Season Forecasts 2013
Ruffed grouse and American woodcock hunting season forecasts for 2013-14 are presented for the United States and Canadian Provinces by Ruffed Grouse Society biologists and state/provincial agency biologists.
2013 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
“Based on the rapid warm up and very dry and warm conditions throughout late spring and early summer, I believe that ruffed grouse populations in much of the Interior will be slightly higher than last year as we are early in the anticipated cyclic increase of that population. However in the Mat-Su region, I would expect flat growth and a similar population density as last year,” said Rick Merizon, Alaska Department of Fish & Game small game biologist.
For more information, please see Status of Grouse, Ptarmigan, And Hare in Alaska, 2013 by Richard A. Merizon, Wildlife Management Report ADF&G/DWC/WMR-2013-3 (posted 9/05/13).
Weather across southern New England during late spring and early summer was somewhat milder than what the North experienced, and nesting by grouse and woodcock should not have been significantly affected. The statewide singing ground survey showed woodcock numbers similar to recent years, albeit at its lowest mark since the survey began in the 1960s. Although ruffed grouse and woodcock 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. Hunters should explore areas of recent (<10 years) timber harvest activity to find these 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.
For Fall 2013, Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Scott Frazier notes there has been nothing that “makes us think of any dramatic impacts to our population positive or negative.” Flush rates for the 2012 season showed 0.38 flushes per hour for Georgia. “In the very short term, flush rates generally follow an up and down pattern. With the upcoming season projected to be the upswing, I’m hoping for a bounce.” Frazier also stated that, “We look for some localized benefits to grouse in the Towns County area from last year’s projects with our local Ruffed Grouse Society chapter, although it may take three more years to begin producing fruit to any substantial degree.” He is hopeful that the tornado path that cut across northern Georgia on April 11, 2013 will begin to evolve into beneficial habitat. To participate in hunter surveys contact Scott Frazier at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ruffed grouse are not hunted in Illinois, and no spring drumming surveys are conducted. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service woodcock singing-ground counts in 2013 showed a 1 percent decrease in singing males over 2012 with 0.13 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.
The long-term trend in singing woodcock counts has been downward in Indiana. However, Indiana woodcock hunters should check out prime woodcock covers often, as migrants pour out of the Great Lake States in late October and early November.
Grouse numbers continue to be low in northeast Iowa with this spring’s cooler and wetter weather conditions less favorable for broods than in 2012. Work is being done to increase habitat improvement efforts on private forested lands to increase the impact of efforts that began several years ago on Iowa Department of Natural Resources public lands.
Iowa is not included in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services woodcock singing-ground surveys.
Ben Robinson, small game program biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, provided the most recent Drumming Route Counts for 2013, which show 5.71 drummers heard per 100 stops as compared to 4.89 last year.
Scott Friedhof, biologist with the KDFWR, mentioned that there have been a good number of grouse broods reported this spring from Rowan, Lewis and Greenup Counties. The weather was favorable for chick survival in late May and early June across the eastern third of the state. The prediction of a good beechnut crop for fall should help with winter survival as the birds should not need to move far for food.
Regarding habitat conditions, Friedhof reported, as some of you may already know, that two parallel tornados passed across eastern Kentucky in March 2012. It is estimated that 23,000 acres of forest were knocked down. Only some was able to be salvaged and logged. Friedhof said, “The habitat looks good already for grouse in this second growing season following the tornados.”
“We had a lot of grouse on the ground in the spring,” noted Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Biologist Kelsey Sullivan, and the statewide woodcock survey revealed woodcock numbers were unchanged from recent years. May had higher than average rainfall. The negative effects on woodcock nesting and brood production were evident during annual brood surveys in central and eastern Maine, according to U.S. Geological Survey Research Biologist Dan McAuley. Overall, Sullivan expects average fall grouse and woodcock populations, with above-average numbers of grouse in the North Woods.
The range of ruffed grouse in Maryland is primarily limited to Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties with the highest densities found in the westernmost portions of the region. Flushing surveys indicate the population has remained relatively stable over the last several years. However the unseasonably cold, wet spring may have hindered reproductive efforts this year resulting in lower fall numbers. Breeding woodcock may also have been affected by the weather that potentially delayed breeding and lowered nesting success. But woodcock hunters should still find fair numbers of birds later in the season when the bulk of the harvest is comprised of migrants according to Bob Long of Maryland Department of Natural Resources – Wildlife and Heritage Service, wild turkey and upland game bird project manager.
