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2011 HUNTING SEASON FORECAST

07/12/11

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RGS NEWS

2011 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
 
 
Canada
Nova Scotia
            Nova Scotia DNR Biologist Peter Austin-Smith, Jr. reports that the abundance ranking submitted by hunters last year indicated the spring ruffed grouse population in Nova Scotia may be lower than last year. Though some ruffed grouse will re-nest following nest loss, continued cool damp weather may cause further mortality of chicks. A poor to fair outlook is expected for local ruffed grouse numbers.
            The province-wide woodcock survey showed similar numbers of singing males to last year. Nova Scotia DNR Wildlife Biologist Randy Milton isn’t optimistic about woodcock production this year: the spring nesting season was cool and wet, with flooding prevalent in low-lying areas, which could result in early brood loss. Woodcock that did re-nest should have found abundant food for their chicks in the moist soil conditions. A fair outlook is predicted for local woodcock numbers.
New Brunswick
            Though no province-wide drummer survey was conducted, DNR Wildlife Biologist Kevin Connor reports the province-wide woodcock survey showed numbers of singing males as fairly stable, not significantly increased over last year – the average number of woodcock counted per survey route is higher here than in any other province or state. DNR Wildlife Biologist Rod Cumberland reports that a cold and very wet spring would suggest poor brood production. Improved June weather and casual observations of good-sized grouse broods indicate bright spots in an otherwise fair outlook for both grouse and woodcock.
Ontario
            No annual survey of drumming grouse was conducted, but given the synchrony of the grouse cycle evident from drummer surveys in the western Great Lakes states, it’s probable that grouse are near the peak of the cycle. Suitable habitat conditions, the result of active timber management, exist in much of the province north of French River.
            Ontario is 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 similar to last year. Good populations of grouse and woodcock, along with fair spring weather, create a favorable outlook for upland bird hunters this year.
Quebec
            No drummer survey was conducted, but reports from RGS volunteers indicate 2010 was a banner year for ruffed grouse, particularly north of the St. Lawrence River. The woodcock survey showed numbers of singing males up slightly from last year north of the St. Lawrence River. The southern survey region experienced an insignificant decrease. Quebec is second to New Brunswick in the number of woodcock detected per survey route.
            Weather during the spring nesting season was mixed. North of the St. Lawrence moderately wet and cool weather prevailed, but it was generally free of prolonged rainy spells. Farther south the weather was colder than normal with higher precipitation, and flooding in low-lying areas. Woodcock and grouse likely had poor brood production south of the St. Lawrence, but the outlook in the North is favorable.
Prince Edward Island
            No drummer survey was conducted. The woodcock survey showed numbers of singing males increased slightly from last year. Spring nesting conditions were wetter than normal, but with no prolonged rainy periods. Conditions improved in June, just in time for newly-hatched grouse broods. Expect similar numbers as last year in the woods this fall.
 
United States
Alaska
            Drumming surveys conducted this spring in the Clear/Anderson area suggest that ruffed grouse populations in the interior may be on the way up from the bottom of the 10-year cycle. The 2011 survey found 9 drumming males compared to an all time low of 0 drumming males heard last year. This fall you can expect similar, or slightly improved, numbers as last year.
Connecticut
            According to Connecticut DEP Wildlife Biologist Mike Gregonis, drumming surveys indicated that drumming males were down. He adds that, “Despite the drumming survey, I do think productivity was fair to good last spring for grouse.”
            Ruffed grouse have declined as habitat has matured, but there’s hope that recent habitat enhancement programs for New England cottontail and American woodcock will benefit ruffed grouse.
            The statewide singing ground survey showed woodcock numbers as being stable relative to recent years. Spring weather should not be a major issue. Look for fair to good production among woodcock this year.
Delaware
            Suitable habitat is scarce for woodcock, but a few habitat projects may encourage woodcock nesting and offer migrants refuge in the future. Officially, Delaware is still part of the annual Woodcock Singing Ground Survey coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, though no viable data is currently being collected.
