern edge of the Cumberland Plateau.

Applegate also reported that woodcock breeding exists in pockets of appropriate habitat throughout the state and is probably more important to overall species production than is often appreciated. As usual, hunting success this fall will be partly determined by woodcock production further north as birds pass through during migration.
 
Vermont
A snowy winter in Vermont was most likely beneficial for grouse, but a wet late spring may have impacted brood survival. Grouse numbers have been fair over the last few years, but good cover is scattered throughout the state. Areas containing several patches of good habitat in proximity to one another may hold good concentrations of grouse.

Woodcock numbers were up this spring according to singing ground surveys. The population has been stable in the state for the last decade. Favorite covers should produce good action this fall.
 
Virginia
Grouse drumming counts in the mountains of Virginia indicated a continued long-term downward trend in grouse numbers, reported biologist Gary Norman of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. A very wet early June may mean that grouse chicks didn’t far well after hatching. Norman noted that acorns were more abundant in the southwest than the northwest last fall, suggesting that conditions may be somewhat better for grouse productivity as you progress toward the south.

Hunters should do some scouting to find several good patches of habitat close together and expect to get plenty of exercise to find grouse. The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests offer spotty grouse hunting opportunities. Wildlife Management Areas tend to be more intensively managed for grouse.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s annual woodcock status report indicated singing male woodcock numbers were down sharply this spring. The number of singing male woodcock continues both a short and long-term downward trend across the state. Fall migration is probably heavier along the coast with some birds wintering there, and this may be a good place to find birds.
 
West Virginia
Wildlife biologist Bill Igo reported that grouse numbers seem to be down somewhat compared to the last several years. Drumming counts at the Spruce Knob Grouse Management Area on the Monongahela National Forest were down about one third, possibly due to poor hatching and brood rearing conditions last spring.

Grouse numbers are not expected to rebound this year, as a very wet May and June during the peak hatching and brood-rearing period, are expected to have impacted the brood population significantly. Preliminary reported on grouse broods suggest they are fewer and smaller. Hunters should scout for pockets of good bird numbers where chicks survived the heavy rains, but otherwise expect to work a little harder than last year to find birds.

The woodcock singing ground survey showed a slight decline in numbers, but the breeding population has been stable over the past decade. For the persistent woodcock enthusiast, hunting can be very good during the migration in places like the Canaan Valley and other fertile areas with good cover.
 
Wisconsin
Brian Dhuey, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife researcher reported, “Statewide ruffed grouse population indices increased 3 % between 2008 and 2009 based on the number of drumming grouse heard during roadside surveys. Final tallies show 0.94 drums per stop across the state.”

The central and northern regions showed improvements in drumming activity over last year with 14% and 6% increases respectively. Drum counts compared to last year in the southeast region showed a decrease of 58% while the southwest region showed a decline of 24%.

Drummer densities on the Sandhill Wildlife research census area in Wood County increased 21%, while drummers on the Stone Lake Experimental Area in Oneida County decreased 8% from 2008 levels. Dhuey stated that, “This is the fourth increase in the ruffed grouse index in the last 4 years. It would appear that Wisconsin is still on the upswing of the current grouse cycle.”

Spring brood rearing conditions have been favorable for ruffed grouse across the state, though there was a short cool, wet period across the north during the last week of May, just as the first broods were hatching. The first two weeks of June were much more favorable for broods with dry, warm weather.

US Fish and Wildlife Service woodcock singing ground surveys from the state were up 1.15% from 2008; 2.57 singing males were heard per survey route.

It is likely that both ruffed grouse and woodcock populations in northern and central Wisconsin this fall will be similar or slightly higher than last year.
 

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Established in 1961, the Ruffed Grouse Society is North America's foremost conservation organization dedicated to preserving our sporting traditions by creating healthy forest habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock and other wildlife. RGS works with landowners and government agencies to develop critical habitat utilizing scientific management practices.

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