PA Grouse and Woodcock Forecast
Lisa Williams, the grouse and woodcock specialist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, reports that there should be tempered excitement for the 2013-14 Pennsylvania ruffed grouse and woodcock season.
Fairly good winter conditions, with limited rain and ice events, should have led to fat and healthy grouse hens coming into the 2013 breeding season. Incubation weather was great through early May with sun and warm temperatures, and by late spring the picture looked bright for grouse production. However, late May and June experienced poor brooding and incubation weather with a string of cold and wet weeks throughout much of the state.
Williams said, “In Central Pennsylvania, we experienced multiple late freeze and frost events with extended wind and cold rain on May 12 and again during the week of May 26. This was potentially bad news for grouse broods and could affect your hunting strategy for fall 2013. Those spring freeze events could have nipped a lot of the soft mast producers again this year, as has occurred in several recent years. I have a feeling that grouse may be gathered in and around food sources this fall, as they have been in past years when food was particularly limited. Most successful grouse hunters keep a close eye on coverts with good food sources, and this could be particularly important this year. Find the food - find the grouse.”
The annual grouse season forecast is based upon the PGC’s Summer Sighting Survey in which Game Commission foresters and surveyors record the number of broods and individual grouse seen while working in the woods. Though the marginal June weather could impact later broods, the early brood numbers for June are looking good in much of Pennsylvania. In fact, both grouse brood sightings and adult grouse sightings were higher in June 2013 than they’ve been in three or four years.
Trends in hunters’ fall flush rates follow those of the summer survey about 80 percent of the time, so this information is used to develop the season forecast. According to Williams, “Compared to June of 2012, this year’s brood sightings are up 42 percent and observations of individual grouse are up a whopping 84 percent. Although August observations are the very best indicator for the season ahead, the June observations give Pennsylvania hunters much to be excited about. Based on these early sightings, I’m really beginning to think that the 2013-14 season will provide hunters with an above-average experience in Pennsylvania.”
Several anecdotal observations from long-term grouse hunters indicate the PGC’s focus on balancing deer populations with forest health, as well as the active timber harvesting being conducted by the PGC, DCNR, and Allegheny National Forest is paying dividends in terms of high grouse flush rates.
“Since 2005, we’ve seen stabilizing or improving trends in grouse populations in all regions,” said Williams. “A well-managed forest provides the dense and highly diverse understory necessary for quality grouse habitat. Well-managed forests across a large landscape can turn an area into a real grouse production zone. The northwest region is now producing bird flushes 10 percent higher than its long-term average – these are the “good old days” in that region.”
Big woods areas of northern Pennsylvania that have received active timber harvesting five or more years ago should produce abundant grouse flushes. Flush rates are always highest in regions where high-quality young forest habitat is scattered throughout a largely forested landscape.
Williams groups Pennsylvania regions into three categories, as far as grouse hunting prospects:
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. Active timber harvest over the next few decades in this part of Pennsylvania should produce abundant grouse if high-quality forest understory conditions can be maintained by managing the deer herd in balance with forest health. True to form in the Northwest, the counties of Jefferson, Venango, Clarion and Forest had consistent grouse and brood sightings in June. In the Northcentral region, June grouse sightings were strong in Potter, Elk, McKean, Lycoming, Clearfield and Centre counties.
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. Still, some hunters experience good success and PGC field crews reported abundant flushes in Northeast hotpots. Grouse were consistently observed in the PGC June survey in Cambria County (Southwest Region), Juniata, Perry and Blair counties (Southcentral Region), and Wayne, Lackawanna, Bradford and Luzerne counties in the Northeast Region.
Southeast: fair in areas north of the Blue Mountain and poor south of it. Large parcels of forest habitat in southeastern Pennsylvania are scarce and this region has lost early successional habitat at a rate even more rapid than the rest of the state. Consequently, grouse hunting opportunities in the agricultural and urban-dominated landscapes south of the Blue Mountain are extremely limited. Again, locating high-quality habitat is key and may pay dividends. June survey results indicate that Dauphin County is the most-consistent producer of grouse observations.
Grouse Season 2013 will run:*
Oct. 19 - Nov. 30, 2013
Dec. 16 - 24, 2013
Dec. 26, 2013 – Jan. 25, 2014
The daily bag limit is two birds and the possession limit is four.*
The fall flushing rate information presented in this article comes from the Game Commission’s Grouse Cooperator Survey, and provides a way to monitor grouse population trends in good habitat. Hunters interested in participating in the Grouse Cooperator Survey are asked to write the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Bureau of Wildlife Management, Attn: Grouse Cooperator Survey, 2001 Elmerton Ave, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797 – or call 717-787-5529 and ask to be added to the Cooperator list. New Cooperators will receive a copy of the annual newsletter provided to all survey participants and all forms needed for the upcoming season.
Pennsylvania woodcock populations are holding their own in the Eastern Management Region, with 2013 marking the tenth straight year that the trend in the Eastern Region has remained stable. While a stable population is better than a declining one, woodcock numbers could be dramatically improved with targeted habitat management. Singing Ground Surveys reveal that random routes in Pennsylvania support just over one singing male per 3.6 miles (1.09 males/route). Conversely, on targeted Woodcock Management Areas where focused habitat management occurs with the timberdoodle in mind, survey routes support six times that many birds on average (6.6 males/route). Some management sites support more than 20 singing males along a survey route. Folks who want the best for woodcock are encouraged to get actively involved in habitat management efforts since habitat work clearly pays big dividends in bird numbers.
While the success of a woodcock hunt hinges largely on weather patterns and the timing of fall migration, prospects in general look good for the 2013 season. Federal surveys reveal that recruitment of juveniles into the population for 2012 (the latest year for which data exists) was on par with long-term average. The incubation and brooding weather of April and May 2013 was conducive to high chick survival with series of sunny and warm weeks. Pennsylvania is maintaining the two-week extension to the woodcock season for 2013, which gives hunters more opportunity to get into the field in search of the elusive woodcock. Due to the “calendar shift” associated with a late Thanksgiving, the opening and closing dates for woodcock are about a week later than last year. This keeps the timing the same relative to hunting seasons for other species - most importantly, maintaining concurrence with the first segment of grouse season. With these positive factors in mind, hunters should be sure to schedule some time in the wet thickets of Pennsylvania.
Woodcock Season 2013 will run: Oct. 19 - Nov. 30. The daily limit remains three, with a possession limit of nine.