Georgia
            Tornados on both private and federal lands this year have naturally converted many acres of mature forest to early successional habitat. The quality of the habitat created has yet to be determined, and access to these areas may be difficult. By supporting salvage efforts, we can assist in creating quality habitat and in increasing hunter access.
            Lower Georgia supports locally high numbers of woodcock through the winter, and they can also be found in the northern valleys later in the fall.
Illinois
            Ruffed grouse are not hunted in Illinois, and no spring drumming surveys are conducted. Woodcock singing ground counts showed a 15% decrease in singing males over last year, with 0.70 singing males heard per route surveyed.
Indiana
            Grouse numbers are poor, and forested areas suitable for grouse are few and far between. Renewed efforts by the state to reinvigorate management for dense, young forest habitat may offer improved opportunities in coming years.
            Check out prime woodcock covers often, as migrants pour out of the Lake States in late October and early November. Singing males were down this spring; the long-term trend is also downward.
Iowa
            Grouse numbers continue to be low. Much of the spring was unseasonably wet, making nesting and brood rearing difficult. Habitat improvement efforts continue on Iowa Department of Natural Resources public lands, some expansion of these efforts occurring on private land that could help improve population levels in the future.
            Iowa is not included in the US Fish and Wildlife Services woodcock singing-ground surveys.
Kentucky
            Where habitat exists, grouse hunting exists. These pockets vary in the eastern portion of Kentucky. Severe weather events in previous years may expand these pockets and should be scouted this year. Don’t overlook reclaimed surface mines as potential opportunities.
            Concentrate your woodcock efforts during the fall migration in bottomlands and along waterways to increase your chances. Any day in the fall can be successful in and around the standard old-field and younger forest stands.
Maine
            Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Biologist Kelsey Sullivan notes that weather during more than half of May was cool and wetter than normal, which often has a chilling effect on production of both grouse and woodcock. Although Maine does not conduct statewide drumming surveys, Sullivan observed that drumming activity in the central part of the state was below average, whereas other colleagues reported average or better drumming in the North.
            The woodcock singing ground survey in Maine showed woodcock numbers this spring not significantly greater than last year. However, Dan McCauley, research biologist for U.S. Geological Survey, says that woodcock broods were scarce during the normal peak of hatch in May this year. The net result of early nest and brood loss will likely be a later hatch, fewer broods, and reduced brood size.
Maryland
            Upland Game Bird Project Leader Bob Long reports that ruffed grouse are primarily found in the westernmost counties of Garrett, Allegany, and Washington. Cooperator surveys suggest that grouse densities and hunter success is highest in Garrett County, followed by Allegany. Active forest management on the region’s abundant state forests continues to provide the necessary early-successional habitat for grouse and woodcock, but this spring’s weather may have negatively impacted reproductive success.
            Breeding woodcock population trends continue to show a long-term decline. However, woodcock are abundant in many areas during migration periods, providing excellent hunting opportunities for hunters that can find them. Migrant woodcock move through much of the state in October and November, but they will spend most of the winter in the Eastern region if conditions are suitable. Long remarks, “Additional hunting days will be permitted in both the early and late segments of the season this year.”
Massachusetts
            Massachusetts Division of Wildlife’s Upland Game Bird Biologist David Scarpitti reports that grouse numbers were stable on the drummer survey routes, and the number of woodcock detected on the statewide singing ground survey was unchanged from 2010. Cold, deep snow conditions and abundant food resources favored winter survival among grouse. Spring nesting conditions were fair, as southern New England was spared some of the cold, wet weather that neighbors to the North experienced. Stable numbers of grouse and woodcock, fair spring conditions, and casual observations of grouse and woodcock broods this spring add up to a fair to good forecast this fall.
Michigan
            DNR Upland Game Bird Specialist Al Stewart reports ruffed grouse drumming counts were conducted statewide along 103 survey routes in April and May. Using data from 97 routes run in both 2010 and 2011, there was a 19% increase statewide in the average number of drums heard per route.