On the statewide woodcock singing ground survey, this year’s count was similar to last year and was the lowest since the survey began in 1966. Grouse numbers have been trending downward in parallel to woodcock, as the forests of Massachusetts continue to age and become poor habitat. Production among both grouse and woodcock should be as variable as cold and/or wet weather in May and June likely caused some nest failure at higher elevation locales. Upland bird hunters in the Commonwealth should search out areas having a recent history of active forest management to find woodcock and grouse this season.
Department of Natural Resources Upland Game Bird Specialist and Program Leader Al Stewart reports, ruffed grouse drumming counts were conducted statewide along 95 survey routes during April and May 2013. Using data from 87 routes run in both 2012 and 2013, statewide there was a 10.3 percent decrease in the average number of drums heard per route between 2012 (11.8) and 2013 (10.6). Highest drumming counts were in Zone 1 (Upper Peninsula; 14.5), followed by Zone 2 (northern Lower Peninsula; 9.4) and Zone 3 (southern Lower Peninsula; 6.4).
Analysis at the regional scale indicated there was nearly a significant difference (n=26; t=2.0, P=0.4) in the number of drums heard per route in Zone 1 (Upper Peninsula) between 2012 (17.4) and 2013 (14.9). There was no significant change (n=52; t=2, P=0.4) in the average number of drums heard per route in Zone 2 (Northern Lower Peninsula) between 2012 (9.9) and 2013 (9.1). In Zone 3, there were eight routes conducted in both 2012 and 2013. Due to the low sample size, statistical analysis at the Zone 3 regional scale is not appropriate.
Grouse/woodcock hunter cooperators hunting the first four days of ruffed grouse season reported an average of 1.7 grouse per hour in 2012 compared to 2.0 grouse per hour in 2011. Hunters opinions about the 2012 ruffed grouse population were mixed; 27 percent of the respondents thought grouse populations were up or slightly up from 2011 in the areas they hunted, with 41 percent reporting the population is the same and 32 percent reported they were down or slightly down. For the full season, the average number of ruffed grouse flushed per hour by cooperators in 2012 (1.66) was slightly lower than the number of birds flushed per hour in 2011 (1.91). The average number of woodcock flushed per hour statewide by cooperators was slightly higher between 2012 (1.57) and 2011 (1.2).
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 2011. The 2013 fall ruffed grouse and woodcock numbers could be similar if not a little bit lower statewide compared to 2012. With favorable annual production, hunters could take approximately 240,000 grouse and 74,000 woodcock in 2013. Although spring arrived two weeks later than normal; the warm, average weather conditions this year 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 or only down slightly from last year. Due to normal rainfall and lack of early summer frosts, I expect soft mast production to be very good this fall compared to 2012.”
The ruffed grouse season begins on September 15, statewide.* In 2013, the opening date for woodcock hunting will be September 21.* 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.
Are you looking for new places to hunt grouse and woodcock? Stewart invites hunters to explore the 10-million acres of public land in Michigan. You can plan your next hunting adventure online with Mi-HUNT. This DNR hunting tool allows people to search for grouse and woodcock habitat on public hunting lands. “Bird hunters have found this tool to be very helpful for viewing different forest types, topography, satellite imagery and road layers…all from the comfort of their own home”, said Stewart. “There’s even a tutorial designed for grouse hunters.” To learn more about this free interactive mapping application, visit www.michigan.gov/mihunt for details.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources - Ruffed grouse drumming counts were down across most of the bird’s range, according to the annual survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
“This decrease was not unexpected because the ruffed grouse population is still in the declining phase of its 10-year cycle,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse biologist. “Drum counts peaked most recently in 2009.”
Drumming counts dropped from 1.1 to 0.9 per stop in the northeast, which is the forest bird’s core range in Minnesota. Counts in the northwest declined from 0.9 in 2012 to 0.7 drums per stop in 2013. Drumming counts did not change significantly in the central hardwoods or southeast, with an average of 0.9 and 0.4 drums per stop, respectively.
Ruffed grouse populations, which tend to rise and fall on a 10-year cycle, are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions. Drumming counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population.
This year, observers recorded 0.9 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2011 and 2012 were 1.7 and 1.0 drums per stop, respectively. Counts vary from about 0.8 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 1.9 during years of high abundance.
