Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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Small game kicks off

By Steve

Albany — Their numbers may be shrinking, and so, too, may be
the species they pursue, but the fact remains that thousands of
hunters will take to the woods next month as the small game season
kicks into high gear across New York State.

In fact, hunters in some portions of the state have already done
just that: the Northern Zone’s popular ruffed grouse season opened
Sept. 20 amid customary heavy foliage and warm weather

And the statewide season for gray, black and fox squirrels
opened Sept. 1, provided you have a 2004-05 hunting license to hunt
prior to Oct. 1.

But it’s the grouse, pheasant, cottontail rabbit and varying
hare seasons that attract the most attention among small game

DEC wildlife biologist Mike Schiavone said the agency began a
grouse hunter survey last season to “get some kind of feedback on
what’s occurring in the field.” About 275 hunters took part,
reporting their flush and harvest numbers.

“Because last year was our first year, we don’t have any
comparisons to make,” Schiavone said. “But this year will give us

He said last year’s survey showed hunters flushed about 6,600
grouse during 8,000 hours of hunting — just short of one flush per

Statewide, statistics showed about 75,000 hunters harvested an
estimated 225,000 grouse.

Early indications across the state are that grouse numbers
appear solid, although hunters in some areas may dispute that

“It should be a pretty good year,” said Region 5 wildlife clerk
Gary Foster. “We had a lot of rain this spring, but it came

Springtime weather is always a major factor in nesting success,
and widely variable conditions across the state — flooding rains
in some areas during the spring and then drought or near-drought
conditions as summer progressed — could mean just that when it
comes to bird numbers.

“It’s kind of a mixed bag across the state,” DEC Game Bird Unit
Leader Bryan Swift admitted. “It’s hard to characterize it.”

While grouse season opened Sept. 20 up north, Oct. 1 is the date
when Southern Zone hunters can pursue the birds. The daily limit is
four grouse.

Pheasant season openers range from Oct. 1 in the Northern Zone
and much of the eastern part of the state, to Oct. 15 for western
and central New York.

While much of the Empire State’s pheasant hunting opportunities
come via a put-and-take stocking of about 25,000 birds, Schiavone
says natural reproduction is occurring in some areas.

“Parts of Long Island, parts of the lake plains and western New
York do have some naturally occurring birds,” he said.
“Particularly the large agricultural lands of western New York. But
the stocking program, for the benefit hunters derive, has been very
popular. They really enjoy hunting those pheasants, from everything
they’re telling us.”

In addition to the state stocking efforts, DEC-sanctioned
ringneck-rearing programs account for thousands more birds released
for additional hunting opportunities. The daily limit is two birds;
four on Long Island.

Hare season kicks off Oct. 1 in the Northern Zone, Dec. 12 in
much of central and eastern New York, and Jan. 1 in much of western
New York. Cottontails are in season Oct. 1, with the exception of
the Long Island area, which opens Nov. 1. Daily bag limits are six
hares in the Northern Zone and two elsewhere where they’re legal
game, and six cottontails daily.

Woodcock season kicks off Oct. 6 across the state, with a daily
bag limit of three. Woodcock hunters must be registered in the
Harvest Information Program.

The state’s limited bobwhite quail season opens Oct. 1 in Orange
and Putnam counties and Nov. 1 on much of Long Island. Daily limit
is four in Orange/Putnam and six on the Island.

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