2008-09-18 / Outdoors

'Stage set' for good small game season

OUTLOOK GOOD Prospects for successful ruffed grouse hunts this fall are high for those who know where to hunt. Grouse are most numerous in young forests, in young to moderate-aged aspen stands, and around tag alder thickets. Grouse are most abundant in the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula and less abundant in the southern Lower Peninsula. (Photo by David Kenyon, Michigan DNR) OUTLOOK GOOD Prospects for successful ruffed grouse hunts this fall are high for those who know where to hunt. Grouse are most numerous in young forests, in young to moderate-aged aspen stands, and around tag alder thickets. Grouse are most abundant in the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula and less abundant in the southern Lower Peninsula. (Photo by David Kenyon, Michigan DNR) Most fall hunting seasons are right around the corner and Department of Natural Resources biologists say hunters will find plenty of opportunity this year with populations of most small game species stable in Michigan's woods and wetlands.

For the 2008 hunting seasons, small-game hunters will find plenty of rabbits and squirrels available. Ruffed grouse populations are in ascension as part of their normal cycle, woodcock populations are stable, but pheasant populations may be in somewhat of a decline. Turkey hunting should be excellent this fall. The prospects for ducks are similar to last year, but resident Canada goose populations are up slightly.

All in all, the stage is set for a very good hunting season. Please make it a safe one.

RABBITS Season: Cottontail rabbits and varying or snowshoe hare can be hunted from Sept. 15 - March 31, statewide. Hunters may take a limit of five per day and 10 in combined possession.

Outlook: Cottontail populations are good throughout their range and they remain among the most popular small game animals in Michigan. Last year hunters harvested about 366,000 cottontails.

Snowshoe hare populations, however, are down somewhat due to the cyclical nature of their populations and somewhat declining habitat in parts of their range. Last year hunters harvested 43,000 hares.

SQUIRRELS

Season: Sept.15 - March 1. Hunters can bag up to five per day and have 10 in combined possession.

Outlook: Both fox and gray squirrels are at moderate to high levels throughout their range. Look for good populations in areas that had a good mast crop last year or in woodlots adjoining corn fields. Last year hunters took 514,000 squirrels.

RUFFED GROUSE

Season: Sept. 15 - Nov. 14. After the firearm deer season ends, the grouse season reopens from Dec. 1 - Jan. 1. The bag limit for grouse is five per day/10 in possession in Zones 1 and 2, and three per day/six in possession in Zone 3.

Outlook: The outlook for the upcoming season is good; last year hunters took 312,000 ruffed grouse and, as populations usually cycle over a 10-year period, populations are on an upswing. The next peak is predicted to occur around 2010 or 2011. Hunters should note that increased or decreased abundance of animals at a regional scale does not ensure the same trend locally as good habitat is the most important variable for grouse numbers. Grouse are most numerous in young forests, in young to moderate-aged aspen stands, and around tag alder thickets. Areas with good fall berry crops often produce well. Grouse are most abundant in the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula and less abundant in the southern Lower Peninsula. The best counties in the Upper Peninsula are in the central U.P., though there are ample opportunities on both the east and west sides as well. There is good hunting across the northern Lower Peninsula with good numbers of grouse to be found in the northernmost counties of southern Michigan on the west side of the state. In southeast Michigan, some areas of the Thumb have good habitat, often associated with game management areas. Grouse and woodcock hunters are asked to assist the DNR in monitoring grouse and woodcock populations by providing information about their hunts. The cooperator form can be found on the DNR web site at www.michigan/dnr.

WOODCOCK

Season: Sept. 20 - Nov. 3. The bag limit will be three woodcock per day/six in possession.

Outlook: Woodcock hunters may expect a season similar to last year, when hunters harvested about 118,000 woodcock. Although good numbers of grouse and woodcock can be found in all parts of Michigan, the highest densities are located in the northern twothirds of the state. The west end of the Upper Peninsula should have good numbers of birds during the early season. The best spots may be in thicker, younger cover along streams and the edges of swampland. During mid-October, migrating woodcock may be found in Alpena, Montmorency, Otsego and Roscommon counties. Woodcock are a migratory game bird, so hunters are reminded to have the Harvest Information Program (HIP) endorsement printed on their small game license. See the 2008 Michigan Hunting and Trapping Guide for details.

