Lansing — Hunters throughout the state can expect to find favorable conditions for a successful small-game hunting season this fall based on reports from state game managers.
Adam Bump, the DNR’s small-game specialist, is optimistic about an excellent small-game season this fall.
“I have heard some positive reports on young cottontail numbers in the south. In general, snowshoes do well when winter snow cover is present consistently over the winter and will be found where there is suitable habitat,” Bump said.
“Statewide, squirrels and rabbits are stable,” he said. “Snowshoe numbers have been declining over the past several decades and are most abundant in high-quality habitat areas in the U.P. and northern portions of the Lower Peninsula. Populations are likely to be fairly localized.”
According to DNR wildlife biologist Don Bonnette, whose area includes Huron, Tuscola, and Sanilac counties, favorable conditions led to abundant game populations.
“Winter and spring have been kind to small game in general,” he said. “Bunnies seem to be particularly abundant. Nesting conditions for grouse, woodcock, and pheasants have been very good – not too cold or too wet in the Thumb counties.”
DNR wildlife biologist Monica Joseph, who works out of the Crystal Falls Field Office in the U.P., states, “Snowshoe hare and cottontail rabbit populations fluctuate across the U.P. region, depending on habitat conditions. Hunters that focus on the thick cover of young conifer, aspen, upland brush stands should find success.”
In regards to squirrels in the U.P., Joseph said mast crops will have a big impact.
“Squirrels are dependent on mast-producing trees to supply them with the mainstay of their diet,” she said. “Concentrations of oak, beech, hickory, hornbeam, cherry, and hazelnut provide the best places to hunt squirrels. These timber types vary considerably across the Upper Peninsula.”
Al Stewart, DNR upland game bird specialist, said hunters can anticipate seeing more woodcock this fall than during the 2014 season due to a “drier-than-usual” spring. This created good nesting conditions and reproduction of woodcock broods. In fact, Stewart said there were so many chicks this spring that woodcock banders requested additional bands.
Although there are better woodcock numbers in the U.P. and the northern Lower, hunters also should consider hunting on public lands in the southern L.P. later in October.
“Around Oct. 20, migrant birds begin to funnel from Canada through the southern part of Michigan from this time to the end of the season,” Stewart said. “Hunters should choose areas to hunt such as creek bottoms, aspen stands, waist-high goldenrod, and old agricultural areas, which are overgrown.”
Stewart stated that Michigan continues to remain tops in the nation for woodcock harvest.
He’s also optimistic about the ruffed grouse season. Despite the fact that grouse are at the second year from the bottom of a 10-year cycle, hunters should see an improvement from last fall. This is due to a dry spring, which created excellent nesting conditions for grouse and an increase in brood survival.
DNR wildlife biologist Bruce Barlow, whose region consists of Gladwin, Clare, Arenac, Isabella, and Midland counties, is optimistic about fall upland game bird hunting.
“For grouse season I expect a few more birds than last year,” Barlow said. “Nesting success and brood survival, at least this far into the summer, seem to be good. My personal observations from the field and reports from hunters doing preseason work with their dogs is very encouraging as far as grouse numbers this fall. Woodcock, too, seem to be following this trend.”
As for the Thumb region, Bonnette states, “Grouse and woodcock numbers should be similar to last year. Pheasant numbers are largely unknown at this point, though I suspect they will be similar to last year’s.”
Joseph offers some advice to grouse hunters.
“Ruffed grouse are typically found in young forest habitat, particularly aspen stands interspersed with small conifer trees such as balsam and spruce. This type of forest habitat provides everything a grouse needs to survive, such as berries, nuts, buds, and insects for brood nutrition,” she said. “Hunters can find even greater success if they find young aspen habitat adjacent to older-age aspen trees, which become so important for winter survival of ruffed grouse.”
According to Stewart, Michigan ranks usually second or third in the nation for annual grouse harvest.
Grouse hunters should consider hunting at one of the Grouse Enhanced Management sites. These DNR-managed hunting areas provide hunters with easy access to excellent grouse-hunting areas throughout the Upper and northern Lower peninsulas. Marked trails and maps allow hunters to easily find their way into these locations. Although these areas are primarily managed for grouse, hunters should also be successful in finding populations of woodcock. Visit www.michigan.gov/hunting to find a GEMS location.
The DNR Wildlife Division, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Pheasants Forever, the Quality Deer Management Association, and thousands of volunteers continue to work on projects that help improve habitat for small game, including upland birds throughout the state.
MUCC’s On the Ground Program, which began in 2013, has been instrumental in improving wildlife habitat across the state. OTG is aiming to complete 30 projects in 2015. A couple of the projects already completed are creating “rabbitat” at the Standish Nature Preserve and creating snowshoe hare habitat and aspen regeneration at Allegan State Game Area. The “rabbitat” project consists of creating horizontal cover for rabbits by cutting undesirable trees and creating brush piles.