Fall is approaching. Kids are back in school. College Football is here (my alma mater West Virginia University barely squeaks out a win this past Saturday). And upland bird season is upon us.
Trekking through rugged northern Michigan young aspen stands anticipating at any moment a grouse flushing from the brush is quite the experience. An explosion of drums. Watching the dogs work and get ‘birdy’ is really a site to see.
With September 15th just around the corner, we’ve been taking a look at some of theforecast data provided by both Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR)Wildlife Division, as well as the summary provided annually by the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS).
Before we begin looking at the grouse and woodcock forecast data made available for this year, it may be worth revising the question that many new to the sport and from outside of our area ask, “The data’s useful, but where can I go to find grouse?” Although most hunters consider good grouse coverts to be sacred ground, there are tools available to help.
Back in November of last year, weposted about an interactive mapping tool available on the MDNR website, better known as MI-Hunt. The site continues to be improved since the time of the original post, making it easier to locate the younger forest types and the best ruffed grouse habitat our part of the state has to offer. If you’re not well suited to navigating internet data bases and on-line mapping tools, then a call or email to an area MDNR wildlife biologist may also be helpful. That portion of the MDNR website dedicated to ruffed grouse can be viewed by clicking here.
And now, the forecast. According to MDNR Upland Game Bird Specialist and Program Leader Al Stewart, grouse drumming surveys were conducted during the months of April and May of this year. Data collected from the same 2012 sampling areas found a 10 percent decline in the number of drums heard on a year-to-year basis. As was the case in prior years, the highest number of drumming counts was found in the upper peninsula, followed by the northern lower, then southern lower. With the exception of some areas of the upper peninsula, the statistical differences between 2012 and 2013 did not appear to be significant.
According to Stewart, 2013 grouse populations will likely have a slight decline from 2012 levels, following their cyclical peak which was believed to have been reached in 2011. Despite the late arrival of spring this year, breeding conditions for both grouse and woodcock are believed to have been favorable. These conditions have the potential to result in a statewide harvest of 240,000 grouse and 74,000 woodcock during the 2013 seasons.
Just as a reminder, although the ruffed grouse season begins with the small game season on September 15th, opening day for woodcock hunting is set for September 21st.
There are many reasons that those who pursue ruffed grouse have long considered them to be the king of upland game birds. To some, the sporting challenge ruffed grouse represent to both man and dog renders the bird without equal. To others, it is the wildness these birds represent – not only because of the environs in which they live, but also because of man’s inability to breed them domestically. This natural resistance to husbandry seems to be their way of saying “we’re not coming to you, you must come to us.” And finally to others, it is the sound of their courtship drumming. When reverberating through a spring forest, the drumming may be felt through your bones before it even reaches your ears. This incredible display can be seen and heard in a wonderful video provided courtesy of Lang Elliott, The Music of Nature, www.musicofnature.com. The video may also be viewed by clicking here.
Our thanks also to Larry Visser, PhD, Regional RGS Biologist for Michigan, Ohio and Indiana who provided the more detailed data available from their website.
We would encourage you to support RGS and its mission. “Established in 1961, The Ruffed Grouse Society is North America’s foremost conservation organization dedicated to preserving our sporting traditions by creating healthy forest habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock and other wildlife. RGS works with landowners and government agencies to develop critical habitat utilizing scientific management practices.” More information on the Ruffed Grouse Society can be retrieved by clicking here.