Grouse, turkey outlook better than good

Madison – Despite a tough winter and a cold, wet spring, things
are looking mighty rosy for Wisconsin hunters interested in chasing
ruffed grouse, turkeys, doves, squirrels, and rabbits this
fall.

However, there’s also a dark side to this fall’s small-game
outlook: The state’s pheasant population didn’t fare so well
through the rough weather that visited the state from February
through June.

The statewide ruffed grouse spring drumming survey is up 7
percent compared with last year, but the spring pheasant crowing
counts were down 30 percent across the state’s pheasant range,
according to Scott Hull, DNR upland game ecologist.

Turkey and dove numbers should be as strong as ever, Hull said,
and he doubts hunters will have any trouble finding squirrels or
cottontails.

Most of Hull’s insights on this year’s small game and turkey
numbers come from spring surveys. DNR field staff and Hull will
have a better idea on what the numbers actually look like once the
summer brood surveys are completed. Hull said wildlife biologists
and technicians were still boiling down those numbers last week,
and it may be late this week or early next week before he sees the
final numbers from this summer’s brood observations. That will give
hunters some idea on how grouse, turkeys, and other small game
fared through the cold, wet spring and summer flooding.

“Even though we haven’t finished the brood surveys yet, it looks
as though (turkeys) came through that tough winter awfully well,”
Hull said. “The flooding will have local impacts, but I’m seeing
broods all over the places that I’ve driven lately, and it even
seems that I’m seeing more poults than in the past. Overall,
statewide, I think we’ll be fine.”

On the ruffed grouse front, Hull expects hunters to have another
good season. He said the population still appears to be climbing
toward the peak of the 10-year cycle. The 7 percent statewide
increase in spring drumming includes a 12-percent gain from last
year in the north, which makes up the bulk of the state’s grouse
range.

The bad news is that ruffed grouse drumming counts fell again in
the southwest part of the state. Counts there were down 20 percent
from last year.

Hull said hunters will find the most grouse – and woodcock – in
the prime habitats. That means younger forests and brushy cover. He
noted that even in northern Wisconsin not all cover is equal. The
state’s two national forests have slowed their cutting schedules
over the years, so there are fewer acres of aspen than 15 to 20
years ago. County forests and, to some extent state forests, are
cut according to management schedules and offer some good
grouse-hunting areas.

Hull said high fuel prices do not seem to be slowing down grouse
hunters.

“Folks have been calling – I’m getting about the same number of
calls as I have in the past, even from people in Tennessee,
Kentucky, Ohio,” he said. “It seems as though those folks are going
to come up here no matter what, as long as the grouse hunting
opportunities are good.”

Fall turkeys

This is the second year that the fall turkey season opens with
small game and archery deer.

“It seemed to work out fine last year. I had no negative
feedback at all,” Hull said.

Leftover turkey tags go on sale Saturday, Sept. 6 at noon. There
were 95,700 fall tags available. The DNR?issued 64,922 tags through
the drawing. There are a total of 30,778 tags left in three of the
seven zones: 13,376 in Zone 1, 12,414 in Zone 3, and 4,988 in Zone
4.

New zones 2, 5, 6, and 7 are sold out.

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