Prospects good for grouse hunters
Lansing — Hunters throughout the state in pursuit of upland birds and small game can expect another successful season this fall. Upland game birds like ruffed grouse and woodcock should be found in good numbers, and rabbits and squirrels are plentiful.
“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,” Al Stewart, the DNR’s upland game bird specialist, told Michigan Outdoor News. “Although spring arrived two weeks later than normal in 2013, 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.”
Stewart said grouse drumming counts were down this spring.
Using data from 87 routes run in 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).
The drumming counts were highest in Zone 1 (14.5 drums per route), followed by Zone 2 (9.4) and Zone 3 (6.4).
Grouse season runs Sept. 15 to Nov. 14, then re-opens Dec. 1 to Jan. 1. The woodcock season opens Sept. 21 and ends Nov. 3.
When hunting woodcock, a Harvest Information Program endorsement is required. The HIP survey takes about a minute to complete and must be added by the agent when you purchase a small-game license.
A relatively new tool created by the DNR called, MI-Hunt (www.michigan.gov/mihunt) gives hunters the ability to scout areas ahead of the season by viewing land from aerial photos and learning the habitat online. With 10 million acres of public land in Michigan, it’s not difficult to find areas that hold upland game birds or game animals, according to Stewart.
“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. There’s even a tutorial designed for grouse hunters,” he said.
Calling the local wildlife biologist before the season is also a good way to find areas that hold game.
Small-game animals remain abundant, and DNR furbearer specialist Adam Bump said the 2013 hunting seasons should be pretty good.
“I think rabbit populations are doing well across the state in suitable habitats,” Bump said. “I live in southern Michigan, and the spring weather seems to have favored cottontails at least now, although it’s pretty common to see a lot of rabbits in springtime.
“Snowshoes seem to be in an overall decline throughout the state, but can still be found in good numbers in areas of good habitat.”
Across southern Michigan, small game faced some difficulties this spring due to heavy rainfall and flooding.
“Undoubtedly, swollen creeks, rivers, and drainage ditches destroyed some pheasant, grouse, woodcock, and rabbit nests,” said DNR wildlife biologist John Niewoonder. “In addition, cold and wet conditions are not ideal for young birds and mammals, and survival of young may have been reduced. Fortunately, these species are persistent breeders and nests that are flooded and destroyed typically result in second and third nesting attempts.”
Despite these early challenges, Niewoonder remains optimistic for a successful small-game season.
“Generally speaking, hunters in southwest Michigan should find good numbers of rabbits and squirrels when exploring areas with suitable habitat. This means young forests, thick brush, and grass for rabbits and mature forests with oaks present for squirrels.”
In regards to pheasants, grouse, and woodcock, Niewoonder said habitat is the key.
“Pheasants and grouse are not very abundant throughout most of (southern) Michigan, although areas where good habitat is maintained can hold huntable populations,” he said, adding that pheasant hunters should seek areas that are dominated by agriculture with adjacent grasslands.
Although pheasant numbers are relatively low, they remain stable, according to Niewoonder.
Conservation efforts are being made by the DNR and others to help improve habitat and restore pheasant populations in their traditional ranges.
“The DNR has a project in place called the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative that is designed to encourage landowners to work together to provide township-sized areas where pheasant habitat is a focus across many ownerships,” Niewoonder said.
Visit www.michigan.gov/pheasant for more information.
Those seeking snowshoe hares should consider heading to the northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula this fall. According to habitat biologist Kevin Swanson in Shingleton, there are good numbers of snowshoes in the U.P.
“Snowshoe hare numbers are very good in optimal habitat such as young spruce and fir stands and other cover types with a prevalent mesic conifer component,” he said. “Dog hunters who seek snowshoe hares will find ample opportunity.”
DNR wildlife biologist Monica Joseph, whose region covers parts of the western U.P., said snowshoe numbers are stable.
“We have noticed evidence of more rabbit activity in the last few years, with most associated with young aspen stands and lowland conifer stands in Iron and Dickinson counties,” Joseph said.
DNR wildlife biologist Brian Roell, who manages the Gwinn and Baraga units, remains optimistic that gray squirrel populations, which are the dominate species in his region, should have come through the winter in good condition due to the bumper crop of acorns last fall.
This bumper acorn crop also was seen in the Lower Peninsula, so overall, squirrel numbers should be high statewide.