Posted Thursday, August 28, 2003
2003 upland game hunting seasons forecast
Compiled by Dean L. Mitchell
Highlights for 2003 seasons
In 2002, the Utah Wildlife Board authorized a three-year Upland Game Proclamation. As such, upland game hunting rules and regulations will remain the same in 2003 as in 2002 with the exception of changes in the number of Greater Sage-grouse and Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse permits available. These permit numbers are derived annually based on spring strutting and dancing ground count surveys.
Utah's upland game hunters should be aware of several significant highlights applicable to 2003-2004 upland game hunting seasons. Upland game hunters should review a copy of the current Upland Game Proclamation prior to going afield.
General upland game hunt forecast information
Annual fluctuations in upland game bird and mammal populations, probably more so than any other group of wildlife species, are very closely correlated with annual climatic patterns. Serene, open winters mean that more upland game survive to reproduce the following spring. Early spring precipitation during the months of March, April and May makes for increases in fall upland game populations. Warm, dry weather, especially during June, is vital for the survival of newly born young.
Severe winter weather bringing deep snow and persistent cold temperatures can impact upland game. Food sources become covered and unavailable. Escape and thermal cover can become drifted in and unusable. Combine severe winter weather with no spring precipitation, or cold wet weather during the nesting and brooding period, and fewer upland game will be available for hunters in the fall.
Because of the importance of annual weather conditions to upland game survival and recruitment, let's take a closer look at what has happened throughout Utah since last fall.
The winter of 20022003 was generally mild throughout Utah. Open snow conditions combined with moderately mild temperatures meant good over-winter survival of upland game breeding stock. Spring seemed to arrive earlier than normal throughout much of the state.
According to the National Climatic Data Center, below average precipitation fell statewide in Utah during the months of January, March, April, June and July, 2003. Above average monthly temperatures occurred statewide in January (warmest on record), March, May and July, 2003. However, precipitation and temperature conditions varied widely depending on the specific localized area of the state.
A review of weather statistics derived from the Standard Precipitation Index (SPI) and the Palmer Drought Severity Index, provide information as to what upland game hunters might expect in various portions of Utah this fall. The SPI assigns a single numeric value to the precipitation that fell, which can be compared across regions with markedly different climates. The Palmer Drought Severity Index uses temperature and rainfall information in a formula to determine dryness. The Palmer Index is most effective in determining long-term drought (a matter of months) and is not as good with short-term forecasts (a matter of weeks).
The state of Utah is divided into seven climate divisions. Different segments of each of the five Utah UDWR administrative regions are covered by the seven climate divisions. The following table provides data from the SPI (Jan.July, 2003) and Palmer Severity Drought Index (as of Aug. 23, 2003) for each of Utah's climate divisions.
SPI data provides insight into short-term precipitation conditions that stimulate or depress the production of grasses and forbs necessary for upland game survival and recruitment. For example, if the SPI indicates that spring precipitation for a local area is 100 percent of normal, it would be logical to expect annual upland game populations to increase or at least remain stable. If the SPI indicates that spring precipitation for a local area is below 100 percent of normal, the proper assumption would be an expected decrease in upland game populations.
The Palmer Drought Severity Index provides insight into long-term temperature and precipitation conditions that can affect upland game habitat on a permanent basis. In the case of prolonged drought, some plant species could be damaged or could die off because of a lack of water for growth and production. If habitat is altered permanently because of drought, upland game populations could be expected to decline because of a loss of suitable habitat.
From the table above, three of Utah's seven climate divisions, mostly in Northern and Wedstern Utah, have received less than normal precipitation this year and six of the seven divisions are experiencing varying levels of long-term drought.
As a result of the past temperate winter, spring and summer climatic conditions, and long-term drought prevalent throughout much of the state, some upland game populations in localized areas of Utah are in fair to good shape for fall hunting seasons; while others are in poor condition. Hunters should expect erratic success across the state depending on the local area and species hunted.