The number of birds present during the fall hunting season also depends upon nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer. Drumming did occur later this year because of the late spring, suggesting that nesting likely occurred later than normal.
“Later nesting would have pushed the hatch out a bit, hopefully beyond the spring rains,” Roy said. “Time will tell if that occurred and the impact on production.”
Minnesota has an abundance of aspen and other ruffed grouse habitat in the state, much of it located on county, state and national forests where public hunting is allowed. An estimated 11.5 million of the state’s 16.3 million acres of forest are grouse habitat. For more information, see www.mndnr.gov.
Similar to the last three 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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services woodcock singing-ground surveys.
The statewide woodcock singing ground survey showed woodcock numbers this spring unchanged from recent years in New Hampshire. New Hampshire Fish and Game biologists as well as Ruffed Grouse Society members reported seeing ruffed grouse broods of various sizes and ages, and folks training bird dogs have been finding plenty of woodcock, particularly in the northern counties. Weather during nesting and early brood rearing was generally wet – similar to what the rest of northern New England experienced – so don’t expect a banner year. But “average” is still good for grouse and woodcock hunters in the Granite State.
Andrew Burnett, principal biologist of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, states a higher than average spring rainfall may reduce the number of ruffed grouse available for fall hunting this year, leading to the conclusion that prospects are fair at best in the northern portion of the state to poor in the southern portion. Woodcock hunting will likely be similar to previous years (good) as the harvest is derived mostly from migrating birds.
“Considering New Jersey is the most densely populated state in America, it may surprise you to learn that 42 percent is forested. However, early succession forest habitats needed by ruffed grouse constitute only a very small portion of forests. The reduction of suitable habitat in New Jersey resulting from natural succession and a general absence of forest management practices on private lands pose a serious threat to ruffed grouse populations. The New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife has begun setting back succession on a number of Wildlife Management Areas in our northern counties in an effort to improve habitat favorable to early succession species such as golden-winged warbler, which will also benefit ruffed grouse and woodcock. Private forest landowners are encouraged to adopt a forest management plan that incorporates wildlife considerations while improving forest health and increasing species richness,” said Burnett.
New York’s statewide woodcock survey showed unchanged numbers among singing male woodcock. Dan McAuley, research biologist for U.S. Geological Survey related that cold, rainy weather and a snowfall event in May caused nest failure among woodcock in the Adirondacks, and many of these hens did not attempt to nest again this season. In areas where spring weather was not as severe, anecdotal reports indicate woodcock nested more successfully. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation spring turkey hunter cooperator grouse drumming survey results showed drumming rates similar to last year, with greatest number of grouse detected per hour in the northern regions (St. Lawrence Valley, Adirondacks/Tug Hill). Field observations by Ruffed Grouse Society members indicated that both grouse and woodcock broods were distributed across the north, central and southern portions of the state. Brood size (number of chicks per brood) and age were variable, indicating many broods were the result of second or third nesting attempts. Look for New York to have an 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/92738.html and http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/9351.html.
Gordon Warburton, supervising wildlife biologist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, echoed that lack of management as one of the main factors contributing to a bleak outlook for the upcoming fall season. “As suspected, here in the S. Appalachians, grouse are at low numbers due to a lack of quality habitat. Private lands have been better than public, but even that gap appears to be narrowing.” He continued by noting the poor weather during the brood rearing period this spring. He also brought attention to the small bump in numbers last year that he attributes to a good brood season.
“Our National Forests could and should be areas where we have stable core populations of ruffed grouse. Our sportsmen need to be very actively involved in the land management plan revision process by attending meetings, speaking up and writing email comments,” Warburton stated.
North Carolina Ruffed Grouse Drumming Survey Summary 2013: Ruffed grouse were monitored by counting drumming males on 51 routes throughout 6 mountain ranger districts. Each route consisted of 3-27 listening stations located on game lands. Observers counted drumming males within a four-minute listening period per station during the last week in March through the first week in April.
Grouse drummed at 96 of the 720 stations (13 percent). A total of 105 drumming males were detected. Each grouse detected drummed an average of 1.4 times within the four-minute listening period. Historically, grouse abundance and station occupancy rates have been highest in the Cheoah ranger district and lowest in the Grandfather ranger district. However in 2013, Pisgah and Nantahala ranger districts had both the highest abundance (0.21 grouse per station) and the highest station occupancy rates (~19 percent).
