Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Grouse season and bag limits could be reduced

Athens, Ohio – With grouse flush rates and harvest numbers at
their lowest point on record, the DNR_Division of Wildlife says it
must do something to help the species recover, if that’s possible
at all.

To that end, starting in 2010, grouse season could be reduced by
a month, according to a proposal presented to the rulemaking Ohio
Wildlife Council Jan. 7.

The 2008-2009 grouse season opened on Oct. 11 and will run
through Feb. 28. The proposal on the table would bring in grouse
season at the same time, Oct. 10, but close it on Jan. 31.

The proposal would also take one bird out of the daily bag,
reducing it from three to two.

The impetus for such a change are statistics showing Ohio’s
grouse population is about a third of what it was in the late
1990s, said Dave Risley, the Division of Wildlife’s management and
research leader.

According to statistics from 2007 – the most recent available –
grouse hunters flushed less than half a bird (0.4) per hour. And,
most grouse hunters who have struggled in Ohio would likely say
that’s an optimistic figure.

“I once had a theory that once flush rates hit .8 per hour or
lower, I figured hunters quit going, except for the real diehard
guys,” Risley said.

Since 1972, the highest flush rate on record came in 1981 when
it was nearly 1.8 per hour. Flush rates dropped below 1.0 per hour
in 1997 and they’ve stayed below that number ever since, falling a
bit lower year by year.

The proposal is up for debate, and at least in one corner of the
state it has already has met with dissension.

Ken Szabo, editor of the Grouse Tales newsletter in Cleveland
for the past 35 years, said the proposals will serve no other
purpose than be a hindrance to hunters.

“Taking the month of February away from a grouse hunter is like
telling the spring turkey hunter he can’t hunt in April or May or
telling the bowhunter he can’t hunt during the rut,” said
Szabo.

Moreover, Szabo said manipulating the bag limit or length of
season will do nothing to help the species rebound.

“The bottom line is that what the state should have done is
create a habitat program for grouse and they haven’t done that,” he
said. “There’s never been a study that showed hunting had any
effect on the population.”

Risley said he believes predators such as hawks, coyotes, and
foxes could also be playing a bigger role in predation.

Ohio was part of an interstate study of grouse populations
between 1996 and 2000 that concluded hunting has no effect on
grouse populations, according to Mike Reynolds, a forest game
biologist for the Division of Wildlife.

“Something has changed,” Reynolds said. “We don’t think the
conditions were the same then as they are now.”

The implication is that hunters are somehow to blame for the
population decline, but that is not the case, said Reynolds.

“We’re not pinning this (population problem) on grouse hunters,”
said Reynolds, a grouse hunter himself. “But, we have to do
something to be responsible and try to figure it out.”

Risley said this is precisely the reason for the proposed
changes.

“We’ve always felt it was a habitat problem,” he said. “It’s the
maturation of the forest, fragmentation. But, I do believe other
things outside are also influencing population.”

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