Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Pheasant counts up, grouse down from 01


Madison Nary a hint of fall is in the air, but Wisconsin
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials already have drawn
a preliminary sketch for this year’s pheasant and ruffed grouse
hunting seasons.

DNR officials do warn, however, that a clearer picture of both
seasons will come into focus after August brood count surveys which
measure spring reproduction for pheasants, ruffed grouse, gray
partridge, and turkeys throughout the state are completed, and the
numbers are crunched.

“We will know a lot more about both seasons at or near the end
of August,” said Keith Warnke, DNR upland wildlife ecologist.
“However, in general terms, after last year’s mild winter, pheasant
numbers are looking stronger than ruffed grouse numbers. But like I
said, we’ll get a better picture after August brood count surveys
are completed.”

Each spring, DNR wildlife managers and technicians conduct two
surveys to determine, as best as possible, populations trends of
pheasants (rooster crow counts) and ruffed grouse (male drumming
counts). Put another way, the surveys are a snapshot of both
populations, at a given time and at given locations. Survey results
are not considered population estimates, but rather give wildlife
managers an idea of population trends, based on results of previous

Ruffed grouse down

Ruffed grouse spring drumming activity was down 20 percent
statewide from 2001, with the largest decrease 32 percent coming in
southwest Wisconsin, according to Warnke.

Warnke said there were 0.75 drums per stop in 2002 compared to
0.93 in 2001.

“These results are pretty much close to what we thought, given
that we’re on the downward side of the 10-year ruffed grouse
cycle,” he said. “We’re hoping that this is the bottom of the
cycle, although it may be another year or two before that

The good news, Warnke said, is that drumming counts were only
down 10 percent in the northern part of the state considered the
premiere ruffed grouse hunting region.

“The common refrain from biologists in the north is that this
year’s hunting season depends on spring reproduction,” he said.

Ruffed grouse drumming surveys have been used since 1964 in
Wisconsin to measure population trends. The surveys are conducted
30 minutes before sunrise on established routes throughout the
state. For each route, area wildlife managers listen for four
minutes for drumming activity at 10 different spots, which are
about one to two miles apart.

“The lack of snow in much of the state, which ruffed grouse use
as sanctuary against predators, may have cut into some of the
population,” Warnke said. “That’s certainty one theory that many
believe could be true.”

The ruffed grouse hunting season runs this year from Sept. 14
through Dec. 31 in Zone A, Sept. 14 through Jan. 31 in Zone B, and
Oct. 19 through Dec. 8 in Zone C. The daily bag limit is five birds
in zones A and B, with two birds in Zone C. The possession limit is
twice the daily bag limit.

There are 137,00 ruffed grouse hunters in Wisconsin. While 2001
harvest statistics aren’t yet available, Warnke said he believes
that number will be lower than 2000, when hunters killed about
626,000 grouse.

Pheasant outlook brighter

According to Warnke, spring pheasant survey numbers were higher
than 2001.

The 2002 pheasant crowing counts indicate a statewide average of
roughly 2.4 roosters per mile, a 33-percent increase from 2001. In
addition, the so-called hen index defined as the number of roosters
heard per mile and the estimate of hens per rooster in that area
was up 31 percent from 2001.

“I think pheasants fared pretty well over the winter, Warnke
said. “We had relatively little snow and had warm temperatures, and
that definitely has helped the remnant pheasant population.”

In addition, spring conditions throughout much of the state were
milder than usual while rainfall was considered normal. Both
conditions should have a positive influence on spring reproduction,
Warnke said.

“We had an excellent spring for pheasant recruitment,” he said.
“And that should translate into better hunting this fall,
particular in the southeast part of the state, where pheasant
hunting is typically the best.”

Warnke also said that bird numbers are growing in northwest
Wisconsin, typically one of the state’s worst areas. “That’s a good
sign,” he said.

Warnke said pheasant hunters should target Conservation Reserve
Program (CRP) acres and wetlands for the best fall hunting.

“We have about 600,000 acres of CRP, and that’s where most of
our reproduction takes place,” he said. “Those areas are
particularly good later in the season when the fall harvest is

In addition, the DNR, in attempt to bolster statewide pheasant
hunting opportunities, will release 56,000 pen-raised pheasants at
70 locations, most of which are in southern Wisconsin. The cost of
the release is $364,000, Warnke said.

“This is purely a way to give hunters more of an opportunity in
the field and our hunters have indicated in the past that they
support the release,” he said. “The first release will take place a
day or two before the opener and continue until the first week in

The Wisconsin pheasant hunting season runs from Oct. 19 through
Dec. 31. The daily bag limit for the first two days of the season
is one bird, after which it is two birds, Warnke said.

“I’m expecting a pretty good year,” he said. “In 2000, we killed
about 250,000 birds, and I think last year’s harvest number, once
it’s completed, will be about the same. I suspect this fall’s
harvest will be a little better.”

There are about 80,000 pheasant hunters in Wisconsin.

Tori J. McCormick is a freelance outdoors writer. He can be
reached at

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