Season Forecasts 2012
Ruffed grouse and American woodcock hunting season forecasts for 2012-13 are presented for Canadian provinces and US states, as provided by RGS' biologists and state/provincial agency biologists.
2012 HUNTING SEASON FORECAST
This report has been compiled by the Ruffed Grouse Society biologists:
Dan Dessecker, Director of Conservation Policy, Alaska
Linda D. Ordiway, PhD, Regional Biologist Mid-Atlantic & Southern Appalachia
Larry Visser, PhD, Regional Biologist Michigan, Ohio & Indiana
Andy Weik, Regional Biologist New York, New England & Eastern Canada
Gary Zimmer, Coordinating Biologist, Western Great Lakes
Contributing biologist: Ted Dick, Minnesota DNR Grouse Coordinator
In 2012, hunters in Manitoba will be able to hunt woodcock as well as grouse, for the first time in modern times. Manitoba is the western-most province in the annual woodcock singing ground survey, and annually vies with Michigan for the 2nd highest count of singing males in the Central Management Region behind Ontario. This spring’s count was down insignificantly from 2011. An early, warm spring with moderate rainfall was likely good for nesting by woodcock. Hunters in Manitoba will have the best woodcock season, ever – guaranteed.
The province-wide woodcock survey showed numbers of singing males to be stable over the past decade, with this spring’s count index the highest since 2001. There is good reason for optimism about woodcock production this year, as spring came early to the province and there was a general lack of catastrophic weather that could lead to widespread nest failure or brood loss. Look for woodcock numbers to be strong. As with woodcock, ruffed grouse experienced favorable weather conditions for nesting and early brood-rearing. Bottom line is a good outlook for local ruffed grouse and woodcock numbers in Nova Scotia this year.
Numbers of male woodcock counted on New Brunswick’s province-wide woodcock survey continue to be strong, with the 2012 count index the highest since 2005, and the 4th highest count since 1977. It’s worthwhile to note that the average number of woodcock counted per survey route is higher in New Brunswick than in any other province or state. An early spring and lack of extreme weather events bode well for nest and brood survival. New Brunswick does not conduct a province-wide drummer survey, but reports from RGS members in the field have a consistent theme of numerous adult grouse seen or heard drumming, and many broods with good numbers of chicks. All indications to date suggest bird hunters in New Brunswick can look forward to a better than average year.
Ontario does not conduct an annual survey of drumming grouse, but given the synchrony of the grouse cycle evident from drummer surveys in the Western Great Lakes states, one could conjecture that grouse are past the peak of the cycle in Ontario. Grouse were abundant last fall in much of the province north of French River, where good habitat is the result of active timber management in the region. Drummers that survived through spring met with favorable weather this nesting season, so the outlook for grouse is bright once again.
The province is also important for woodcock production, second only to Manitoba for the average number of woodcock counted per survey route in the Central Management Region. The woodcock survey within the province showed numbers of singing males about the same as last year.
Good populations of grouse and woodcock coupled with an early spring and favorable weather for nesting should mean another good fall for upland bird hunters in Ontario this year.
Quebec does not conduct a province-wide drummer survey. Reports from RGS volunteers indicate the 2011 hunting season was below-average for ruffed grouse, both north and south of the St. Lawrence River. This year’s woodcock survey in Quebec showed numbers of singing males not significantly different from last year over the entire survey region. Quebec, an important woodcock-producer, is second to New Brunswick in number of woodcock detected per survey route.
Quebec experienced an early spring, with temperatures above-average to average throughout the nesting and early brood-rearing seasons, and precipitation generally normal or on the dry side – favorable weather for good production by both grouse and woodcock. The 2012 outlook is good for upland bird hunters in Quebec.
Prince Edward Island
The count of singing male woodcock on the province-wide woodcock survey was the highest in six years, showing a non-significant increase from last year. Prince Edward Island does not conduct a drummer survey. As elsewhere across the Northeast, spring conditions came early to the island. Weather during nesting and early brood rearing averaged warmer and drier than usual, generally lacking severe weather events that could hurt nest success or chick survival. It should be a good year for grouse, woodcock, and upland bird hunters in PEI.
