“Cool wet springtime conditions tend to decrease early brood survival for grouse, while hot dry summer conditions are generally beneficial,” said Lisa Williams, Game Commission grouse and woodcock biologist.The opening day of the state’s three-part grouse season is Saturday, Oct. 15, and runs through Nov. 26. The season reopens Dec. 12 to 23, and then again from Dec. 26 to Jan. 28. Participating hunters must have a valid Pennsylvania hunting license and follow the regulations that govern this rugged sport of brush-busting and mountain-scampering. Wherever you hunt grouse, there is ample reason to carve out some time afield this season. Just be sure to take time to locate high-quality coverts that provide a good mix of food and cover.
“With Pennsylvania experiencing both of those extremes in 2011, it’s hard to predict how this year’s weather might impact grouse populations in your favorite coverts. While Game Commission field staff report fewer summer grouse sightings than last year at a statewide level, they saw fantastic grouse numbers in areas of good habitat.”
“Losses of young forest habitat over the last several decades have been bad news for grouse, woodcock, and other species that rely on these habitats. Our forests are getting older, and that’s a negative for grouse,” said Ian Gregg, Game Commission Game Bird Section supervisor. “The good news is that the Game Commission is taking an active approach to improving the situation for grouse and other species that rely on young forests. We now have in place both Grouse and Woodcock Management Plans that call for aggressive management of young forest habitats. This work will benefit multiple species and the Plans have received an overwhelmingly positive response from the public and our conservation partners. They will serve as the roadmaps as we set out to improve the situation for these popular game birds.”Pennsylvania’s state bird is holding its own in areas of suitable habitat, and in some areas, thriving. Statewide, cooperating hunters flushed an average rate of 1.32 flushes per hour during the 2010-11 season. This was a decrease from the 2009-10 rate of 1.4 flushes per hour and the long term (45-year) average of 1.41 flushes per hour. Embedded in those statewide averages, however, are some truly-impressive hunting experiences. One hunter looking back on 2010-11 stated, “This is the season we’ll be talking about twenty years from now – 20 flushes in 61 minutes on one day!”
Williams noted that Pennsylvania consistently maintains the highest flush rates among nearby states such as Kentucky, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia.
“Grouse flush trends in 2010-11 in most of our neighboring states mirrored those in Pennsylvania; stable to slightly lower,” Williams said. “And, for the sixth year in a row, Pennsylvania flush rates have exceeded those of all neighboring states. This marks the 13th time in the last 16 years that Pennsylvania has had the highest flush rates among all central Appalachian states.”Grouse hunting remains a popular fall pursuit in Pennsylvania. According to the agency’s Game Take Survey, an estimated 91,000 hunters took 66,000 grouse during the 2010-11 seasons, during 414,500 hunting days. Though fewer than in the past, grouse hunters remain passionate about their quarry, and the grouse remains the second-most popular game bird in the Commonwealth – behind the wild turkey – in terms of numbers of hunters. Yet grouse hunter numbers remain well below those of the mid-1980s when Pennsylvania had more than 400,000 hunters pursuing the thunderbird.
“Several hunters have told me that they can hunt all day and not see another grouse hunter,” says Williams. “For sportsmen and women seeking a season with a little more ‘elbow room’ yet plenty of challenge, you might want to consider grouse hunting.”The Game Commission conducts a Summer Sighting Survey in which Game Commission foresters and surveyors record numbers of broods and individual grouse seen while working in the woods during June, July and August. 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.
“Sightings during the summer of 2011 were down about seven percent from last year and brood sightings were particularly ‘off’ this year compared to last year, so I’m forecasting an average to slightly below average grouse season in 2010-11,” Williams said. “This makes it particularly important to understand the characteristics of good grouse habitat, locate high-quality coverts, and focus your efforts there.”
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