Karen Bordeau: (603) 744-5470
Jacob DeBow: (603) 788-3164
September 28, 2020
Concord, NH – The hunting season for ruffed grouse – New Hampshire’s most sought-after upland game bird – starts October 1 and runs through December 31. Woodcock season also opens October 1 and concludes November 14. Karen Bordeau, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s Small Game Project Leader, notes that better than 62% of small game hunting effort in New Hampshire targets ruffed grouse and that over half of that effort takes place in the North Country.
Although most abundant in northern forests, good populations of ruffed grouse exist throughout the state. Hunter observation rates in 2019, calculated from Small Game Hunter Survey responses, indicate that ruffed grouse are most abundant in northern New Hampshire where hunters observed 1.19 grouse per hour hunted with the aid of a dog.
Grouse observation rates decreased in all regions of the state except the Southeast region. Roadside drumming routes are found throughout New Hampshire and are surveyed annually from mid-April through mid-May by wildlife biologists and volunteers. During the survey period (April 15 –May 10), morning temperatures hovered around 32 degrees statewide with some snow remaining in parts of the state. The cold temperatures may have delayed grouse drumming activity: the number of grouse drumming events heard per stop decreased in the North and Southwest regions, increased in the White Mountain and Central regions and remained the same in the Southeast region of the state. These values routinely rise and fall and the long-term trends for grouse drumming surveys for each region can be viewed in the 2019/2020 Small Game Summary Report which looks at long-term trends for grouse observation rates and breeding surveys for both grouse (drumming) and woodcock (singing-ground).
“This spring was very wet and cold with lingering snow. These conditions may have delayed grouse drumming during the survey period,” said Bordeau. “For the past 16 years, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department has run six to eight select drumming survey routes in the North Country. These routes track changes in grouse abundance in the state’s premier grouse range. The routes tallied an average of .49 birds per survey stop, a decrease from the reported .68 the previous year,” concluded Bordeau.
Despite the spring weather conditions, regional biologists saw good numbers of grouse chicks in the northern part of the state this summer. The 2020 grouse season is expected to be similar to last year, and fall mast crops will determine where grouse will be in the field. Finding pockets of available food that grouse are focusing on will be helpful to hunter success.
Woodcock are the second most popular small game species, accounting for 28% of hunter effort in 2019. Woodcock density patterns varied throughout the state in 2020: increases were noted in the North and Central regions, remained the same in the Southwest region, and decreased in the White Mountain and Southeast regions of the state. Statewide, Department counts averaged 3.78 birds per route, and woodcock season is expected to be similar to last year.
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 encouraged to take part 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 http://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 New Hampshire surveys, Ruger Arms and The Ruffed Grouse Society have again generously agreed to provide a firearm to a randomly selected participant in each of these surveys.
Long-term and regional trends for grouse and woodcock can be viewed in the 2019/2020 Small Game Summary Report, which depicts detailed graphs by region and statewide. The report can be found at www.huntnh.com/hunting/publications.html.