Grouse populations remain low in Ohio even with increasing acreage of habitat on some state forests and wildlife areas. The 2013 drumming surveys have not been analyzed yet, but two new routes conducted by Ruffed Grouse Society volunteers in the Shawnee State Forest in Scioto County were among the highest in the state. Habitat at the 63,000+ acre Shawnee State Forest continues to improve due to timber harvests following ice storm and wildfire damage that have occurred in recent years. A map of forest regeneration harvests on the Shawnee has been prepared by the Division of Forestry with funds provided by the RGS Ohio Drummer Fund. Maps can be obtained by contacting the Shawnee State Forest office in West Portsmouth or by visiting the Shawnee page on the Ohio Division of Forestry website. 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.
Lisa Williams, the grouse and woodcock specialist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, reports that there should be tempered excitement for the 2013-14 Pennsylvania ruffed grouse and woodcock season.
Fairly good winter conditions, with limited rain and ice events, should have led to fat and healthy grouse hens coming into the 2013 breeding season. Incubation weather was great through early May with sun and warm temperatures, and by late spring the picture looked bright for grouse production. However, late May and June experienced poor brooding and incubation weather with a string of cold and wet weeks throughout much of the state.
Williams said, “In Central Pennsylvania, we experienced multiple late freeze and frost events with extended wind and cold rain on May 12 and again during the week of May 26. This was potentially bad news for grouse broods and could affect your hunting strategy for fall 2013. Those spring freeze events could have nipped a lot of the soft mast producers again this year, as has occurred in several recent years. I have a feeling that grouse may be gathered in and around food sources this fall, as they have been in past years when food was particularly limited. Most successful grouse hunters keep a close eye on coverts with good food sources, and this could be particularly important this year. Find the food - find the grouse.”
The annual grouse season forecast is based upon the PGC’s Summer Sighting Survey in which Game Commission foresters and surveyors record the number of broods and individual grouse seen while working in the woods. Though the marginal June weather could impact later broods, the early brood numbers for June are looking good in much of Pennsylvania. In fact, both grouse brood sightings and adult grouse sightings were higher in June 2013 than they’ve been in three or four years.
Trends in hunters’ fall flush rates follow those of the summer survey about 80 percent of the time, so this information is used to develop the season forecast. According to Williams, “Compared to June of 2012, this year’s brood sightings are up 42 percent and observations of individual grouse are up a whopping 84 percent. Although August observations are the very best indicator for the season ahead, the June observations give Pennsylvania hunters much to be excited about. Based on these early sightings, I’m really beginning to think that the 2013-14 season will provide hunters with an above-average experience in Pennsylvania.”
Several anecdotal observations from long-term grouse hunters indicate the PGC’s focus on balancing deer populations with forest health, as well as the active timber harvesting being conducted by the PGC, DCNR, and Allegheny National Forest is paying dividends in terms of high grouse flush rates.
“Since 2005, we’ve seen stabilizing or improving trends in grouse populations in all regions,” said Williams. “A well-managed forest provides the dense and highly diverse understory necessary for quality grouse habitat. Well-managed forests across a large landscape can turn an area into a real grouse production zone. The northwest region is now producing bird flushes 10 percent higher than its long-term average – these are the “good old days” in that region.”
Big woods areas of northern Pennsylvania that have received active timber harvesting five or more years ago should produce abundant grouse flushes. Flush rates are always highest in regions where high-quality young forest habitat is scattered throughout a largely forested landscape.
Williams groups Pennsylvania regions into three categories, as far as grouse hunting prospects:
- Northwest and Northcentral: good to excellent. These regions are consistently the top two in the state and have maintained grouse flush rates at or above their long-term averages in recent years. Active timber harvest over the next few decades in this part of Pennsylvania should produce abundant grouse if high-quality forest understory conditions can be maintained by managing the deer herd in balance with forest health. True to form in the Northwest, the counties of Jefferson, Venango, Clarion and Forest had consistent grouse and brood sightings in June. In the Northcentral region, June grouse sightings were strong in Potter, Elk, McKean, Lycoming, Clearfield and Centre counties.
- Southwest, Southcentral and Northeast: fair. These regions maintain intermediate flush rates and habitat conditions with somewhat less extensive overall forest cover and lower rates of active forest management. Still, some hunters experience good success and PGC field crews reported abundant flushes in Northeast hotpots. Grouse were consistently observed in the PGC June survey in Cambria County (Southwest Region), Juniata, Perry and Blair counties (Southcentral Region), and Wayne, Lackawanna, Bradford and Luzerne counties in the Northeast Region.
