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11
Grouse Season to Open Sept. 16


PIERRE, S.D. – With the recent severe drought conditions experienced across the majority of grouse range in South Dakota, biologists have studied what this means for the outlook of grouse hunting this 2006 fall season that opens Saturday, Sept. 16.

Lindbloom reminds hunters 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 most public lands.


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.



Game, Fish and Parks lek surveys taken in 2006 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 10 percent. Leks are areas where grouse congregate during the breeding season and compete for breeding opportunities.



“Harvest data are gathered through mail-in surveys and allow us to estimate the total number of grouse harvested annually, “ Lindbloom said. “Last year we harvested approximately 51,000 grouse, which is higher than the projected 39,000 in 2004 but very comparable to the 52,000 in 2003.”



Grouse age ratios, determined by examining harvested birds and classifying them into juvenile and adult categories, are collected through voluntary wing collection boxes set up by the GFP and the U.S. Forest Service. “Age ratios give us an idea of reproductive success,” Lindbloom noted, “and based on data gathered on the Fort Pierre National Grasslands, in 2005 we saw lower reproduction than in 2004.”



Lindbloom pointed out that fall hunting predictions for grouse are not as easy and accurate as they are for species like 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 many 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.



“We’re confident we had good over-winter survival last year, and an adequate breeding stock this spring to grow grouse” said Lindbloom. “Based on how birds responded in previous drought years we anticipate that grouse in the hardest hit drought areas are likely to have declined. In parts of the grouse range, where the drought impacts were less severe, we believe that bird populations should be similar to last year. The bottom line is that we will need to hear from grouse hunters and take a look at our wing data to more accurately determine how the drought impacted our grouse populations.”



Hunters are likely to have success if they can focus on areas and habitats that are still holding birds, and that have been replenished with the recent rains. Rested pastures and unaltered Conservation Reserve Program fields likely retained adequate grouse reproduction this year and should provide some good hunting success in certain parts of the state.



“We also encourage hunters to visit with landowners in areas that they intend to hunt,” Lindbloom said. “Landowners are out on the land on a daily basis and often have a good perspective on how their local grouse populations are doing.”



Lindbloom reminds hunters 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 most public lands.

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