Ruffed grouse drumming surveys in the interior were a mixed bag this spring. Surveys conducted near Delta Junction were quite a bit higher this year than in 2011, while surveys conducted near Anderson showed almost no change. However, very cold conditions when the surveys were run near Anderson may have limited drumming activity, which would account for the lower than expected number of drummers. Bottom line, it’s likely that ruffed grouse populations in the interior are slowly building toward the peak of the 10-year cycle.
According to Connecticut DEP Wildlife Biologist Mike Gregonis, drumming surveys indicated that drumming males in 2012 were down this year. Gregonis noted, “Despite the drumming survey I do think productivity has been good this spring for grouse. There were some brief wet periods, but not enough to affect grouse nesting in any significant way.” Although ruffed grouse have declined in Connecticut as the habitat has matured beyond optimal stages, we are already seeing benefits to grouse from recent habitat enhancement activities for New England cottontail and American woodcock.
The statewide singing ground survey showed woodcock numbers as being stable relative to recent years. According to CT migratory game bird biologist Min Huang, the early spring and favorable weather are boding well for woodcock. The same can be expected for grouse, so look for good production among upland game birds in the Nutmeg State this year.
Scarce habitat for woodcock exists in Delaware, but a few habitat projects may help in the future. No viable data is currently being collected in the annual Woodcock Singing Ground Survey coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Hunter success improved slightly last hunting season and preliminary data from the field this spring suggests that grouse reproduction has been fairly good for Georgia. Field staff have reported seeing more grouse this spring than in any of the last few years.
Georgia is in need of cooperators willing to complete a hunter survey card (done once at the end of the season or when the card is filled) or to conduct a spring drumming route survey as we currently only have enough volunteers and staff to cover about three quarters of these routes each year. Interested Georgia hunters can contact Scott Frazier at email@example.com or at (770) 535-5700.
Ruffed grouse are not hunted in Illinois and no spring drumming surveys are conducted.
US Fish and Wildlife Service woodcock singing-ground counts in 2012 showed a 39 percent decrease in singing males over 2011 with 0.14 singing males heard per route surveyed.
Grouse numbers continue to be poor, and forested areas suitable for grouse are few and far between. According to Steve Backs of the Indiana Division of Fish & Wildlife, grouse populations will continue to decline unless some intervention (e.g., extensive timber harvests of sufficient intensity) or sizable natural disturbances occur across the forested landscape to create early successional forest habitats.
Singing woodcock counts were down this spring; the long-term trend is also downward. However Indiana woodcock hunters should check out prime woodcock covers often, as migrants pour out of the Lake States in late October and early November.
Grouse numbers continue to be low in northeast Iowa with spring weather conditions for broods more favorable than in 2011 when unseasonably wet conditions made nesting and brood rearing difficult for the birds. Habitat improvement efforts that began several years ago on Iowa Department of Natural Resources public lands could help improve population levels in the future.
Iowa is not included in the US Fish and Wildlife Services woodcock singing-ground surveys.
Kentucky grouse hunters should expect their season to be similar to 2011-12. According to Ben Robinson Wildlife Biologist for Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. The number of drummers heard during the April survey decreased from the previous year. However, our field biologists have predicted that Kentucky’s early leaf-out may have decreased the distance that they could hear a drumming grouse. The 2011 mast crop was above average for most groups surveyed, providing plenty of food throughout the winter months. Research has shown that the productivity of hens is linked to the fall mast crop. Healthy hens lay better eggs and are better able to raise a brood. Simply put, more mast and other food equals more birds.
Hunters should target areas that may have experienced extensive storm damage within the last several years, such as ice or high wind. Areas that have seen a timber harvest within the last 3-10 years are also good places to seek out for grouse. As always, there will be local areas where grouse are plentiful, and areas where grouse are scarce.
Grouse hunters can improve the survey information used to track Kentucky’s grouse population by recruiting new participants. Please prompt your friends and neighbors to track their hunts and pass that information on to KDFWR. Forms are available from the Department by calling (1-800-858-1549) or by visiting the Department website: http://fw.ky.gov/smallgamelogs.asp. We remain pleased with the Hunter Log Cooperator Survey and hope to see it expand with every passing season.
Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Biologist Kelsey Sullivan noted that spring weather this year was conducive to nesting by upland gamebirds, and there were many reports of good drumming activity across the state. With the early spring, woodcock returned to Maine this spring earlier than usual. The woodcock singing ground survey in Maine showed woodcock numbers this spring about the same as last year. Dan McCauley, research biologist for U.S. Geological Survey reported a new early nesting record for woodcock at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Maine. McAuley noted that woodcock began nesting early, and the nesting season continued into June as hens that may have lost a nest or young brood had ample time and energy for second or third nesting attempts. Sullivan noted that the weather was good for grouse nesting as well, and expects an average or better season for upland bird hunters in Maine this year.
The mild winter in 2011 – 2012 likely reduced the predation rates and enabled hens to enter the breeding season at a high level of fitness according to Bob Long Wild Turkey and Upland Game Bird Project Manager for the MD DNR – Wildlife and Heritage Service. He added ‘this in addition to the warm dry spring should have boosted reproductive success resulting in a good number of birds for the upcoming fall season to add to the recent stable and slightly increasing trends detected over the last several years.’ The highest densities of grouse continue to be found in Garrett Co., but Allegany and Washington Counties hold fair numbers where quality habitat exists, much the result of proactive management plans from MD DNR, WMI, and RGS cooperative projects.
Bill Harvey, DNR Game Bird Section Leader, adds that the woodcock over-winter survival should have been excellent and early-nesting females experienced an early and mild spring that should have led to good production from first nesting attempts. The 2012 USFWS population status report illustrates an overall non-statistically significant decrease in the short term trends for Maryland but significant for long term decrease.
Massachusetts’ drumming survey hadn’t been finalized by press time, however Division of Wildlife’s Upland Game Bird Biologist David Scarpitti related that grouse drumming activity was widespread and somewhat variable. On the statewide singing ground survey, woodcock were detected on all the routes that usually have woodcock, but in lower number; this year’s count was similar to last year, and was the lowest since the survey began.
Weather in April and May was fairly average, with short periods of cold or rain. Grouse or woodcock that experienced nest failure likely had ample time for a second effort. Scarpitti is optimistic from the many anecdotal observations of grouse and woodcock broods that production was good this year. Upland bird hunters in the Commonwealth who search out areas having a recent history of active forest management should find increased numbers of woodcock and grouse this season.
DNR Upland Game Bird Specialist and Program Leader Al Stewart reports, ruffed grouse drumming counts were conducted statewide along 103 survey routes during April and May 2012. Using data from 95 routes run in both 2011 and 2012, statewide there was a 16% decrease in the average number of drums heard per route between 2011 (14.4) and 2012 (12.1). There was an average of 12.3 drums heard per route statewide. Highest drumming counts were in Zone 1 (Upper Peninsula; 17.7), followed by Zone 2 (northern Lower Peninsula; 9.5) and Zone 3 (southern Lower Peninsula; 7.5).
Analysis at the regional scale indicated there was nearly a significant difference (n=36; t=2.0, P=0.06) in the number of drums heard per route in Zone 1 (Upper Peninsula) between 2011 (20.8) and 2012 (16.6). There was a decrease in the average number of drums heard per route in Zone 2 (Northern Lower Peninsula) between 2011 (11.1) and 2012 (9.6). In Zone 3, there were 8 routes conducted in both 2011 and 2012. Due to the low sample size, statistical analysis at the Zone 3 regional scale is not appropriate.
Grouse/woodcock hunter cooperators hunting the first 4 days of the 2011 ruffed grouse season reported flushing an average of 2.0 grouse per hour compared to 1.8 grouse per hour in 2010. Hunter opinions about the 2011 ruffed grouse population were split; about 51% felt the population was the same, slightly up, or up from last year, while 49% felt the population was slightly down or down from last year. For the full season, the average number of ruffed grouse flushed per hour by cooperators in 2011 (1.7) was similar to the average number of birds flushed per hour in 2010 (1.5). The average number of woodcock flushed per hour statewide by cooperators was slightly higher between 2011 (1.4) and 2010 (0.9).
Stewart concludes, “Based on current survey data, I expect the grouse population this fall will be on a slight decline following the peak of the cycle in 2010. The 2012 fall ruffed grouse and woodcock numbers could be similar if not a little bit lower statewide compared to 2011. With favorable annual production, hunters could take approximately 260,000 grouse in 2012. The warm and dry weather conditions this spring may have a positive impact on brood survival. If we have favorable production this spring, I anticipate fall ruffed grouse and woodcock numbers could be similar to last year…..and last year was pretty good.”
