Lansing — Although the predictable population cycle of the ruffed grouse is on the downward swing, the outlook for the upcoming 2012 fall hunting season remains good.
Grouse populations are cyclic in nature, and studies have shown that populations peak and crash on roughly a 10-year cycle.
For the 2012 Michigan grouse season, game bird biologists believe the population is a year or two past the peak. That said, the overall number of birds in the state remains strong.
“Looking at the 10-year cycle for ruffed grouse and spring drumming survey information, it suggests there is a slight decline from last year,” Al Stewart, DNR upland game bird specialist, told Michigan Outdoor News. “I would expect that hunters will see similar numbers, or maybe just a little less than they did in 2011.”
The DNR’s small-game hunter survey indicates that recent grouse harvests in Michigan have been very good. The latest survey results are from 2010, but Stewart thinks last year’s survey results, which are still being processed, will be similar.
In 2010, an estimated 85,000 grouse hunters in Michigan killed approximately 260,000 birds.
State wildlife biologists look at several variables when estimating trends in grouse populations. They conduct surveys of drumming males in the spring; analyze information on flush rates from the previous season, which is provided by hunters (cooperators); analyze data from the DNR’s small-game hunter survey; and use input from foresters, biologists, hikers, and others who are in the woods when broods are hatched in the spring.
“What makes it or breaks it is production,” Stewart said of the grouse population. “It wasn’t a cold, wet spring like we had last year. It was dry and warm this spring. I’d say nesting conditions this year were good to very good. Hopefully that will result in good production.”
The drumming survey is conducted each spring and counts the number of males heard drumming along established routes. The same routes are used each year, and each route has 10 listening stops that are consistent from year to year.
The 2012 spring drumming survey showed a 16-percent decline statewide in drumming males from 2011. In the Upper Peninsula, 17.7 drumming males were counted per route. In the northern Lower Peninsula, there were 9.5 drums per route, while in the southern Lower the count was 7.5 per route.
“If you’re hunting in good habitat you’ll probably see similar numbers to last year,” Stewart said. “If you’re hunting in marginal habitat you’ll probably see fewer birds.”
State woodcock hunters should also see bird numbers similar to 2011, Stewart said.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Harvest Information Program (the HIP survey you take when purchasing a small-game license), Michigan was the top state in the nation for woodcock harvest, with 28,000 hunters killing 107,000 woodcock in 2011. Minnesota was
No. 2 in harvest with hunters downing 44,000 birds, followed by Wisconsin hunters killing 43,000 woodcock and Louisiana hunters killing 24,400.
“At the national level, Michigan still harvests more woodcock than any other state in the country and is top five in the country in grouse harvest,” Stewart said.
Ringneck pheasant numbers remain depressed in Michigan, although the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative seeks to remedy that problem. For the 2012 season, pheasant numbers are expected be similar to what they have been in recent years.
Michigan hunters annually kill about 25,000 to 27,000 ringnecks, with the lion’s share of the harvest coming from southern Michigan and pockets in the agricultural belt in the U.P.
Surprisingly, Michigan hunters kill more pheasants than Louisiana hunters kill woodcock.