Season Forecasts 2014
Ruffed grouse and American woodcock hunting season forecasts for 2014-15 are presented for the United States and Canadian Provinces by the Ruffed Grouse Society biologists and state/provincial agency biologists.
2014 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
Eric Ellis, Regional Biologist Michigan, Ohio & Indiana
Andrew Weik, Regional Biologist New York, New England & Eastern Canada
Gary Zimmer, Coordinating Biologist, Western Great Lakes
Ted Dick, MN DNR Forest Gamebird Coordinator, Minnesota (MN DNR position partially funded through a partnership with RGS)
Routes run consecutively for the past two to three years show that ruffed grouse populations in much of the Interior will be slightly higher with the anticipated cyclic increase of that population. This is consistent with historic trends (Alaska birds seem to cycle up and down several years ahead of birds in the Great Lakes and Northeast Regions).
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 ( less than 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.
Information will be provided in the near future.
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 2014 showed a 19.68 percent increase in singing males over 2013 with 0.15 singing males heard per-route surveyed.
The ruffed grouse population in Indiana is in serious trouble due to forest succession away from young forests to middle and older stages of forest development. The amount of intensive vegetative disturbance required to promote young forest habitat, both natural and human caused, is lacking on both private and public lands in the state. According to Steve Backs, wildlife research biologist with the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife, the 2014 drumming surveys did not locate any male ruffed grouse along routes that have been surveyed for decades. He also stated that the situation on the ground is so dire that a proposal to suspend the ruffed grouse season in Indiana starting in 2015 is being considered.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service woodcock singing-ground counts in 2014 surveyed 15 routes in Indiana and found a 2.89 percent increase in the number of singing males over last year’s result. While this is a positive finding it is worth pointing out that American woodcock populations have still declined at roughly 4 percent annually in Indiana since 1968. With the current lack of young forest habitat creation in the state, on both private and public lands, this trend is likely to continue into the future.
Grouse numbers continue to be low in northeast Iowa with this season’s above normal wet weather conditions not expected to help matters. Work continues on stepping up 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, wildlife biologist with the Small Game Program of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources provides the following information on grouse: The outlook for the upcoming season remains similar to previous years. Pockets of good grouse habitat remain and hunters are finding birds there. However, the majority of our forests are aging, leaving little quality cover. Areas in the northeast portion of the state continue to produce more birds than the southeastern counties. I would suggest the Daniel Boone National Forest around Morehead as a starting point. Forests around West Liberty, Kentucky experienced severe tornado damage in March 2012. I would expect these areas to produce decent grouse numbers in the coming years as the forest canopy was opened as a result of the disaster.
“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 northwoods.
Bob Long, wild turkey and upland game bird project manager with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources - Wildlife and Heritage Service, provides the following information regarding grouse and woodcock populations and hunting in Maryland:
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. The moderate spring weather should be favorable for grouse nesting and hunters should find good numbers of birds in suitable habitat. Although many woodcock hunters focus much of their attention on migrants later in the season, breeding woodcock reproductive success in Maryland should also be near or above average.
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.
Weather conditions were generally favorable for ruffed grouse broods this past spring after a delay in nesting due to the long lasting winter conditions. This followed a winter with excellent overwintering conditions due to the deep fluffy snowpack that persisted in much of the state from mid-November into April (and beyond in many places) making for excellent snow roosting habitat.
Information provided by Al Stewart, upland game bird specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, indicated that ruffed grouse drumming counts were conducted statewide along 105 survey routes during April and May 2014. An average of 12.43 drums were heard per route statewide, a 16 percent increase from the 2013 (10.77) average. The highest drumming counts were in Zone 1 (Upper Peninsula; 14.86), followed by Zone 2 (Northern Lower Peninsula; 11.64) and Zone 3 (Southern Lower Peninsula; 4.14).
“In Michigan, we are a step-up from the bottom of the 10-year-cycle based on the 2014 spring drumming grouse survey.” said Stewart. “Our survey data suggests that the Michigan grouse population last peaked in 2010 and the most recent low in grouse abundance occurred during 2004-2005. My prediction is that in 2014, grouse hunters will experience flush rates similar to 2013. If production is good (field biologists are reporting more broods than last year), there may be a slight increase in the number of grouse seen this fall. The opening date for ruffed grouse hunting season is September 15.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey data on American woodcock from this past spring indicate that populations were down 4.4 percent along the 95 surveyed routes in Michigan. Stewart pointed out that this was “not unexpected due to a cold, wet spring in 2013” and that “prolonged winter conditions this spring may have impacted 2014 woodcock production in Michigan.” Based on state and federal survey information, Stewart predicts “that woodcock hunters this fall can expect a season similar to 2013.” The opening date for woodcock hunting in Michigan’s 45-day woodcock season is Saturday, September 20.
