CONCORD, N.H. – The hunting season for ruffed grouse – New Hampshire’s most sought-after upland game bird – starts October 1 and runs through December 31. Karen Bordeau, Fish and Game’s Small Game Project Leader, notes that better than 60% of small game hunting effort in New Hampshire is directed towards ruffed grouse, and that over half of that effort takes place in the North Country. Hunting for woodcock, another popular upland game bird runs from October 1 through November 14.
“Between drumming routes, hunter survey data, wing and tail data, and brood sightings, we have a pretty good handle on our grouse population,” notes Bordeau. She attributes strong North Country grouse and woodcock populations to active forest management. “Grouse and woodcock depend on the young forests that result from active forest management. So it makes sense that these species do best in the industrial forest lands of northern New Hampshire. The lack of active management in southern New England has driven grouse to historic lows. If you love grouse, then buy a chain saw!” encourages Bordeau.
Birds by the numbers: Hunter survey data from 2015 indicate that North Country grouse observation rates exceeded 150 grouse per 100 hunting hours. While this regional sighting rate is the highest rate in New Hampshire, it is noteworthy that observation rates were up for all five management regions in the state in 2015.
Grouse wings and tails collected during the 2015 season suggest better-than-average recruitment (three juveniles per adult female) into the statewide fall population. “The hope is that this strong age class will translate into more birds this coming season,” says Bordeau.
As evidenced by drumming route surveys conducted during the spring of 2016, grouse fared well this past winter. North Country routes tallied an average of one bird per survey stop, similar to the results of the previous three years, and the highest tally in the state. Brood sightings collected by moose research field personnel reflect good brood production this past spring.
These positive signs lead North Country regional biologist Will Staats to expect a good grouse season this fall. “Broods were relatively abundant this summer. Relatively dry conditions during the peak of hatch no doubt contributed to good brood survival,” notes Staats. He suggests that grouse hunters consider focusing on abandoned apple orchards and moist lowlands this fall. “While apple production is modest, orchards are expected to be a big draw for grouse this season, as dry as it’s been,” says Staats. He notes that nannyberry and high-bush cranberry have good fruit crops this year and should attract grouse as well. “Mountain ash is a bust, so I don’t expect much action there,” he adds.
“Hundreds of miles of logging roads in the North Country provide hunters access to thousands of acres of private and state lands open to hunting,” says Staats. “But be advised – logging trucks have the right of way.”
New Hampshire’s woodcock season is expected to be similar to last year’s. Singing ground survey counts conducted by the Fish and Game Department have been relatively stable over the past eight years in the North Country, ranging from five to six birds per route. Statewide, Fish and Game counts averaged 3.5 birds per route. For comparison purposes, statewide counts were well above the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s average count of 2.6 birds per route in the Eastern Management Region.
Data included in a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report entitled American Woodcock Population Status, 2016, provides valuable insight into New Hampshire’s woodcock population. New Hampshire has experienced very little change in its woodcock population over time, as compared to most states. Federal data reveal a relatively stable tally of from three to four birds per route in the state since 1968. Harvest Information Permit (HIP) data have allowed the service to estimate the following woodcock hunting metrics for our state: In 2015, New Hampshire had an estimated 2,100 active woodcock hunters, who took 9,100 woodcock while spending 14,700 days afield. With a per-season harvest per hunter of 4.25 woodcock, New Hampshire compared very favorably with other eastern and central states.
Woodcock hunters are reminded that they need a free National Migratory Bird Harvest Information (HIP) certification number in order to legally hunt for woodcock.
All small game hunters are encouraged to take part in Fish and Game’s annual small game survey, and successful grouse hunters are urged to participate in the state’s Wing and Tail Survey. Small game survey packets can be acquired by calling Fish and Game at (603) 271-2461 or online at www.huntnh.com/surveys/small-game.html. Grouse wing and tail packets can be picked up from participating locations listed at www.huntnh.com/surveys/ruffed-grouse.html. These surveys provide valuable insight into the status of grouse and other small game species in New Hampshire. As an incentive to participate in the Fish and Game surveys, Ruger Arms and The Ruffed Grouse Society have again generously agreed to provide a free firearm to a randomly selected participant in each of these important surveys.
Learn more about grouse and woodcock hunting in New Hampshire, and view the Small Game Summary Report that depicts detailed graphs by region, at www.huntnh.com/hunting/birds.html. Hunt safe, thank landowners, respect wildlife, and enjoy life in New Hampshire’s wonderful outdoors.