South Dakota GFP Biologists Optimistic About Prairie Grouse Hunting Forecast
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 using information from spring lek surveys, harvest report cards and wing collections from hunters. Leks are areas where grouse traditionally congregate during the breeding season and compete for breeding opportunities. Lek surveys completed in 2008 indicate that the prairie chicken breeding population has increased since 2007, while the sharp-tailed grouse breeding population has increased only slightly.
Grouse age ratios, determined by examining harvested bird wings, were higher in 2007 than in 2006 which suggest better reproductive success in 2007. Interestingly, based on harvest report cards, hunters in 2007 harvested about 34,000 grouse, which was lower than the projected 41,000 in 2006.
Lindbloom pointed out that grouse surveys conducted by GFP are important in monitoring population trends but do not provide sufficient information to accurately predict fall hunting. Similar to many upland game birds, a majority of harvested birds are young-of-year birds, and a good brood survey would allow for decent predictions about the fall hunting season. Unfortunately, grouse behavior does not lend itself well to accurate brood surveys.
“We expect grouse populations had good over-winter survival this past year, an increase in breeding stock this spring and improved habitat conditions because of increased precipitation,” said Lindbloom. “Based on how birds responded in previous years with similar conditions we anticipate that more grouse will be available to hunters in many areas of the state.
“We also encourage hunters to visit with landowners in areas they intend to hunt,” Lindbloom said. “Landowners are 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.
The 2008 grouse season opens Saturday, Sept. 20, for prairie chicken, sharp-tailed grouse and ruffed grouse.