For years, game managers have said that we are currently at the bottom of the barrel, the low point in the grouse population cycle. My question is, "When are we going to turn the corner?"
The word "cycle" is one of those loaded words that has a built-in presupposition that in fact may not be true when circumstances change.
For years, game managers have said that we are currently at the bottom of the barrel, the low point in the grouse population cycle.
My question is, "When are we going to turn the corner?"
When is the population of the ruffed grouse going to go back to where it was?
Expert opinion in all the popular literature states that the "10-year ruffed grouse population cycle" is at a low ebb.
And now the bottom of the curve seems to have stretched out over 10 years and is nearing the end of its second decade.
The grouse cycle is flat-lining, and we all know what that means.
Those who pursue grouse throughout the Great Lake states say that these up and down, decade-long cycles seem to be spiraling downward with each high point lower than the last.
And this one's pretty low.
What can be done?
As hunters, we scratch our heads and wonder.
The powers that be say, "It doesn't matter how many grouse we shoot, other factors such as animal predation, insect infestations and cover are more important than the hunter harvest."
How many times have we heard that?
I've been hearing that since when I was a young man, and now I'm an old man, and I still am hearing it!
In New York state, grouse season still starts Oct. 1 (in the Southern Zone) and runs through February - a five-month-long season.
And I challenge anyone to find more grouse on a hillside than deer and turkey. If we had a five-month-long season for deer and turkey, we'd wipe them out.
One thing seems for sure: a bird in the game pouch is not going to be drumming on a log or hatching a clutch of eggs next spring.
Can't we help the birds-to-be numbers by cutting back the season, the bag limit and consequently the kill?
Wouldn't there be more birds if fewer were dead?
Game managers, those game department scientists, charged with setting the season length and bag limits are a puzzlement.
Unlike many other game species, from waterfowl to whitetail deer, our game managers do not seem to be using their powers to tune the grouse season.
Year after year, we see no change.
Every year the regulations are exactly the same and there are fewer and fewer grouse.
And even game managers admit the grouse numbers dramatically fluctuate.
And even the most casual observer and hunter who only sets foot in the woods a few times a year would say the ruffed grouse, the king of game birds, seems all but forgotten with no more "management" than crows or woodchucks get. (Not that there is anything wrong with groundhogs and crows.)
The ruffed grouse season should change every few years, depending upon what stage of the theoretical cycle we are currently experiencing.
It's crazy. We are going to hunt this bird to near extinction.
Tune the hunting season for the current population.
If there are pockets of heavy population (which I doubt exist, but may), then fine tune it within the Wildlife Management Unit or geographical area like waterfowl or deer. Come on, this isn't rocket science.
As it stands, the ruffed grouse hunting season runs from Oct. 1 to Feb. 28 in the Southern Zone and begins Sept. 20 in the Northern Zone, and also closes the last day of February. Hunters are allowed four birds each day.
So I could shoot 600 birds in one season. That is probably all the grouse in the Southern part of the county. And that is just one hunter!
This season length has not varied one day for years, whether or not the "pat" population is on the "boom" side of the grouse cycle or the "bust" side.
What more proof does one need to see that nothing is being done?
Wouldn't it make sense to tailor the season and the bag limit to the population?
Currently New York has a grouse hunter survey (http://www.dec.ny.gov/press/38242.html and states that approximately 75,000 grouse hunters now kill about 150,000 birds. Back in 2005, the New York DEC said that the same number of hunters, over the same time period killed 225,000 birds, that's pretty "slim pickin's", now from three birds per hunter for the entire season, down to two! And on that website grouse hunters are urged to participate in the survey.
But what good is a survey if the regulations never change?
If the DEC allows more deer permits when the whitetail population increases, and then cuts them back when the take figures from the previous year show a lower success rate from hunters, wouldn't the same process hold true for grouse?
If the federal government, which suggests the bag limit and season length for waterfowl and other migratory game birds such as the woodcock, pinned to annual surveys, wouldn't the same game management methodology hold true for grouse?
Some have said that the cause of the most recent low ebb in the grouse population is because of the cyclic nature of leaf eating caterpillars in the forest canopy. Last spring, turkey hunters noted a sound like rain and the lack of leaves opened the forest making for easy pickings for hawks and owls. Others blame it on a series of "bad hatches." And still others say that "it is just nature's way and a mystery." All have some truth.
But if a large percentage of those 150,000 dead ruffed grouse that the state says we harvested this year were drumming, strutting and incubating eggs come spring, it only stands to reason that there would be more breeding birds as the famous "grouse cycle" was turned around and began to spiral up for a change.
Oak Duke, publisher of the Wellsville (N.Y.) Daily Reporter, can by reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.