The ruffed grouse season* begins on September 15, statewide. In 2012, the opening date for woodcock hunting* will be September 22. The USFWS framework for Michigan allows for the woodcock hunting season to open no earlier than the Saturday closest to September 22 and to run for no more than 45 days.
“I’m also excited about a new hunting tool available to grouse hunters in Michigan”, said Stewart. “I encourage bird hunters to use the DNR’s online mapping application, Mi-Hunt, to search for habitat types on public hunting lands. There are multiple layers of information that can be turned on or off, depending on your needs. For example, you can view the different forest types, topography, satellite imagery, and road layers to help plan your trip. See www.michigan.gov/mihunt for more details about this interactive mapping application.”
As expected, ruffed grouse drumming surveys declined this year in Minnesota. “The grouse population is in the declining phase of its 10-year cycle,” said Mike Larson, DNR wildlife research group leader and grouse biologist. “The most recent peak in drum counts was during 2009 but hunter harvests remained relatively high through at least 2010.” This year observers recorded 1.0 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2010 and 2011 were 1.5 and 1.7 drums per stop, respectively. While Minnesota does not conduct any systematic brood surveys, anecdotal reports indicate some broods survived the fairly heavy rains: “It’s unusual to see several broods in a day, but I’ve talked to DNR employees who have seen three or four broods in a day and I’ve seen broods that still had at least 11 surviving to fledging,” said DNR Grouse Coordinator Ted Dick.
More detailed information on Minnesota’s past and present drumming surveys, as well as the recently approved MNDNR ruffed grouse long range management plan can be viewed at www.mndnr.gov/grouse.
Woodcock hunting was very good last year and should be good again this year.
Similar to the last two years, ruffed grouse numbers remain very low across the state and the hunting season for ruffed grouse remains closed in Missouri.
Missouri is not included in the US Fish and Wildlife Services woodcock singing-ground surveys.
According to Julie Robinson of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, “the forecast looks promising…” She noted that the generally dry spring conditions were good for grouse and woodcock nesting. The ruffed grouse drumming surveys that Robinson coordinates showed an increase this year, and in the northern part of the state were about double last year’s index.
The statewide woodcock singing ground survey showed woodcock numbers this spring increased, but not significantly, from last year. New Hampshire Fish and Game biologists, as well as RGS members, reported seeing many ruffed grouse and woodcock broods, particularly in the northern counties. Weather during nesting and early brood-rearing was generally favorable, and expect good production by both grouse and woodcock in the Granite State this year.
Although there are no changes in habitat conditions in NJ, wildlife biologist Andrew Burnett anticipates a higher woodcock harvest due to the extra days of hunting allotted. The best remaining grouse habitat is in Bird Conservation Regions 28 and 29 the northwest counties of Morris, Passaic, Sussex and Warren.
New York’s statewide woodcock survey showed a non-significant increase among singing male woodcock. Weather-wise, spring came early to New York, and weather during nesting and early brooding-rearing was generally favorable. Dan McAuley, research biologist for U.S. Geological Survey related that a local snowfall event in April and rain in May caused nest failure and chick mortality among some woodcock in the Adirondacks, however, this loss likely was mitigated by 2nd and 3rd nesting attempts by woodcock hens.
The NY Department of Environmental Conservation spring turkey hunter cooperator drumming survey results had not been tabulated by press time. Field observations by RGS members indicated that both grouse and woodcock broods were plentiful across the north, central, and southern portions of the state. Look for New York to have an average to above average production year for ruffed grouse and woodcock.
Mike Schiavone, NYSDEC upland game bird biologist, noted that grouse and woodcock hunters planning their fall activities will be interested to read the results of recent drummer surveys and grouse and woodcock hunter log surveys, available on the web at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/48169.html and http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/75084.html.
Grouse populations continue to be scattered but the recent number of scoping letters for both the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forest is encouraging in increased management for creation of quality habitat. Private and state lands still hold most of the prime grouse hunting.