- Southeast: fair in areas north of the Blue Mountain and poor south of it. Large parcels of forest habitat in southeastern Pennsylvania are scarce and this region has lost early successional habitat at a rate even more rapid than the rest of the state. Consequently, grouse hunting opportunities in the agricultural and urban-dominated landscapes south of the Blue Mountain are extremely limited. Again, locating high-quality habitat is key and may pay dividends. June survey results indicate that Dauphin County is the most-consistent producer of grouse observations.
Grouse Season 2013 will run:*
Oct. 19 - Nov. 30, 2013
Dec. 16 - 24, 2013
Dec. 26, 2013 – Jan. 25, 2014
The daily bag limit is two birds and the possession limit is four.*
The fall flushing rate information presented in this article comes from the Game Commission’s Grouse Cooperator Survey, and provides a way to monitor grouse population trends in good habitat. Hunters interested in participating in the Grouse Cooperator Survey are asked to write the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Bureau of Wildlife Management, Attn: Grouse Cooperator Survey, 2001 Elmerton Ave, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797 – or call 717-787-5529 and ask to be added to the Cooperator list. New Cooperators will receive a copy of the annual newsletter provided to all survey participants and all forms needed for the upcoming season.
Pennsylvania woodcock populations are holding their own in the Eastern Management Region, with 2013 marking the tenth straight year that the trend in the Eastern Region has remained stable. While a stable population is better than a declining one, woodcock numbers could be dramatically improved with targeted habitat management. Singing Ground Surveys reveal that random routes in Pennsylvania support just over one singing male per 3.6 miles (1.09 males/route). Conversely, on targeted Woodcock Management Areas where focused habitat management occurs with the timberdoodle in mind, survey routes support six times that many birds on average (6.6 males/route). Some management sites support more than 20 singing males along a survey route. Folks who want the best for woodcock are encouraged to get actively involved in habitat management efforts since habitat work clearly pays big dividends in bird numbers.
While the success of a woodcock hunt hinges largely on weather patterns and the timing of fall migration, prospects in general look good for the 2013 season. Federal surveys reveal that recruitment of juveniles into the population for 2012 (the latest year for which data exists) was on par with long-term average. The incubation and brooding weather of April and May 2013 was conducive to high chick survival with series of sunny and warm weeks. Pennsylvania is maintaining the two-week extension to the woodcock season for 2013, which gives hunters more opportunity to get into the field in search of the elusive woodcock. Due to the “calendar shift” associated with a late Thanksgiving, the opening and closing dates for woodcock are about a week later than last year. This keeps the timing the same relative to hunting seasons for other species - most importantly, maintaining concurrence with the first segment of grouse season. With these positive factors in mind, hunters should be sure to schedule some time in the wet thickets of Pennsylvania.
Woodcock Season 2013 will run: Oct. 19 - Nov. 30. The daily limit remains three, with a possession limit of nine.*
Woodcock surveys showed numbers of singing males unchanged from recent years. Brian Tefft, principal wildlife biologist for Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife, noted the positive response by woodcock to habitat improvement efforts on state forests and Wildlife Management areas. As with the rest of southern New England, weather likely did not have a detrimental effect on nesting. 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 2013. Expect good production by the local woodcock population this year in the Ocean state, augmented by northern migrants in the fall.
Billy Dukes, assistant chief of wildlife – South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, reports that as of now, South Carolina is experiencing above average rainfall throughout much of the state. With the ground being saturated and the swamps full, he suspects that with normal rainfall between now and woodcock season, that many areas will remain flooded causing birds to use what some may consider unconventional habitat. He suggests it is likely these birds may be found in pine flatwoods throughout the coastal plain.
South Carolina is a critical stopover and wintering terminus state for the American woodcock.
Dukes adds these other notes of interest for South Carolina:
- Proposed woodcock season will run from December 18 to January 31*;
- South Carolina has over 1.1 million acres of Wildlife Management Area (WMA) lands open for public hunting;
- Excellent woodcock hunting can be found on portions of the Sumter National Forest and the Francis Marion National Forest; and
- The South Carolina woodcock population usually peaks around the middle of January.