What to anticipate for each species
Hunters desiring a trip into the highest of Utah's alpine country can try for the White-tailed Ptarmigan. In 1976, ptarmigan were transplanted from Colorado to the Gunsight Pass/Painter Basin area of the eastern Uinta Mountains. Since being released in Utah, ptarmigan have increased their distribution to many drainages of the Uintas. A free permit is required to hunt these birds. Permit request forms are available on page 27 of the Upland Game Proclamation and on the UDWR Upland game Web site (PDF format). Permits may be obtained at all UDWR offices in person, or permit request forms may be submitted through the postal mail. The free permit allows biologists to contact hunters to determine harvest rates and other important biological information used to manage ptarmigan.
An information packet, titled AGuidelines for Locating White-tailed Ptarmigan in the Uinta Mountains@ can also be found on the UDWR Upland game Web site. The Division is highly interested in ptarmigan sightings in the Uinta Mountains. Hikers, hunters and anyone else who observes ptarmigan is encouraged to notify Dean Mitchell, Upland Game Program Coordinator, through e-mail at: DeanMitchell@utah.gov with a location, date and number of birds observed. Ptarmigan hunting is expected to be good this year for those willing to put forth the effort necessary to get in to their habitats.
Blue and Ruffed Grouse (forest grouse) observations are positive throughout the state this year. Field biologists report an abundance of forest grouse broods. Over-winter survival was good to excellent, while nesting and brood-rearing conditions were good throughout mountainous habitats.
Keep in mind that forest grouse populations can vary greatly between mountain ranges. Look for birds in areas of mixed mountain brush offering berries. Berry production is highly varied across Utah this year because of long-term drought conditions. In some areas, there's an abundance of berries, in other areas there are few to none. Ruffed Grouse prefer areas along stream and watercourses. Blue Grouse are usually found higher on the mountain in the Douglas fir/aspen zone above 8,000 feet. If you hunt with a dog, take along a pair of pliers or be prepared in case the dog encounters a porcupine. Quills are extremely difficult to remove from a dog's muzzle by hand.
Northern Region: Field biologists report increased numbers of Blue and Ruffed Grouse in Morgan, Summit, Rich and Weber counties. Cache County is expected to harbor increased numbers of Blue and Ruffed Grouse this year as well.
Central Region: Conditions along the Wasatch Mountain Range were very dry this summer but grouse reproductive efforts are reported as good to excellent. Larger brood sizes have been reported this year by biologists and conservation officers. Numbers seem to be as high as last year and a good hunt is expected. Some areas have high Currant and Squawbush berry production. Hunters should look for these areas.
Northeastern Region: Fair hunting is expected in Duchesne County while good hunting is expected in Uintah County this year.
Southeastern Region: Hunt success is expected to improve over last year. Precipitation at higher elevations, while still below normal, improved this year.
Southern Region: Reports indicate that an average number of Blue Grouse will be available. The birds will be located near water at higher elevations, unless more precipitation occurs prior to the hunting season. A few Ruffed Grouse are located in the northern part of the region. Expect fair success for forest grouse.
Chukar Partridge populations are most closely tied to spring precipitation received during the months of January through April. Above average precipitation fell statewide in February and May and appears to have been enough to stimulate an increase in chukar populations from last year.
UDWR's west desert helicopter survey, conducted on August 22, 2003, indicated that bird numbers are up conspicuously from last year. On the survey transect this year, biologists counted a total of 238 chukars. This is up from a total of only 36 chukars counted in 2002. Results of the west desert helicopter survey from 1996-2003 are depicted in the table below.
Hunters should keep in mind that the helicopter survey is conducted only in select areas of the west desert and may not represent localized conditions for other chukar areas throughout Utah.
The best strategy for chukars is to begin at the top of a mountain range and hunt down on the birds. Listening for the chukar's well-defined call is an excellent way to locate coveys of birds. If you take a dog along on a chukar hunt, make sure the dog is in excellent physical condition and take plenty of water along for not only yourself, but the dog as well. Because chukar habitat in Utah is comprised of much shale and lava rock, it may be wise to purchase leather or rubber booties to protect the pads on your dog's feet!