The Piedmont region and coastal area offer the best woodcock hunting during migration and mild winter periods. The anticipated brood successes of nesting woodcock in the northern populations should provide high numbers of flight birds during migration in the eastern portion of the state. Don’t overlook the opportunities mountain valleys offer during migration.
A noticeable increase in drummers on some survey routes in southern Ohio last year did not result in improved grouse hunting. Grouse populations remain low, even with increasing acreage of habitat on some state forests and wildlife areas. The 2012 drumming surveys have not been analyzed yet, but the favorable spring weather may result in better brood survival than in the past few years. According to Mike Reynolds, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Biologist, the best opportunity to find pockets of ruffed grouse continues to be in young forest habitat on public lands in southern Ohio including the Shawnee, Zaleski, Tar Hollow, and Vinton Furnace State Forests.
If you can catch the fall flights, woodcock hunting can be quite good. The best opportunities are typically between Halloween and Veteran's day. The Scioto River and other major river systems serve as important migratory corridors for woodcock in Ohio.
Ample food supply and limited rain and ice conditions of this past winter should have led to fat and healthy hen grouse coming into the 2012 breeding season. Incubation weather was good and to this point brooding weather has been fine, according to PGC Upland Bird Biologist Lisa Williams. She continues that if the summer months cooperate for brood survival it is anticipated the 2012-2013 hunting season will be above average in PA. Several anecdotal observations from long-term PGC Grouse Cooperators indicate the balance in deer management, forest health, and active silviculture management is paying dividends in terms of grouse flush rates in these areas by providing the dense, and highly diverse developing understory necessary for quality grouse habitat. “The big woods areas of northwest and northcentral PA should produce abundant grouse flushes this year as flush rates are always highest in regions where high-quality young forest habitat is scattered throughout a largely forested landscape,” adds Williams.
The 2012 USFWS population status report illustrates an overall non-statistically significant decrease in the short term trends for PA but significant for long term decrease. The mild and early spring of 2012 should be conducive to high reproductive output and compliment the heightened recruitment indices (# juveniles / adult female) seen in the fall. Williams notes though that within the Eastern Management Region the number of singing males per survey route was higher in 2012 than 2011, statistical significance was not noted.
Woodcock surveys showed numbers of singing males not significantly different from 2011. Brian Tefft, principal wildlife biologist for RI Division of Fish and Wildlife, noted the positive response by woodcock to habitat improvement efforts on state forests and wildlife management areas. Spring came early to Rhode Island this year – or perhaps winter never arrived – and so woodcock nested early and were quite successful. Tefft also noted that ruffed grouse broods have been observed this spring in actively managed habitats, although keep in mind that grouse season is closed in Rhode Island in 2012. Expect good production by the local woodcock population this year in the Ocean State, augmented by northern migrants in the fall.
Grouse numbers are historically low in this state and concentrated in the three counties in the northwest corner within the lower southern slice of the Blue Ridge Escarpment according to Billy Dukes, Small Game Project Supervisor of the SCDNR. Look for pockets of recent disturbance and offsite pine plantation rotations for the best grouse opportunities.
Woodcock hunting opportunities are weather dependent and this state serves as a stopover during migration. With the optimistic brood success from the northern states, look for good numbers if the weather brings the flights to this area. Most of the hunting is on the Sumter and Francis Marion National Forests along major river drainages and first order creeks. This season* will open Dec. 18 to Jan. 31 for 45 continuous days, according to Dukes. Sunday hunting is not allowed on any public (Wildlife Management Area) lands.
Based on very nominal populations of grouse remaining in the eastern portion of the state, Roger Applegate of the TN Wildlife Resources Agency states it is difficult to determine any real assessment from such populations. He feels strongly ‘that unless drastic change in forest management policy on the Cherokee National Forest, where the largest blocks of forest land occur, we will not see much increase in grouse populations.’ There are projects with the local RGS chapter and management is possibly turning the corner. ‘On the North Cumberland WMA where we have the state’s largest block of forest land, grouse compete for space with federal priority species that use older aged stands.’
