PGC expects average grouse hunting overall

Harrisburg — With favorable late spring/early summer weather
conditions across much of the state, Pennsylvania Game Commission
biologists expect ruffed grouse hunting to be average to slightly
above average – where good habitat exists – for the more than
100,000 hunters who annually pursue these challenging game
birds.

The opening day of the state’s three-part grouse season is
Saturday, Oct. 16, and runs through Nov. 27. The season reopens
Dec. 13 to 23, and then again from Dec. 27 to Jan. 22.
Participating hunters must have a valid Pennsylvania hunting
license and follow the regulations that govern this rugged sport of
brush-busting and mountain-scampering.

“Landscape-level trends in early successional habitat over the
last several decades have been bad news for grouse, woodcock, and
other young forest species throughout most of the northeastern
United States, and Pennsylvania has been no exception,” said Ian
Gregg, Game Commission Game Bird Section supervisor. “Christmas
Bird Count and 2nd Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas data suggest
that overall grouse populations have declined 30 to 50 percent
since the early 1980s, which is no surprise given that over that
same period, even though our total forested acreage was pretty
stable, the percentage in seedling/sapling cover declined from
about 20 percent to 12 percent. Simply put, our forests are getting
older, and that’s a negative for grouse.

“The good news is that in our remaining young forest habitat
where grouse hunters concentrate their efforts, Pennsylvania’s
state bird is holding its own. In the 2009-10 hunting season, our
statewide flushing rate was 1.4 per hour, essentially right at the
44-year average of 1.41. Following a dip from 2002-05, grouse
numbers have bounced back more recently with three of the last four
years – including last year – being right about at the long-term
average.”

Gregg noted that Pennsylvania consistently maintains the highest
flush rates among central and southern Appalachian states, which
includes Kentucky, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, West
Virginia and Virginia.

“We conduct a summer sighting survey in which Game Commission
foresters and surveyors record broods and total numbers of grouse
seen while working in the woods during the months of June, July and
August,” Gregg said. “Sightings during the summer of 2010 were up
about 25 percent from last year.

“Trends in the fall flush rate follow those in the summer survey
about 80 percent of the time, so I’m forecasting an average to
slightly above average grouse season in 2010-11.”

Flushing rate information and other grouse data is reported by
participants of the Game Commission’s “Grouse Cooperator Survey,”
which uses information recorded in hunting logs by volunteers.
Hunters interested in participating in the Game Commission’s annual
Grouse Cooperator Survey are asked to write to the Pennsylvania
Game Commission, Bureau of Wildlife Management, Attn: Grouse
Cooperator Survey, 2001 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg, PA
17110-9797.

“We are working toward providing a web-based option for hunters
to sign up for the survey and enter data, but until that is
finalized, new participants still need to contact the Bureau of
Wildlife Management to be added to the cooperator list,” Gregg
said. The agency’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) currently offers
links to the annual newsletter provided to all survey participants,
and blank data forms that existing cooperators can print out for
use in replacing lost forms or reporting additional data. To access
these items, put your cursor over “Hunt/Trap” in the menu bar at
the top of the homepage, click on “Hunting” in the drop-down menu
listing, then choose “Ruffed Grouse” in the “Small Game”
section.

According to the agency’s Game Take Survey, an estimated 104,200
hunters took 76,000 grouse during the 2009-10 seasons, during
521,700 hunting days. Numbers of hunters pursuing grouse in
Pennsylvania increased two percent compared to 2008, but still
remain well below peak numbers of the mid-1980s when Pennsylvania
had more than 400,000 grouse hunters.

Gregg added that an early spring and relatively dry weather
across most of the state during peak hatch and early brood-rearing
were probably beneficial to survival of young birds in 2010.

“However, the statewide trends do not apply equally throughout
Pennsylvania,” Gregg emphasized. He said that Pennsylvania regions
can be grouped into three categories, as far as grouse hunting
prospects:

1) Northwest and Northcentral: good to excellent. These regions
are consistently the top two in the state and have maintained
grouse flush rates at or above their long-term averages in recent
years. The rate of timber harvest over the next few decades in this
part of Pennsylvania may put enough land into good grouse cover
that the “good old days” are just ahead. The six contiguous
counties of Warren, Forest, McKean, Potter, Elk, and Cameron had
the highest flush rates in the state and offer a lot of acreage in
public and open-access private lands for hunters looking for new
coverts.

2) Southwest, Southcentral and Northeast: fair. These regions
maintain intermediate flush rates and habitat conditions with
somewhat less extensive overall forest cover and lower rates of
active forest management. From 2008-09 to 2009-10, flush rates
increased slightly in the Northeast, but declined in the Southwest
and Southcentral regions. In recent years, the Southcentral seems
to have under-produced the most, relative to hunter expectations.
Still, some hunters in each of these three regions experience good
success in localized hotspots.

3) Southeast: fair in areas north of the Blue Mountain and poor
south of it. Good habitat in southeastern Pennsylvania was already
scarce and this region has lost early successional habitat at a
rate even more rapid than the rest of the state over the past few
decades. Consequently, grouse hunting opportunities in the
agricultural and urban-dominated landscapes south of the Blue
Mountain are extremely limited. Some pockets of decent habitat
exist in Schuylkill and northern Dauphin counties.

Over the past 40 years, Pennsylvania has lost half of its early
successional forest habitat, which is important to grouse and many
other species of birds dependent on this declining habitat type.
The Game Commission, along with other agencies and conservation
partners, is attempting to reverse this decline through aggressive
habitat management. The agency is drafting a Ruffed Grouse
Management Plan, which will be made available for public comment
when completed. The plan will provide strategies and habitat goals
for increasing grouse habitat in the state.

Grouse hunters are reminded to wear at least 250 square inches
of fluorescent orange clothing on the head, chest and back combined
at all times; limit hunting parties to no more than six
individuals; and plug shotguns to three-shell capacity (magazine
and chamber combined).

 

Categories: Pennsylvania – Jeff Mulhollem

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