2011 Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock Forecast
By Larry Brown
This fall looks like another good one for hunters in the upper Midwest, even though that region is now past what should have been the peak of the typical 10-year cycle in grouse numbers. Meanwhile, for the first time in recent years, hunters in the East will benefit from a woodcock season that has been lengthened to 45 days, the same as in the Central Region. And more good news for woodcock hunters: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's annual report ("American Woodcock Population Status, 2011") indicates no significant up or down trend for woodcock in either region for the last decade. It appears that the bird's long-term decline has flattened out.
MINNESOTA was the top producer last year for ruffed grouse, with an estimated harvest of 465,000. That represented an increase of over 100,000 birds compared to the 2009 season, but that's at least partially explained by the fact that there were more grouse hunters last year.
Spring drumming counts decreased in 2010 after hitting a 40-year high the year before, but increased once more this spring. Weather during the nesting season was relatively favorable, which should mean another good season. The top area in the state is the DNR’s northeast survey region. In general, hunting should be good everywhere the habitat mix contains more aspen and fewer conifers.
Although the estimated woodcock harvest was only 35,000, that's more indicative of a relative lack of interest than low bird numbers.
In WISCONSIN, where hunters harvested an estimated 324,000 grouse last year, spring drumming counts increased 38 percent. Although that would seem to indicate an even better season this year, last year should have been the peak. For both grouse and woodcock, an unusually wet spring and early summer in much of northern Wisconsin may have hampered reproduction. The DNR runs summer brood counts that should give a better indication of grouse numbers for this season, and we'll provide them when they become available in early September.
Last year's woodcock harvest was estimated at about 53,000 based on DNR-conducted hunter surveys, and at 42,000 based on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Harvest Information Program (HIP). The more heavily forested northern half of the state will be best for both birds.
MICHIGAN led all states in woodcock harvest in 2010, with a HIP-estimated total of 93,000. Although there is no grouse harvest estimate available for last year, flush rates for grouse in 2010 were similar to 2009, and slightly higher for woodcock. Highest flush rates for grouse were in the Upper Peninsula (UP); for woodcock, in northern Lower Michigan.
This year's drumming counts in the UP showed an almost identical increase, at 37 percent, to those in Wisconsin. The counts were about the same as last year in northern Lower Michigan. The forecast for this year is similar to slightly higher for both birds. A late spring appeared to have hampered woodcock reproduction, but banders reported hens with chicks in June, which would indicate successful re-nesting - those re-nests nearly always produce smaller clutches than the four eggs no rmally brooded.
On the East Coast, MAINE experienced a banner season for grouse in 2010, and the state's HIP-estimated harvest of 32,000 woodcock was over twice as large as any other state in the region. The northern part of the state was especially good for grouse, although the rest was only fair at best. Woodcock hunting was surprisingly good.
For this season, northern Maine looks very good again, although there were some heavy rains in June and the harvest may be down somewhat from last year. The spring woodcock survey was up slightly. However, production may have been poor due to an unusually cold May.
For those with a particular interest in woodcock, there are special habitat initiatives under way in both regions: the Northern Forest Woodcock Initiative in New England, and the upper Great Lakes Initiative in the upper Midwest. For more i nformation, go to http://www.timberdoodle.org.