The statewide woodcock survey in Vermont showed numbers of singing males on par with recent years (insignificant increase from last year). Spring came early to the Green Mountain State, and nesting conditions this year were much improved. Production by local nesting woodcock should be good this year. Vermont Fish & Wildlife biologist Paul Hamelin noted that a high number of grouse seemed to have come through the winter, and drumming activity was widespread. Vermont Fish and Wildlife field staff have reported many observations of grouse broods, with large numbers of chicks per brood, so look for a better than average population of grouse in the Green Mountain State this fall.
Gary Norman, VDGIF Upland Game Bird Project Leader, is very optimistic for the success of the 2012 broods of grouse. His predictions come from the early spring and mild temperatures in March and April which allows the hens to meet their energy needs prior to egg-laying. He continues ‘generally extended cold and wet weather is a problem for chicks after they are about 1wk. in age. The first days of life the chicks live off energy from their yolk sacs and the hen is able to successfully brood all the chicks. As they grow they are more vulnerable to weather as yolk sacs are depleted and hen cannot brood entire clutch. With the moderate rainfall in May and June there should have been good herbaceous growth and thus good insect populations for brood survival’. These good weather conditions and the continued habitat creation and improvements between the State, USFS and RGS chapters should provide excellent hunting opportunities this fall.
Woodcock populations show a non-significant decrease in singing ground surveys. Nesting is uncommon in the state and most migration is along the coast where continued management is occurring with local RGS chapters and VGDIF in cooperative projects.
Keith Krantz, newly appointed Upland Game Biologist WV DNR, is very optimistic about the 2012-2013 hunting season. ‘Due to the exceptional mast crop two years ago, our avid grouse hunters in 2011-12 experienced, in many cases, a great season last year with some reporting 3-5 flushes / hr. The mildness of 2012 winter compliments the abundance of 2011 fall birds, once again leading to higher fitness birds heading into the breeding season. The early green up and relatively dry May and early June predicts that higher rates of brood survival may occur and we could have a repeat of last season’s hunting conditions, according to Krantz.
“As the resident woodcock population is found in focused areas and thus the potential exists to be heavily harvested, West Virginia is dependent on the arrival of flight birds,” continues Krantz. The breeding season in West Virginia was early and should have proved successful, so it is anticipated that since the weather pattern seemed similar throughout most of the East the fall flight birds should be in average to high numbers.
Brian Dhuey, Wisconsin DNR Wildlife Researcher, reports, “Statewide ruffed grouse population indices decreased 25% between 2011 and 2012, based on the number of drumming grouse heard during roadside surveys. Changes in indices to breeding grouse populations varied by region, and the statewide mean number of drums/stop was not significant (P= 0.15) from 2011 to 2012. Drummer densities on the two research areas, the Sandhill Wildlife Area in Wood County and the Stone Lake Experimental Area in Oneida County show decreases of 11% and 18%, respectively, from 2011 levels.
Dhuey continues, “This is the first decrease in the ruffed grouse since 2010 and only the second in the last seven years. Survey indices show a decrease in drumming grouse in three of the four regions of the state. Despite the increase in breeding grouse in the spring of 2011, brood production in the summer of 2011 was 28% lower than in 2010. This may have been a hint at the decrease in breeding grouse in 2012. Wisconsin’s primary grouse range, the Central and Northern Forest regions, showed decreases in breeding grouse this spring; it would appear the decline in grouse numbers has begun and will continue for a few more years.”
Ruffed grouse nesting began a week to 10 days earlier than usual due to the early arrival of spring in the Upper Midwest. Unfortunately, the first broods hatched about the time a cool, wet period arrived in the area that was less than favorable for brood rearing. Those broods that hatched a few days later encountered more favorable warm, dry weather that remained over the area for the remainder of the hatching period.
US Fish and Wildlife Service woodcock singing ground surveys from 2012 were up 9.3% from 2011 numbers for Wisconsin with 3.14 singing males heard per survey route. This is the fifth consecutive spring that showed increases in singing males in the state. Spring was very early to arrive in Wisconsin in 2012 with conditions favorable for nesting and brood rearing of woodcock. Woodcock nesting occurred up to a month earlier than usual in 2012 with some young fledged as early as the first of May.
As for the 2012 Wisconsin hunting season, at this time it appears grouse numbers most likely will be down but woodcock numbers may be up compared to last year.
*References to season dates or regulations are as provided by our correspondents and should be verified on that state’s official website or published materials.