With September 15th just around the corner, we’ve been taking a look at some of the forecast data provided by both Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) Wildlife Division, as well as the summary provided annually by the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS).
And now, the forecast. According to MDNR Upland Game Bird Specialist and Program Leader Al Stewart, grouse drumming surveys were conducted during the months of April and May of this year. Data collected from the same 2012 sampling areas found a 10 percent decline in the number of drums heard on a year-to-year basis. As was the case in prior years, the highest number of drumming counts was found in the upper peninsula, followed by the northern lower, then southern lower. With the exception of some areas of the upper peninsula, the statistical differences between 2012 and 2013 did not appear to be significant.
According to Stewart, 2013 grouse populations will likely have a slight decline from 2012 levels, following their cyclical peak which was believed to have been reached in 2011. Despite the late arrival of spring this year, breeding conditions for both grouse and woodcock are believed to have been favorable. These conditions have the potential to result in a statewide harvest of 240,000 grouse and 74,000 woodcock during the 2013 seasons.
Just as a reminder, although the ruffed grouse season begins with the small game season on September 15th, opening day for woodcock hunting is set for September 21st.
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.
Read more forecasts from the Ruffed Grouse Society