Information from Minnesota Department of Natural Resources: Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts were significantly higher than last year across most of the bird’s range, according to a survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
“Ruffed grouse drums increased 34 percent from the previous year, with the increase happening in the northern part of the state,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse project leader. “This may signal the start of an upswing in the grouse cycle that since 2009 has been in the declining phase.”
The increase is consistent with changes typical of the 10-year grouse cycle. The most recent peak in drum counts occurred in 2009. The cycle is less pronounced in the more southern regions of the state, near the edge of the ruffed grouse range.
Drumming is a low sound produced by males as they beat their wings rapidly and in increasing frequency to signal the location of their territory. Drumming displays also attract females that are ready to begin nesting.
Compared to last year’s survey, 2014 survey results for ruffed grouse indicated increases in the northeast survey region, which is the core of grouse range in Minnesota, from 0.9 drums per stop in 2013 to 1.3 in 2014. Drumming counts in the northwest increased from 0.7 drums per stop in 2013 to 1.2 in 2014. Drumming counts did not increase in the central hardwoods or southeast, with an average of 0.8 and 0.3 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. This year observers recorded 1.1 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2012 and 2013 were 1.0 and 0.9, respectively. Counts vary from about 0.6 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 2.0 during years of high abundance.
Drumming counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population. The number of birds present during the fall hunting season also depends upon nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer.
Minnesota frequently is the nation’s top ruffed grouse producer. On average, 115,000 hunters harvest 545,000 ruffed grouse in Minnesota each year, also making it the state’s most popular game bird. During the peak years of 1971 and 1989, hunters harvested more than 1 million ruffed grouse. Michigan and Wisconsin, which frequently field more hunters than Minnesota, round out the top three states in ruffed grouse harvest.
One reason for Minnesota’s status as a top grouse producer is an abundance of aspen and other ruffed grouse habitat, 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 the past 65 years, DNR biologists have monitored ruffed grouse populations. This year, DNR staff and cooperators from 11 organizations surveyed 121 routes across the state. For more information, see www.mndnr.gov.
Similar to the last four 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 Service 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 RGS 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 wildlife biologist with the Upland Game and Furbearer Project with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, has expressed concern regarding the spring wet weather affecting the grouse nesting and chick survival this year. “Last year was much better conditions for survival,” indicating prospects are fair at best in the northern portion of the state to poor in the southern portion. He continued, “There were 1,766 grouse hunters and a harvest of 727 birds during 2013-14. The number of hunters has been below 2,000 for the past 10 years, and we are continuing to lose them.”
Woodcock hunting will likely be similar to previous years (good) as the New Jersey harvest is derived mostly from migrating birds. There were between 800 and 900 hunters who harvested between 2,500 and 3,000 woodcock. New Jersey has 36 days of season with a split state zone.
“Considering New Jersey is the most densely populated state in America, it may surprise you to learn that 42 percent of our state is forested. However, early succession forests 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. NJew 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.” Andrew encourages private forest landowners to adopt a forest management plan that incorporates wildlife considerations while improving forest health and increasing species richness.
New York’s statewide woodcock survey showed unchanged numbers among singing male woodcock. Weather-wise, spring came like a lamb to New York, but then got squirrelly. 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 RGS 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 .
According to Gordon Warburton, mountain ecoregion supervisor with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, avid grouse hunters in the mountains report seeing fewer birds last year (2013) than the previous season (2012). Our surveys were about the same or slightly down from last year but not much. Our grouse population is at a very low level but somewhat stable at that low level.
“The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission urges all grouse hunters to participate in the Nantahala-Pisgah land management plan process if they want to change to course and future of our grouse populations. Our national forests are capable of supporting many more grouse than are present today, and it all depends on how much habitat is created through timber practices. Sportsmen are speaking up in large numbers, and they are having an impact – please go to the following website and show up and speak up at the public meetings http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/nfsnc/home/?cid=STELPRDB5397660
According to Mark Wiley, Ohio Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist, “Grouse populations remain low in Ohio even with increasing acreage of habitat on some state forests and wildlife areas. Drumming surveys were completed on 39 routes within 30 counties. Routes were run twice totaling 780 stops. The 2014 drumming index (2.4 drummers per 100 stops) was 20 percent lower than the 2013 index (3.0 drummers per 100 stops), though the routes surveyed were not wholly consistent between these years. In 2014, drummers were detected on 10 routes and within 9 counties. 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.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service woodcock singing-ground counts in 2014 showed a 3.6 percent decrease in singing males from 2013, with 0.8 singing males heard per survey route in Ohio.
According to Lisa Williams, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s (PGC) grouse and woodcock specialist, “The Polar Vortex and extended winter weather of early 2014, combined with some significant rain events during the incubation and brood season leads me to be somewhat guarded for grouse in 2014-15. Some of our northern areas had snow on the ground well into April. This could affect your hunting strategy for fall 2014.”