Northern Region: Field biologists report increased numbers of chukars in Morgan, Summit, South Rich and Weber counties. In East Box Elder County, good cheat grass production has occurred, resulting in reports of large broods this summer. In West Box Elder County, sporadic winter and spring moisture has resulted in good production in scattered areas.
Central Region: Habitat conditions in the west desert areas of the Central Region are poor this year due to the lack of summer rainfall. Wildfires were not as bad as last year and grasshopper and Mormon crickets are abundant. As a result, food sources for chukars were more available and favorable for chick survival despite the drought. Chukar hunting is expected to be improved this year over last.
Northeastern Region: Numbers are still low and populations scattered. Hunting will be difficult for this species in the Northeastern Region.
Southeastern Region: Chukar hunting will be about the same as last year. An extremely dry spring in most of the region delayed production of grasses, especially cheat grass, in many areas. Forage in those areas may be lacking. However, cheat grass production in Range Creek and Desolation Canyon was very high and may have resulted in higher chukar production.
Southern Region: Wild populations of chukar in the Southern Region are low, and success is expected to be only fair.
Cottontail rabbit hunting will be fair to good throughout most of the state. Hunters should focus their efforts on dry, brushy draws with dense, rank big sagebrush when hunting for cottontails. No permit is required for jackrabbits.
Northern Region: Populations are similar to last year.
Central Region: In spite of the drier spring and summer, rabbits still seem to be doing well in the region this year. Biologists report good numbers of cottontails. Habitat is not of high quality with most grasses and forbs drying out and maturing earlier this year. On the west desert, cottontail rabbit numbers appear to be up this year. There are pockets with good numbers
on the Deep Creek Mountains and in Rush Valley where numbers are better than
they have been in years. Hunting should be good if you can find the pockets. Look for moist sites and riparian zones with sagebrush.
Northeastern Region: Fair hunting is expected for cottontail rabbits this year in both Duchesne and Uintah counties.
Southeastern Region: Populations are similar to last year.
Southern Region: Cottontail rabbit production has been low because of drought conditions for the past couple of years. A slightly brighter picture is provided in riparian areas and areas adjacent to crop lands where good succulent forage is available. Prolonged drought has impacted cottontail populations. Very sparse precipitation during spring and early summer has left minimal succulent forage for rabbits in upland areas away from water. Hunting success is expected to be slightly lower than last year.
Cottontail rabbit hunters are cautioned that it's illegal to harvest pygmy rabbits in Utah. The pygmy rabbit has been petitioned (April 1, 2003) for listing under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Pygmy rabbits closely resemble cottontail rabbits and are easily confused as juvenile cottontail rabbits. Pygmy rabbits can be found in the same habitats as cottontail rabbits.
Information that will help hunters to tell the difference between cottontail rabbits and pygmy rabbits is located on the UDWR Web site.
The Division is highly interested in pygmy rabbit sightings throughout the state. Hikers, hunters and anyone else who observes pygmy rabbits are encouraged to notify Adam Kozlowski, Sensitive Species Biologist, through e-mail at: AdamKozlowski@utah.gov with a location, date and number of pygmy rabbits observed.
Gray (Hungarian) Partridge hunters should expect to see more birds this year in Northern Utah. Spring population surveys indicated good over-winter survival of Huns and medium-sized broods have been commonly observed. Hunting should be slightly better than last year. Hunters are encouraged to do some pre-hunt scouting to locate coveys and to secure permission to hunt on private lands. Hunters should concentrate their efforts to locate Huns on the edges of harvested small grain fields.
