Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Grouse numbers appear to be up

By Bill
Parker

Editor

Lansing – Upland game bird hunters in Michigan should enjoy a
slightly better fall season than last year based on this spring’s
breeding and nesting activity. Both grouse and woodcock numbers
appear to be on the rise, according to state officials.

Ruffed grouse populations across the Midwest rise and fall on a
fairly predictable 10-year cycle. The most recent peaks in that
cycle were recorded in 1999 and 1989. Recent lows in the cycle were
recorded in 2003-’04 and 1993-’94.

The DNR, with the help of volunteers, conducts a spring drumming
survey each year. Participants travel along predetermined routes
and stop at specific spots to listen for drumming male ruffed
grouse. There are approximately 100 drumming routes statewide, but
the majority are concentrated in the Upper Peninsula and northern
Lower Peninsula – the heart of Michigan’s grouse range. In 2006
there was a 29-percent increase in the drumming survey over 2005,
but according to officials, no such survey was conducted this
spring.

‘For the most part we didn’t do the spring drumming survey this
year because of budgetary concerns,’ said Al Stewart, DNR upland
game bird specialist. ‘We had some assistance from Ruffed Grouse
Society volunteers who did a few (routes), but it was pretty
localized.

‘We also didn’t do the pheasant spring crowing survey this year
due to financial constraints,’ he said. ‘That makes it a little
difficult from a management stand point. We plan to do (the
surveys) next year and fill in the gaps then.’

Even without the drumming survey, Stewart believes grouse
numbers are continuing to climb.

‘In the grouse world, based on the information I’ve received
from woodcock banders, mushroom hunters, turkey hunters, and people
who were out in the woods this spring, the word is that they heard
more grouse drumming this year than they did last year. My educated
guess is that we’re probably halfway between the bottom of the
cycle and the top of the cycle.

‘The last two years we have seen slight increases in the flush
rates per hunter and the drumming surveys. Those trends support an
increasing population,’ Stewart said. ‘I would think that in 2010,
give or take a year or so, we’ll probably reach the top of the
cycle, Other states are having similar trends.’

Drumming surveys in Wisconsin and Minnesota back up that claim.
Wisconsin’s spring drumming survey numbers were up 14 percent this
year after making a 27-percent increase last year. In Minnesota,
survey numbers were up 40 percent this year in the northern region,
and similar to 2006 in the state’s other three regions.

Woodcock numbers rise

The DNR was able to conduct its woodcock singing ground survey
this spring and the result was a bit surprising. Woodcock survey
numbers in Michigan increased by 4.5 percent. That bucks a
long-term national trend of a slowly but steadily declining
population

‘The good news is that in the last four years Š the woodcock
population in Michigan has flattened out,’ Stewart said.

The trend in the woodcock population since 1968 has been a
1.8-percent population decline per year throughout the Central
Region, of which Michigan is a part.

Surrounding states also saw an increase in their spring woodcock
surveys. Wisconsin experienced a 12.7-percent increase while
Minnesota had a 1.6-percent increase.

‘Michigan is really one of the key production states for
woodcock and it’s very important that we maintain our early
succession forests within the state,’ Stewart said.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Harvest
Information Program, Michigan has an annual woodcock harvest of
about 116,000 birds. Wisconsin hunters kill about 19,000 woodcock,
while hunters in Pennsylvania kill about 18,000, Minnesota around
14,000, New York 10,000, and Ohio 4,000.

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