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Grouse Opener Looks Promising

PIERRE, S.D. - Stable to increasing grouse populations will set the stage
for South Dakota's 2005 grouse season that opens Saturday, Sept. 17.

According to Game, Fish and Parks Regional Wildlife Manager Andy Lindbloom
of Pierre, sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chicken populations in South
Dakota are monitored primarily by lek surveys, hunter harvest and age
ratios. Approximately 25 lek routes covering about 40-square miles each are
surveyed every spring by department personnel, and results from these
surveys represent a good cross-section of the grouse breeding population
across the state.

Game, Fish and Parks lek surveys taken in 2005 indicate that the
sharp-tailed grouse breeding population has remained relatively stable over
the last year, while the prairie chicken breeding population appears to have
increased by about 45 percent. Leks are areas where grouse congregate during
the breeding season and compete for breeding opportunities.

"Harvest data are gathered through mail-in surveys that allow us to estimate
the total number of grouse harvested annually, " Lindbloom said. "Last year,
hunters harvested approximately 39,000 grouse, which is lower than the
projected 52,000 in 2003 but very comparable to the 41,000 in 2002. We
believe that grouse populations have decreased across the state over the
last five years and so has hunter harvest. Although grouse numbers were more
promising last year, we saw fewer hunters and consequently less harvest.

Age ratios are determined by looking at harvested birds and aging them into
juvenile and adult categories. Specimens are collected through voluntary
wing collection boxes set up by the U.S. Forest Service personnel on the Ft.
Pierre National Grasslands. "Age ratios give us an idea of reproductive
success," Lindbloom noted, "and in 2004 we saw better reproduction than in

Lindbloom pointed out that fall hunting predictions for grouse are not as
easy and accurate as they are for pheasants. Harvest data and age ratios for
grouse are gathered after the hunting season, and therefore these surveys
only allow biologists to predict population trends after hunters have left
the field for that year.

Spring lek counts are important for overall population monitoring, but they
only indicate a trend of local breeding adults and not reproduction. Because
most of the birds harvested during upland game bird seasons are
young-of-year birds, a good brood survey can allow for decent predictions on
how the fall hunting season will be. Pheasant behavior lends itself well to
accurate brood surveys, grouse behavior does not. There just is not a
current method that allows for accurate surveys of grouse broods.

"Fortunately, the department is completing a three-year research project on
grouse reproduction on the Ft. Pierre National Grasslands," Lindbloom said.
"This year, researchers again are documenting excellent nesting efforts,
nesting success and brood survival. Given the promising lek survey results
from this spring, and assuming similar reproduction trends occurred across
the state, this information should equate to more birds for the grouse
season opener this weekend.

Lindbloom reminds hunters to remember that pheasants may appear in some
areas normally hunted for grouse. "Hen pheasants, young pheasants and grouse
can appear very similar in color and size," he said, "so be sure that your
target is in fact a grouse before you shoot."

Hunters also need to remember that they will be required to use nontoxic
shot for grouse/prairie chicken and other small game hunting on the
following public lands:

* State Game Production Areas
* Federal Waterfowl Production Areas
* State Park and Recreation Areas and Lakeside Use Areas
* State Water Access areas
* National Waterfowl Refuges
* U.S. Army Corps of Engineer lands
* U.S. Bureau of Reclamation lands managed by Game, Fish, and Parks

Nontoxic shot is not required on national grasslands of the U.S. Forest
Service, nor is it required on private lands or those lands enrolled in the
Game, Fish and Parks Walk-In-Access program.

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