Billy Dukes can be contacted at DukesB@dnr.sc.gov.
Roger Applegate, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency wildlife population biologist, is convinced that grouse populations are fragmented with some populations being relatively secure for now but many populations declining or disappearing altogether. He contributes this to the relatively small number of hunters within the state and the paucity of Ruffed Grouse Society chapters that can promote management on State and National Forest Lands. Management on Cherokee National Forest appears to differ greatly from that on adjacent National Forests in North Carolina and Virginia where grouse appear to be doing reasonably well. “Something differs, and I don't know what it is beyond speculating,” he said.
If you are interested in providing harvest or flush-rate data please contact Roger Applegate at PO Box 40747, Nashville, TN 37204.
The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department does not develop formal population estimates for ruffed grouse, but relies upon anecdotal reports from field personnel and avid hunters to rank the spring reproduction from "poor" to "excellent" based upon grouse broods encountered incidental to other activities. Based upon anecdotal reports, the 2013 brood production seems below average. Early spring was dry, however, May, June and July were extremely wet; May and June set a new Vermont record for the wettest consecutive months with over 18.5 inches recorded in Burlington, and Montpelier set a record for rainfall in June. This inclement weather likely has impacted both nest success and brood survival in Vermont.
“Late July anecdotal reports indicate only fair numbers of hens with broods, (“poor” in southern Vermont), and brood sizes appear average, generally four to seven chicks” noted Vermont Fish & Wildlife Biologist Paul Hamelin. “The inclement weather, combined with anecdotal evidence, suggests that the Fall 2013 ruffed grouse population will be likely be below average. Fall food production for grouse looks positive, with very good production of wild apples, berries and other soft mast.”
The woodcock singing ground survey showed woodcock numbers similar to last year. Production by local nesting woodcock likely was hampered by late spring snow in some locations; repeat nesting efforts by hens that lost early nests should mitigate some of that loss. Look for an average woodcock season, but of course migrants from the North and fall weather can change the picture drastically.
The Virginia forecast was not available at the time of publication. Check back later for updates.
Keith Krantz, upland game biologist with West Virginia Department of Natural Resoruces, has provided the following report for West Virginia hunters this fall.
Woodcock – In conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, WVDNR wildlife biologists and managers run woodcock singing ground surveys every year. This year in the Eastern Management Unit, the surveys indicated a 0.72 percent increase in singing males. Unfortunately, observers recorded a 7.3 percent decline in males heard. The take home message to woodcock hunters would be that if they are hunting before the fall flights come through, they may not find as many birds as they did last year. Conversely, if they time their hunts to coincide with the major fall flights (typically end of October – first of November), they likely will find more birds than last year. This is totally dependent on the severity of storms at that time. Last year, Super Storm Sandy put so much snow on the ground in our premier woodcock areas that the flight birds passed us by for more hospitable habitat. A number of our passionate woodcock hunters reported that last year was the worst woodcock season they have ever experienced. Because there is an abundance of downed trees and tree tops in those forests impacted by Sandy, traversing some coverts will likely be more challenging than usual, however because the amount of cover has increased it likely will support more birds.
Ruffed Grouse - The WVDNR conducts brood counts for both grouse and turkeys and uses those numbers as an index to relative abundance. These surveys are incomplete at this time, and the data will not be available until September. At that time it will be combined with mast surveys to prepare the West Virginia Hunting Outlook. Fall predictions at this time would be premature. I will say that in our grouse research area we conducted our annual drumming survey and found in the treatment and control area respectively, a 42.6 percent and 25.8 percent decline in drumming males. While both research areas experienced a decline from 2012, they were 12.5 percent and 64.3 percent (treatment vs. control) better than the 10-year average. Some have expressed curiosity about the improved conditions and better density of grouse in the control area which has received no habitat management. A portion of that area is occupied by dead or dying beech trees, infected by beech bark disease. This disease is caused by a fungus which is spread by a small insect called beech scale. As a result of this infection, the dying beech tree sends up hundreds of saplings (referred to as suckers) from its roots. These rings of very dense beech suckers create small islands of vertical cover for grouse; unfortunately their food value is nominal. Due to the absence of landscape level mosaic timber cutting, reverting farms and the resulting age diverse young forests along with brood habitat that is/has been impacted by invasives, I expect the grouse population and hunting to be very similar to last year - poor.
Keith Krantz can be contacted at email@example.com for more information.
