Hunters should find plenty of ruffed grouse

Sep 10 2013 - 11:19pm

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PHIL DOUGLASS/Utah Division Wildlife Resources
Utah biologists say birds such as this blue grouse should be plentiful this fall because factors were favorable to the birds this year.
PHIL DOUGLASS/Utah Division Wildlife Resources
Utah biologists say birds such as this blue grouse should be plentiful this fall because factors were favorable to the birds this year.

If you like to hunt ruffed and dusky grouse, Jason Robinson has good news: The number of forest grouse in Utah is similar to, or higher, than it was last fall.

You can pursue forest grouse in Utah through the end of the year. Three additional upland game hunts -- dove, cottontail rabbit and snowshoe hare -- are also in progress.

Division of Wildlife Resources biologists don't conduct forest grouse surveys, but they watch closely for grouse when they're working in forest grouse habitat.

"It appears the number of forest grouse is as good, or better, than it was last fall," said Robinson, upland game coordinator for the DWR. "I think forest grouse hunters will have a good hunt."

Some of the best areas to hunt this fall include Cache County and areas near Cedar City.

Robinson said several factors have led to the good bird numbers: A mild winter at higher elevations that allowed plenty of adult birds to survive; dry weather in June that provided a climate that allowed newly hatched chicks to survive; and rain at higher elevations in July that provided the chicks with plenty of forbs and insects to eat.

Ruffed grouse are usually found in or close to stands of aspen trees. They're especially attracted to stands that have lots of young aspen trees in them. Aspen stands that also have shrubs with berries and a water source nearby are especially attractive.

Dusky grouse live in higher elevations. A good spot to look for them is the transition zone where aspen tree stands transition into conifer forest. Ridgelines that have pine and Douglas fir trees on them are also attractive areas.

Because grouse spend most of the day on the ground, you can find birds any time of the day. However, if you want to hunt grouse when the birds are most active and accessible, hunt early in the morning when the birds are feeding.

If you have a dog, mid-morning can be a great time to hunt.

"By the time mid-morning arrives," Robinson said, "the birds will be finished feeding. If you wait until then, the birds will have left plenty of scent on the ground for your dog to follow."

Every year, DWR biologists survey 15 different mourning dove routes in Utah. Based on surveys conducted this past May, Blair Stringham, migratory game bird coordinator for the DWR, said the number of doves in Utah should be about the same as it was last year.

"If you can find a good water source, especially in a dry year like this one, you might be really successful," Stringham said.

Cottontail rabbits reached the bottom of a 10-year population cycle about three years ago. Rabbit numbers in Utah have been increasing slowly since bottoming then.

From late July through late August each year, DWR biologists survey 14 rabbit routes across Utah. This year, the best rabbit numbers were spotted in southern Utah. In Box Elder County, and other popular rabbit hunting areas in Northern Utah, biologists saw about the same number of rabbits as last year.

To find cottontails, Robinson suggests hunting early in the morning and late in the afternoon. That's when the rabbits are away from their burrows feeding.

Only a few DWR biologists have snowshoe hares in the areas they manage. Those who do say the number of hares should be similar to last year. Snowshoe hares live in high-elevation conifer and aspen stands along the Wasatch Plateau.

One of the best ways to locate snowshoe hares is to wait for the first snow and then look for the hares' unique footprint, Robinson said. The print looks like a miniature snowshoe, hence the name snowshoe hare.

He said snowshoe hares don't have a large home range.

"If you find an area that has lots of tracks in it, there's a good chance a hare is hunkered down in some vegetation nearby," he said.

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