            Analysis at the regional scale indicated there was no significant difference between the number of drums heard per route in Zone 2 (Northern Lower Peninsula). However, there was about a 37% increase in the average number of drums heard per route in Zone 1 (Upper Peninsula).
            Woodcock flush rates reported in the Michigan Hunter Cooperator Survey
were slightly higher in 2010 than the year before. Flush rates were highest in the Northern Lower Peninsula, followed by the Southern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula. There was no significant change in the number of singing males heard per route in Michigan on the woodcock singing-ground survey between last year and this year.
            Stewart concludes, “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.”
Minnesota
            Ruffed grouse surveys taken during April and May of this year indicate the densities of ruffed grouse remain high, relative to the 10-year population cycle in Minnesota. Mean drumming counts throughout the state this spring were 1.7 drums per stop, compared to 1.5 heard last year. There is the potential for very good hunting again this fall, though some cool weather and heavy rain in late spring may have affected brood production. Drumming counts indicate this should be another year in a recent plateau of good grouse numbers, and hunting opportunities similar to last year are expected.
            US Fish and Wildlife Service woodcock singing ground surveys this year were down 2% from 2010 numbers, with 3.86 singing males heard per survey route.
Missouri
            Akin to last year, 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.
New Hampshire
            Julie Robinson, upland game bird specialist of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department noted, “In the southern part of the state the spring started out warm and relatively dry. The northern part is another story, where it was wet and cold, and snow remained on the ground late. Flooding was prevalent. In early June, cool weather and rain covered the entire state. I would say this is a fair to good year for nesting and brood rearing south of the White Mountains and fair to poor for the North Country.”
            Reports in the southern portion of the state indicate grouse broods were productive. Drumming counts were fair this year, with no significant change from last year. The wing and tail survey showed another increase in the juvenile to adult female ratio. Although it’s still low, there is an upward trend.
            Statewide woodcock singing ground surveys showed numbers similar to last year. Local woodcock populations should be strong where weather conditions were fair, but in the North adverse spring weather conditions are likely to affect nesting and brood production.
New Jersey
            Principle Wildlife Biologist Andrew Burnett reports the northwest counties remain the best for grouse hunting due primarily to the habitat improvement efforts of the local RGS chapter. Hunter harvest surveys the last 2 years have been steadily increasing. Southern county numbers remain low, yet following the recommendations of RGS local chapters and support from National in shortening the season length south of Rt. 70 previously, Burnett anticipates these populations will increase.
            Burnett states that the 2011 singing ground surveys indicate a stable breeding population of woodcock and the 20-year results are relatively flat. Good hunting is found in the north in Sussex County and in the south in Cumberland along the Cape May peninsula as the migrants utilize this area as a staging ground.
            Woodcock surveys report a non-significant increase in singing ground numbers over last year.
New York
            Spring turkey hunter cooperator drumming survey results had not been tabulated by press time. The statewide woodcock survey showed a non-significant decline among singing male woodcock. Above average rainfall and cool temperatures during the nesting season will likely result in poor nesting success among grouse and woodcock this year.
            Dan McCauley, research biologist for U.S. Geological Survey, related that woodcock broods were scarce during the normal peak of hatch in May in the Adirondacks this year. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Upland Game Bird Biologist Michael Schiavone suspects a better year for woodcock south of the Adirondacks. Look for New York to have a fair to average production year for ruffed grouse and woodcock.
            Schiavone noted the results of recent drummer surveys and grouse and woodcock hunter log surveys are available on the web at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/48169.html http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/75084.html.and
North Carolina
            Management opportunities are on the horizon within the National Forest system, and therefore the potential for grouse numbers to increase is optimistic. Currently, the grouse are scattered and overall numbers are down. 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. High numbers are indicative of successful reproduction of northern populations. Don’t overlook the opportunities mountain valleys offer during migration.
            John Wooding, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission small game biologist, believes that last fall was a great acorn crop, which may have positively impacted brood survival rates. This fall may be a recovery year.
