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. Woodcock season also opens October 1 and concludes November 14. Karen Bordeau, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s Small Game Project Leader, notes that better than 65% 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. The lack of active land management and loss of habitat in southern New England has driven grouse there to historic lows.
Birds by the numbers: Small Game Hunter Survey data from 2017 indicate that the North Region grouse observation rates were 136 grouse per 100 hunting hours; this is an increase from the reported 83 grouse seen per 100 hunting hours in 2016. It is noteworthy that observation rates were down in all regions except the North Region. Hunters wishing to participate in the 2018 survey should call the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s Wildlife Division at 271-2461. In 2017, hunters provided 168 usable grouse wing and tail samples during last fall’s Grouse Wing and Tail Survey. The average recruitment rate of 1.08 juveniles per adult female into the statewide fall 2017 population decreased from 1.57 in 2016.
The 2018 grouse season is expected to be similar to last year, and fall mast crops will determine where the grouse will be in the field. Finding pockets of available food that grouse are focusing on will be helpful to hunter success.
Woodcock season is also expected to be similar to last year’s. Woodcock singing ground survey routes provide an index to the overall abundance of resident singing males and population trends. Woodcock density patterns varied throughout the state. The number of woodcock heard per stop increased slightly in the Central and Southwest regions, but decreased in the North, White Mountain and Southwest regions in 2018. Statewide, Fish and Game Department counts averaged 2.50 per route. Fish and Game Department counts were similar to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s average count of 2.56 birds per route in the Eastern Management Region which includes portions of the eastern U.S. and Canada.
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 surveys packets can be acquired by calling Fish and Game at 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 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 population trends for grouse and woodcock can be found in the “2017/2018 Small Game Summary Report,” which provides detailed graphs by region and statewide. It can be viewed at www.huntnh.com/hunting/publications.html.