As predicted last year, grouse seemed to be gathered in and around food sources last hunting season. Most successful grouse hunters should keep a close eye on coverts with good food sources, and this could be particularly important this year. Find the food; find the grouse. This was particularly important last year, as the statewide hunter flush rate was higher than the previous year, but seemed spottier from location to location. I would expect the same for 2014.”
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, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (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. However, in 2013-14 grouse flushes were down in that region, so we’ll cross our fingers that 2014-15 will be better up there. A final forecast won’t be available until we get results from t 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.”
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:
1) 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.
2) Southwest, Southcentral and Northeast: fair. These regions maintain intermediate flush rates and habitat conditions with less extensive overall forest cover and lower rates of active forest management on private lands. Still, some hunters experience good success and PGC field crews report abundant flushes in localized hotpots where young forest and diverse menus are available to birds.
3) 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.
NOTE: The fall flushing rate information presented here comes from the PGC’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.
Woodcock populations are holding their own in the Eastern Management Region, with ten years of stable population trends in the eastern region of the country. 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 2014 season. The incubation and brooding weather of April and May 2014 was conducive to high chick survival with series of sunny and warm weeks, though the period of heavy rain and flooding that occurred in May is somewhat of a concern. Williams says, “The good news is that woodcock should be unaffected by last year’s severe winter, unless some of the cold weather and snow in the south impacted them on the wintering grounds. But I did not hear of any concerns from southern biologists, so I think the woodcock forecast is optimistic.” Pennsylvania is maintaining the two-week extension to the woodcock season for 2014, which gives hunters more opportunity to get into the field in search of the elusive woodcock. With these positive factors in mind, hunters should be sure to schedule some time in the wet thickets of Pennsylvania.
Woodcock surveys showed numbers of singing males unchanged from recent years. Brian Tefft, principal wildlife biologist for the 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 2012. Expect good production by the local woodcock population this year in the Ocean State augmented by northern migrants in the fall.
Willie Simmons, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources small game project supervisor, provides the following information: “Our best woodcock hunting will probably occur on our wildlife management area lands. The two areas that come to mind are Sumter National Forest and Francis Marion National Forest.”
The woodcock population usually peaks in the middle of January with the season open from December 18 to January 31.
Roger Applegate, wildlife biologist and coordinator with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), offers the following information: “As usual I do not anticipate grouse numbers to change from last year in any significant way. Grouse are going to be status quo in the Cumberland Mountains and Ridge and Valley areas. They occur in localized areas where sufficient timber cutting has maintained habitat. Areas such as North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area continue to be our core for grouse in this state. Woodcock numbers will be dependent on timing of migration of local woodcock and influx of woodcock from the northeast and upper midwest.”
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 4 to 7 chicks,” noted Vermont Fish & Wildlife Biologist Paul Hamelin. “The inclement weather, combined with anecdotal evidence, suggests that the fall 2014 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.
Gary Norman, certified wildlife biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), states that the trend analyses indicate our grouse drumming rate has been essentially stable over the past 10 years (0.5 percent annual growth). That’s the good news, the short-term trend is stable; however, when viewed over the longer-term it’s easy to see a significant long-term decline. As you well know, habitat losses are believed to be the primary cause.
We had a long winter and spring green-up was delayed in western Virginia. Spring green-up is important to grouse reproduction as the flush of vegetation serves as a boost to the hen’s condition and helps initiate egg-laying. The peak of nest incubation in the Appalachians is May 1 (from our 6-year regional study of almost 200 hens). A review of weather conditions across the state shows an extensive rainfall in late April. The three-day storm registered throughout the state from Marion to Winchester in western Virginia in our grouse range. These conditions coincided with the peak of nest incubation, the period when the hen begins 24/7 coverage of the nest. Rainfall during this time should not have impacted the incubating eggs as they should be sheltered. However, some biologists contend that predators are more effective locating nests under such conditions as the scent of the nesting hen may be easier to locate.
On the positive side, a range-wide look at the weather at the peak of hatching (late May – early June) shows limited rainfall at this critical time for chick survival. Some rainfall was noted in parts of the northwestern part of the state (Winchester), but fortunately temperatures were warm. Weather is critical to the survival of young chicks as they can die of exposure if they are faced with extended cold and wet conditions. The threat of mortality due to exposure is likely the greatest when the birds are two to three weeks of age. Very young birds are able to live off of their yolk sac for several days, and all of the brood can be effectively sheltered from the weather by the outstretched wings of the brooding hen. Later, when they have exhausted their yolk sac, fewer birds can be brooded as they grow in size, and fewer can fit underneath the hen’s wings.
