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 64% 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.
“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. Bordeau 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 forest lands of northern New Hampshire. The lack of active management and loss of habitat 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 2016 indicate that North Country grouse observation rates were 83 grouse per 100 hunting hours; this is about half the number of grouse observations reported in 2015. It is noteworthy that observation rates were down for all five New Hampshire management regions during 2016. Hunters provided 128 usable grouse wing and tails during last fall’s Grouse Wing and Tail Survey. The average recruitment (1.57 juvenile per adult female) into the statewide fall population decreased from 2.87 in 2015. As evidenced by drumming route surveys conducted this past spring, grouse fared well last winter in the North and Southwest regions, but decreased in the White Mountain and Central regions. North Country routes tallied an average of .88 birds per survey stop, exceeding the .68 results of the previous year. Brood sightings collected by moose research field personnel reflect good brood production last spring showing an average of 4 grouse chicks per hen through mid-July. The grouse season is expected to be similar to last year. This spring and summer have seen very wet conditions in New Hampshire. Research indicates that wet weather can provide abundant insect supply compared with the “droughty” weather. Apples appear to be very good this year, so hunters may want to focus hunting abandoned orchards and similar locations this fall.
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 10 years in New Hampshire. The North region and White Mountain regions ranged 3 to 5 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. New Hampshire data included in a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report entitled American Woodcock Population Status, 2016, provide valuable insight into New Hampshire’s woodcock population. To start with, New Hampshire has experienced very little change in the woodcock population over time as compared to most states. Federal data reveal a relatively stable tally of from 3 to 4 birds per route in New Hampshire since 1968. Harvest Information Permit (HIP) data have allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to estimate the following woodcock hunting metrics for our state. In 2016, there were an estimated 2,000 active woodcock hunters who took an estimated 6,600 woodcock while spending 10,300 days afield. With a per season harvest per hunter of 3.27 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 New Hampshire’s Wing and Tail Survey. Small game survey packets can be acquired by calling Fish and Game at (603) 271-2461 and 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 NH 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/small-game.html. Hunt safe, thank landowners, respect wildlife, and enjoy life in New Hampshire’s wonderful outdoors.