Ohio
            Although the state experienced the wettest April on record, conditions improved during the peak hatching period in mid to late May. Grouse populations remain low throughout grouse range in Ohio, but an increase in drumming was heard on routes in a couple of counties in southeastern Ohio this spring.
            Habitat conditions continue to improve on many State Forests and Wildlife Areas. Ohio Department of Natural Resources Biologist, Mike Reynolds states, “I am hopeful that the increase in drummers heard this spring is the start of a population rebound in some areas.”
            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.
Pennsylvania
            Lisa Williams, Pennsylvania Game Commission grouse biologist states, “The preliminary data analysis for our 2010-11 grouse cooperator hunting survey is complete, and the downward trend in high-quality young forest habitat in Pennsylvania continues to take its toll on grouse populations. Grouse are still holding their own where good habitat exists, and this shows in some regions of the state, but the statewide flush rate of last season (2010-2011) was below the 40-year average: 1.30 flushes/hour in 2010-2011 as compared with last year’s statewide average of 1.40 flushes/hr and the 40-yr average of 1.41 flushes/hr.”
            Williams groups state regions in these categories for grouse hunting prospects:
    • Northwest should have excellent hunting. This region is consistently the top area in the state and has maintained grouse flush rates above its long-term average. Clarion, Forest, and Warren counties had flush rates exceeding 2 birds/hour.
    • Northcentral is good hunting – a bit spotty. Good habitat offers excellent hunting, Elk, McKean, and Potter Counties offer a lot of acreage in public and open-access private lands for hunters looking for new coverts.
    • The Southwest, Southcentral and Northeast are fair. These regions maintain intermediate flush rates and habitat conditions with somewhat less extensive overall forest cover and lower rates of active forest management. All saw flush rates decline compared to last year
    • The Southeast is also fair – in areas north of the Blue Mountain and poor south of it. 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 landscape south of the Blue Mountain are extremely limited. Some decent habitat exists in Schuylkill and northern Dauphin Counties. There was a slight recovery from last year, and some hunters reported seeing improved habitat in the northern portion of the region.

            Williams is optimistic the hunting season for woodcock in the state will be successful, yet recruitment to local populations may be low for this year. ‘The overall state and region level woodcock population (that forms the basis for PA woodcock hunting) appear to be similar to recent years. But again, recruitment this spring may be negatively affected by the extended cool, wet weather of April and May… the proposed [hunting season] extension should reduce the incidence of migration peaks in specific areas occurring when the season is not open.”
             Reports showed an insignificant decrease in woodcock singing ground surveys this year
Rhode Island
           
Woodcock surveys showed numbers of singing males not significantly different from last year. As in much of southern New England, spring weather was not ideal, but shouldn’t have a major adverse effect on woodcock production, and soil moisture should be sufficient to provide abundant food for woodcock broods. There currently is no hunting season for ruffed grouse.
Tennessee
            Wildlife Resources Agency Wildlife Biologist Roger Applegate reports the outlook for grouse is bleak, due to the lack of quality habitat, and funding for habitat work. This, coupled with state and federal agencies inability to properly manage their forested lands without opposition from preservation affiliates, he predicts, “Grouse here may soon be classified as a non-game species. This state of affairs is unacceptable; we need help. We do have grouse in the Ridge and Valley region, Cumberland Mountains, and eastern edge of the Cumberland Plateau, but their numbers are extremely low and population growth is minimal.”
            Applegate further reports that the woodcock population is probably underestimated, as more quail hunters bump woodcock than do the few remaining grouse hunters. Breeding exists in isolated pockets of appropriate habitat. The bulk of the hunting season is dependent on the success of the woodcock production further north and is concentrated in the western portion of the state.