In general, good grouse reproduction has been associated with normal temperatures and rainfall in Virginia. One would not expect dry conditions to be a problem but drought conditions can limit insect production. Insects are a key factor to young grouse as they feed almost exclusively on insects during their early life. Insects provide the protein growing chicks need for development. In years with higher than average rainfall, hypothermia can impact chick survival and also result in brood habitat that is too thick for the young birds to navigate. Average or normal conditions (rainfall and temperatures) are best as they provide the insect populations and do not pose significant impacts on chick survival or brood forage conditions.
In total, conditions for good grouse reproduction are in place based on our roadside drumming counts and weather conditions to date (mid-June) that have been normal during normal hatching chronology. The only condition that could have some effect on reproduction is the late spring green-up. Those impacts are unknown.
See the figure below: Average number of ruffed grouse drums heard per route and number of grouse seen by archers cooperating in Bowhunter Survey in counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Keith Krantz, West Virginia Department of Natural Resources upland game biologist has provided the 2014 results from our most recent grouse survey on the Spruce Knob Management Area. Fewer drumming males were heard on both the control and treatment lines. Our July 2013 observations of grouse broods were up and exceeded the 2012 observations as well as the 5-year average giving us hope that the population might be on the upswing, however, observers submitted zero brood reports for August and September. This lack of observations drove what was a year similar to 2010 to be the worst in the past five years. On a statewide or landscape scale, we have seen little to no upswing in demand for timber or fiber production, and the Monongahela National Forest has not increased their cutting regiment. Last year’s mast survey was the lowest for oak production that we have experienced since beginning the survey. In our predominant oak/hickory forest, abundant acorns build up the fat reserves of the hen thus allowing her to increase the yolk reserves within her eggs. More yolk increases the health of the newly hatched chicks during the first few days of their lives, thus survival increases. Because so much of our grouse egg production and chick survival is based on the physiological condition of the hen the previous fall, I would imagine that our production would be off this year. On a positive note, we have experienced a fairly dry to average spring which is beneficial for grouse chick survival. Given these habitat, population and weather observations, I project that this year’s grouse harvest outlook would be slightly poorer than last year.
Woodcock are managed by the states and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on a regional basis, with West Virginia residing in the Eastern Region. According to the 2014 American Woodcock Population Status Report for 2014, there was not a statistically significant difference in the numbers of singing males heard this year compared to last. However, this was the first year in the last 10 where the USWFS 10-year running average turned negative for our Region. Based on the wings hunters submit, the recruitment index for the Eastern Region was 3.2 percent less in 2013 than in 2012. The impact of these statistics on the average woodcock hunter is likely to be negligible, since our hunting experiences are so tied to being in the right place, at the right time when the fall flight birds migrate through. Our hunters should expect a season this year similar to or slightly less than last year in abundance, recognizing that late October/early November snow storms can wreak havoc on our bird hunting.
Brian Dhuey, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife researcher reports, “Statewide ruffed grouse population indices decreased 1 percent between 2013 and 2014, 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= 0.93) from 2013 to 2014. 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 a decrease of 6 percent and Sandhill an increase of 24 percent from 2013 levels.”
Dhuey continues, “This is the third decrease in the ruffed grouse indices since 2011. Survey indices show a decrease in drumming grouse in two of the four regions of the state. Breeding grouse and grouse brood production were down during the spring and summer of 2013. This probably set the stage for a decline in breeding grouse numbers in 2014. Wisconsin’s primary grouse range, the Central and Northern Forest regions, showed mixed results. The Central Forest had a decrease in breeding grouse of 23.5 percent this spring, while the Northern Forest had a small increase of 3.1 percent. Wisconsin is well past the peak in the grouse cycle and appears to have settled into the bottom of the cycle; it is likely that declines in breeding grouse numbers will continue for a few more years until we start to see numbers go up till the next grouse high.”
Another long winter with snow present in mid-April in northern Wisconsin delayed the ruffed grouse breeding season once again. Nesting began 7 to 10 days later than usual in the region with most broods starting to appear during the first week of June. Though above normal precipitation occurred during this time period, especially in western Wisconsin, temperatures were relatively moderate and weather only had a moderate impact on grouse broods.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service woodcock singing-ground surveys from 2014 were down 22.2 percent from 2013 numbers for Wisconsin with 2.44 singing males heard per survey route. This is the first decrease after six consecutive springs that showed increases in singing males in the state. This decrease most likely resulted from the impacts of a very late spring in 2013 that was followed by heavy snowfall events well into the nesting season.
Weather during breeding and brood rearing periods for both ruffed grouse and woodcock improved somewhat in 2014 and fall numbers are predicted to be quite similar to what was encountered during the 2013 Wisconsin hunting season.
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 2013. RGS 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 RGS 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 RGS-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 RGS volunteers indicate the 2013 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 2014 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 RGS 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 or province’s official website or published materials.
USFWS American Woodcock Report
For more specific information about American woodcock population statistics, download the 2014 American Woodcock Population Status Report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – download HERE.