HARRISBURG – Due to late spring/early summer weather conditions across much of the state, Pennsylvania Game Commission biologists expect ruffed grouse hunting to be somewhat below average for the more than 100,000 hunters who annually pursue these challenging game birds.
The opening day of the state’s three-part grouse season is Oct. 17, and runs through Nov. 28. The season reopens Dec. 14 to 23, and then again from Dec. 26 to Jan. 23. Participating hunters must have a valid Pennsylvania hunting license and follow the regulations that govern this rugged sport of brush-busting and mountain-scampering.
“Pennsylvania’s 2008-09 grouse season was a pretty good one, at least by recent standards,” said Ian Gregg, Game Commission grouse biologist. “However, observations of both broods and total grouse were down from last year, and below the long-term average. Much of this is the result of the weather conditions that impacted nesting and brooding success, which will consequently impact what hunters will encounter in Penn’s Woods this fall.
“Grouse populations and flushing rates may vary, as is always the norm, and there certainly will be pockets of higher than average grouse numbers, and other sections where grouse may seem sparse.”
Last year, grouse flushing rates increased in five of the state’s six geographic regions when compared to 2007-08 flushing rates, with the only decline recorded in the Southcentral Region. Those regional rates essentially equaled the statewide long-term average of 1.42 grouse flushed per hour.
Flushing rate information and other grouse data is reported by participants of the Game Commission’s “Grouse Cooperator Survey,” which uses information recorded in hunting logs by volunteers. Hunters interested in participating in the Game Commission’s annual Grouse Cooperator Survey can obtain reporting forms, as well as gather other grouse information, through the agency’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), by selecting on “Hunting,” then clicking on the photo of the ruffed grouse.
According to the agency’s Game Take Survey, an estimated 102,100 hunters took 108,700 grouse during the 2008-2009 seasons, during 581,700 hunting days. Numbers of hunters pursuing grouse in Pennsylvania increased six percent compared to 2007, but still remain well below peak numbers of the mid-1980’s when Pennsylvania had more than 400,000 grouse hunters.
The Northeast Game Bird Technical Committee, comprised of state game bird biologists throughout the Northeastern United States, reported that overall ruffed grouse populations have declined along with the amount of early-successional forests. Populations relative to hunted habitats fluctuate over the years, providing years of good hunting (reflected by high hunter grouse flushing rates) despite the negative trend in total grouse numbers. The 2008 statewide flushing rate of 1.42 was similar to the long-term average of 1.41 flushes per hour. Over the past 44 years, rates have ranged from a low of 0.95 flushes per hour in 2004 to 1.74 in 1995. Pennsylvania’s huntable grouse populations hit high levels during each decade from the 1960s through the 1990s, with the successive highs generally increasing for the northern tier of the state and, by and large, decreasing for the southern tier.
Over the past 40 years, Pennsylvania has lost have of its early successional forest habitat, which is important to grouse and many other species of birds dependent on this declining habitat type. The Game Commission, along with other agencies and conservation partners, is attempting to reverse this decline through aggressive habitat management. The agency is drafting a Ruffed Grouse Management Plan, which is anticipated to be available for public comment next year. The plan will provide strategies and habitat goals for increasing grouse habitat in the state.
Grouse hunters are reminded to wear at least 250 square inches of fluorescent orange clothing on the head, chest and back combined at all times; limit hunting parties to no more than six individuals; and plug shotguns to three-shell capacity (magazine and chamber combined).