Vermont
            The statewide woodcock survey showed numbers of singing males on par with last year. Vermont Fish and Wildlife Biologist Bill Crenshaw reported poor nesting conditions due to record rainfall and flooding experienced during the months of April and May. Vermont Fish and Wildlife biologist Paul Hamelin provided the following fall forecast for ruffed grouse in the state, “Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department doesn’t 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 2011 brood production seems below average. The spring has been very wet and cool, unfavorable for grouse nesting, brooding, and insect production.”
            Poor spring weather conditions, along with reports of fair numbers of hens with broods, suggest that this hunting season will be below average. Upland hunters are urged to consider habitat conditions above every other factor. Hamelin adds, “Viable numbers of birds can be found around early successional habitat improvement projects (apple tree releases, old field edges, clearcuts) on the Green Mountain National Forest and Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) in the Green Mountains region of the state, and on WMAs, State Forests, and commercial timber lands in northeastern Vermont.
            “Although the “Northeast Kingdom” region of Vermont has maintained significant young forest habitat due to a large proportion of land dedicated to active timber harvesting, the current economic climate is marginal for logging; very high fuel costs combined with low demand for lumber (housing surplus, little new construction) has led to a significant slowdown in timber harvesting, with some contractors going out of business.”
Virginia
            Last year’s acorn crops would indicate that grouse were in excellent condition this spring and had the potential for a reproductive boost this year. Extended wet periods in mid-May may have impacted chick survival rates. The rains were generally accompanied with mild temperatures, and it’s hoped that the breeding population (at the very least) has been stabilized.
            The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Biologist Gary Norman reports the Virginia drumming surveys indicate an increase over previous years which demonstrate good winter survival, “Long-term drumming rates have been low, but show a stable statewide population.” Continued habitat improvement work between RGS Chapters and VDGIF on public lands will assist in maintaining the stability and increasing these populations in the future.
            The best hunting can be found in the southwest portion of the state. Norman suggests hunters scout for areas containing patches of good habitat, as mast production could be spotty if hunting within the George Washington or Jefferson National Forests. The Wildlife Management Areas tend to be managed more heavily for grouse than the USFS lands.
            Norman also noted that, “The concentration of woodcock is found along the coast during migration, as nesting is rather uncommon in the state.” Continued habitat improvement and management should attract these fall migrants and encourage overwintering of individuals along the coast. Woodcock singing ground survey data from this year shows an increase, but not statistically significant, in numbers.
West Virginia
            Heavy snows this winter may have contributed to a high survival rate of grouse, by providing snow-roosting opportunities. The late snows may also have protected many of the birds from the raptors migrating along the Allegheny Front during the spring migration. Hunting success should be good where cover is sufficient and forage abundant.
            Woodcock hunting should be good in the old field edges encouraged by management and reclaimed strip mines. Much of this habitat improvement is due to the efforts of state and federal agencies. Singing ground surveys report a non-significant increase between 2010 and 2011 counts.
Wisconsin
            Brian Dhuey, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife researcher reports,“Statewide ruffed grouse population indices increased 38% between 2010 and 2011, 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 suggestive of an increase (P= 0.06) from 2010 to 2011. However, drummer densities on the Sandhill Wildlife Area in Wood County decreased 17%. The Stone Lake Experimental Area in Oneida County decreased 10% from 2010 levels.”
            Dhuey continues,This is the fifth increase in the ruffed grouse index in the last six years. Survey indices show an increase in drumming grouse in three of the four regions of the state (northern, central and southwest). Past grouse cycle highs in Wisconsin have usually occurred in a year ending in a 9 or 0, but it would appear that 2011 will be the exception to this trend. Good brood rearing conditions in the summer of 2011 could set the stage for good grouse numbers in the fall.”
            US Fish and Wildlife Service woodcock singing ground surveys from 2011 were up 8.5% from 2010 numbers for Wisconsin with 2.90 singing males heard per survey route.Spring was late in arriving in most of Wisconsin in 2011 with late snow and cold weather making conditions difficult for nesting and brood rearing of woodcock.
            As for the 2011 Wisconsin hunting season, at this time it appears grouse numbers may be up but woodcock numbers may be down compared to last year.