Brian Dhuey, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife researcher reported, “Statewide ruffed grouse population indices decreased 9 percent between 2012 and 2013, 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= 0.58) from 2012 to 2013. Drummer densities on the two research areas, the Sandhill Wildlife Area in Wood County and the Stone Lake Experimental Area in Oneida County were mixed, Stone Lake showed an increase of 2 percent and Sandhill a decrease of 5 percent from 2012 levels.”
Dhuey also stated, “This is the second decrease in the ruffed grouse indices since 2011. Survey indices show a decrease in drumming grouse in three of the four regions of the state. Despite the decrease in breeding grouse in the spring of 2012, brood production in the summer of 2012 was 17 percent higher than in 2011. This unfortunately did not translate into more breeding grouse in the spring of 2013. Wisconsin’s primary grouse range, the Central and Northern Forest Regions, showed mixed results. The Central Forest had a decrease in breeding grouse of 18.1 percent this spring, while the Northern Forest had a small increase of 1.6 percent.”
A long winter with snow still present in late April in northern Wisconsin delayed the ruffed grouse breeding season. Nesting began 10 days to 2 weeks later than usual in the region with most broods starting to appear during the second week of June. Unfortunately the cool, wet spring continued during this period that most likely will impact fall populations.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service woodcock singing ground surveys from 2012 were up 2.1 percent from 2012 numbers for Wisconsin with 3.01 singing males heard per survey route. This is the sixth consecutive spring that showed increases in singing males in the state. The late arrival of spring also negatively affected breeding woodcock with heavy snow falling across most of the state in late April.
As for the 2013 Wisconsin hunting season, at this time it appears both ruffed grouse and woodcock numbers likely will be down when 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.
In 2012, grouse hunters in Manitoba were able to hunt woodcock 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 second highest count of singing males in the Central Management Region behind Ontario. This spring’s count was down insignificantly from 2012. Ruffed Grouse Society members in Manitoba are reporting strong grouse numbers, and the outlook is good for this fall’s grouse and woodcock seasons.
Nova Scotia was the only province or state in the Northeast to show any upturn in woodcock numbers this spring, although the increase was not statistically significant. 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 1978. There is not a lot of reason to be excited about woodcock production this spring, however, as Nova Scotia took the brunt of colder and wetter than average weather that afflicted much of the Northeast this spring and summer.
According to Ruffed Grouse Society Canada volunteers, the outlook for local ruffed grouse numbers in Nova Scotia is poor this year.
Numbers of male woodcock counted on New Brunswick’s province-wide woodcock survey continue to be strong, with numbers being similar to recent years. 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. As elsewhere in the Northeast, woodcock production may have been dampened by above-average rainfall during nesting and early brood rearing, although reports from folks working their dogs indicate they’ve been finding woodcock in satisfactory numbers. New Brunswick does not conduct a province-wide drummer survey, but Ruffed Grouse Society Canada’s John Lockerbie says that RGS members in the field have reported numerous adult grouse seen or heard drumming; brood production likely suffered from the extreme rainfall, as sightings of grouse broods have revealed broods smaller in the number of chicks as well as late-hatched broods, the result of re-nesting after the first nesting attempt failed.
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 and may be trending down. 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. Grouse production will depend to some extent on how local weather affected nesting and chick survival. The province is also important for woodcock production, typically accounting for the greatest 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 the past few years. Good populations of grouse and woodcock entering the nesting season should bode well for upland bird hunters in Ontario this year, with particularly bright spots where weather during early summer favored brood success.
Quebec does not conduct a province-wide drummer survey. Reports from Ruffed Grouse Society volunteers indicate the 2012 hunting season was fair for ruffed grouse, both north and south of the St. Lawrence River. This year’s woodcock survey in Quebec again showed strong numbers of singing males, not significantly changed 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 spring weather similar to Maine, with northern areas faring better than southern regions. The 2013 outlook is variable for upland bird hunters in Quebec, with better prospects in the northern part of the grouse range.
Prince Edward Island
The count of singing male woodcock on the province-wide woodcock survey was unchanged from last year, which was the highest in six years. Prince Edward Island does not conduct a drummer survey. According to Ruffed Grouse Society Canada’s John Lockerbie, Prince Edward Island had a wet spring similar to what New Brunswick experienced. It should be a fair year for grouse, woodcock and upland bird hunters in Prince Edward Island.
*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.