Sage-grouse populations throughout the state and throughout Western North America are at all time lows. Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation are major causes for population declines. As a result, hunting has been closed on fragmented and isolated populations of sage-grouse throughout Utah. Sage-grouse are hunted only in areas of the state where there are minimum breeding populations of at least 500 birds. In 2003, hunting will remain confined to Acore@ sage-grouse areas: Western Box Elder County and Rich County in Northern Utah, Blue and Diamond Mountains in the Uintah Basin in Northeastern Utah and Parker Mountain in Southern Utah.
Beginning in 2002, all sage-grouse hunting is by permit only and the number of permits are limited on each hunt unit. Permits are available on a first come-first served basis at UDWR offices beginning August 5. Sage-grouse hunting management is designed so that no more than 10% of the estimated sage-grouse fall population in a local area is harvested.
Hunters who successfully obtain sage-grouse permits are allowed to harvest two birds over a 9-day season.
Sage-grouse hunters are asked to please drop wings from harvested birds in UDWR wing barrels that will be placed in all areas open to hunting sage-grouse. Biological data collected from sage-grouse wings is critical in the management of local populations.
Northern Region: Field biologists report increased sage-grouse populations in Rich County. Good-sized broods have been reported and hunting should be at least as good as last year in Western Box Elder County.
Central Region: The entire region is closed to sage-grouse hunting. UDWR will increase law enforcement efforts in the Strawberry Valley area of Wasatch County where there have been reports of the illegal take of sage-grouse. Strawberry Valley is closed to sage-grouse hunting.
Northeastern Region: Hunting is expected to be only fair.
Southeastern Region: The entire region is closed to sage-grouse hunting.
Southern Region: The majority of the Southern Region is closed to the taking of sage-grouse. The Parker Mountain area is the only open area in the region. Strutting ground counts were slightly lower this year indicating a decreased population. However, brood counts were up this summer. Expect a good sage-grouse hunt.
For a challenge and enjoyable surroundings, hunters can try for the snowshoe hare. Pine forests interspersed with aspen and alder are home to snowshoe hares. When snow falls, hares turn completely white except for their eyes which remain coal black. Look for movement at the base of trees and shrubs to locate hares when snow has covered the ground.
Hunter pressure is very light for snowshoe hares throughout the state. Hunter success is predicted to be fair to good depending on the mountain range hunted. Snowshoe hares are confined mostly to North-central and Northern Utah.
California Quail populations are scattered throughout the state. Main concentrations are found within urban areas along the Wasatch Front, east into the Uintah Basin and southeast into the Carbon and Emery county areas. Hunters should contact local authorities to determine regulations governing the discharge of firearms if hunting adjacent to urban areas.
California Quail populations appear to be the same as last year. Recent and ongoing transplants of California Quail from the Wasatch Front to suitable habitats in outlying areas are responsible for quail being seen by hunters in new areas. Duchesne, Uintah, Sevier and Emery counties are traditionally the best areas to hunt.
Northern Region: Urban populations.
Central Region: Most of the quail habitat in the Central Region is along the Wasatch front where hunting is very limited if not restricted altogether. Caution should be used when hunting in the foothills above the housing areas taking note where city limit boundaries are to avoid illegal shooting. The quail population is similar to last year.
Northeastern Region: Fair hunting is expected in Duchesne County. The extended opportunity to hunt quail in the Uintah Basin through December has provided some good recreational opportunity for hunters.
Southeastern Region: Fair-good hunting expected. Limited distribution.
Southern Region: Fair-good hunting expected. Very limited distribution.
Gambel's Quail are found mostly in the Mohave Desert habitat of Washington County in the very Southwestern corner of the state and are also sporadically scattered along Utah's Southern border. Quail populations are up significantly over last year. Both brood size and number of birds observed were greatly improved on long-period waterhole counts this summer. Birds are expected to be near water unless precipitation patterns change between now and the start of the hunt. Hunters should concentrate their efforts along dry washes. Calling can be an effective technique for locating coveys of birds.
Ring-necked Pheasant hunters should concentrate their efforts on areas with remaining suitable habitat. Most of Utah's pheasant hunters participate during the opening weekend only. Those with persistence and who hunt during weekdays are successful in harvesting birds. The 2003 pheasant hunt will not compare at all with the heyday of pheasant hunting in Utah. Too much habitat has been lost.
Pre-season scouting to locate birds and securing written permission to hunt on private lands are essential for a successful Utah pheasant hunt. The good ol' days of being able to wander afield on opening morning and having access to privately-owned cultivated lands for pheasant hunting are gone. New requirements for securing access to private lands as a result of 2000 legislation mandate that hunters secure written permission from landowners prior to accessing their lands.
While taking wildlife or engaging in wildlife related activities, a person may not , without the written permission of the owner or person in charge, enter upon privately-owned land that is cultivated or properly posted. "Cultivated land" means land which is readily identifiable as: 1) land whose soil is loosened or broken up for the raising of crops; 2) land used for the raising of crops; or 3) pasturage which is artificially irrigated. The UDWR cannot guarantee access to any private land. If you plan to hunt in an area that is made up of all or mostly private lands you must obtain WRITTEN permission from the landowner or an authorized representative of the landowner.
To determine who owns a parcel of private land that you desire to hunt, you should visit the county recorder or assessor office for the county that you desire to hunt in. Ask to review the "Plat maps" for the area you are interested in hunting. Plat maps provide information on who owns a particular parcel of land. Some county offices will provide telephone numbers or mailing addresses for landowners. This information can be used by the hunter to contact the landowner to attempt to secure permission to hunt. In some cases, the hunter may have to use the local telephone directory to determine landowner contact information.
Hunters are encouraged to complete and have the landowner sign the landowner/hunter permission card located on the UDWR Web site.
Utah pheasant hunting will be poor to fair at best throughout the state.
Northern Region: Reports of large pheasant broods have been common this year. A much better hunt than last year is expected.
Central Region: Habitat conditions in agricultural areas where pheasants are found are fair in irrigated fields. In spite of the continuing drought, a few well-timed spring showers stimulated improved nesting and brooding habitat conditions. Continued urban and industrial development throughout the region makes it difficult for hunters to find pheasants. Those with access to private agricultural lands will have the best success. Overall, hunting is expected to be slow.
Northeastern Region: Poor-fair hunting is expected.
Southeastern Region: Poor-fair hunting is expected.
Southern Region: Poor-fair hunting expected.
Sharp-tailed Grouse hunters can expect good hunting in eastern Box Elder County this year. Spring dancing ground count surveys indicated greatly improved numbers of breeding birds over 2002. Many good-sized broods have been observed throughout the summer. A large summer wildfire in Howell Valley consumed vast acreages of prime sharptail habitat. Hunters who frequent Howell Valley should be prepared to hunt in new areas this year.
Much sharp-tailed grouse hunting occurs on private land in eastern Box Elder County. As such, hunters are encouraged to contact landowners to secure permission to hunt prior to the season opener.
Upland game hunting general information
Pick up and pack out spent shotgun shell hulls
Upland game hunter information
Upland game species information along with Utah distribution maps is available through the UDWR upland game web site.
Information about specific UDWR Upland Game and Waterfowl Management Areas open to hunting is contained in a brochure titled, "Your DWR Lands." This brochure is available on the UDWR upland game Web site. A more comprehensive compilation of UDWR wildlife management areas is found in a booklet titled, "Access to Wildlife Lands in Utah." This booklet can be purchased at any UDWR office.
Information from upland game hunters who have been afield in pursuit of each species can be found in the "Upland Game Hunters' Corner" section of the UDWR upland game Web site. Hunter reports will be added as upland game seasons open and progress.
Small game and waterfowl Cooperative Wildlife Management Units (CWMUs)
Accurate upland game harvest data needed
Please enjoy your fall hunting experience and thank you for your support of wildlife conservation in Utah! Don't forget to pick up a copy of the Upland Game Proclamation and to purchase your license and permits before heading afield. Good hunting!
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