PHEASANTS

Season: Oct. 10-31 in the Upper Peninsula. The Lower Peninsula runs from Oct. 20-Nov. 14. The late pheasant season in most of the southern Lower Peninsula will be open from Dec. 1 - Jan. 1 with a bag limit of two male pheasants/four in possession.

Outlook: Pheasants populations were down last year -- hunters took about 65,000 birds - and there's no reason to expect to be up significantly, especially after last winter's tough conditions. However, grassland nesting situations were ideal, so there is cause for optimism. As always, private lands hold more birds than public lands so hunters who get out, knock on doors and get permission to hunt on private lands will have the best chance for finding birds. Significant habitat improvements have been made on many private lands in recent years thanks to cooperative work with conservation partners. The best counties include Shiawassee, Livingston, Lenawee, Hillsdale, Huron, Ionia and Montcalm. Look for fields of warm-season grasses, especially farm fields that have been idled for a few years. Late season hunters should concentrate their efforts in cattail and shrub wetlands near picked agricultural fields.

QUAIL

Season: Oct. 20-Nov. 14. Quail can be hunted only in Branch, Calhoun, Clinton, Eaton, Genesee, Gratiot, Hillsdale, Huron, Ingham, Ionia, Jackson, Kent, Lapeer, Lenawee, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Montcalm, Oakland, Saginaw, St. Clair, St. Joseph, Sanilac, Shiawassee, Tuscola, Washtenaw and Wayne counties. All other counties are closed to quail hunting. The bag limit is five per day/10 in possession.

Outlook: Although patchy in distribution and abundance, quail can be found throughout southern Michigan. Hunters killed an estimated 1,700 quail last year.

WILD TURKEY

Season: Oct. 6 - Nov. 14 in 12 management units including most of southern Michigan, five counties in the northern Lower Peninsula and the entire turkey management area of the Upper Peninsula. The bag limit is one bird (either sex). A total of 59,050 licenses were available through a lottery, but leftover licenses will be available over the counter beginning Sept. 18 at 10 a.m. for individuals who did not apply for a fall turkey license.

Outlook: Turkey numbers should be excellent in all areas open for fall hunting. Turkey populations are at or near historic highs and good spring nesting conditions should have produced a good crop of young birds. Last fall hunters killed 5,300 wild turkeys in Michigan.

DUCKS

Season: The season for ducks and mergansers (excluding scaup) is Oct. 4 - Dec. 2 in the North Zone (Upper Peninsula); Oct. 4 - Nov. 30 and Dec. 6-7 in the Middle Zone (northern Lower Peninsula) Zone; and Oct.11 - Dec. 7 and Jan. 3-4 in the South Zone (southern Lower Peninsula). New this season is a variable limit on scaup (bluebills); hunters may take one per day for 40 days of the 60-day season and two per day for the remaining 20 days. Consult the 2008 Michigan Waterfowl Hunting Guide for two-bird scaup dates. The bag limit is six ducks per day; no more than four mallards (one hen), three wood ducks, two redheads, one pintail and one black duck. There is no open season on canvasbacks this year. In addition, hunters may take up to five mergansers, no more than two of which may be hooded mergansers, daily. The possession limit is twice the daily bag limit.

The youth waterfowl hunting weekend will be Sept. 20-21 statewide for licensed youths 10 to 15 only, who must be accompanied by an adult, who may not hunt. Be sure to get your kids involved with this great opportunity. There also are a number of youth dates during the regular season at managed waterfowl areas where parties with youngsters get priority in the draw.

Outlook: Duck populations and prairie pond numbers were high enough to allow for the maximum 60-day season under the federal adaptive waterfowl harvest strategy. However, Michigan mallard numbers were the lowest in recent history, so they may be in short supply during the early days of the season, but should improve as the migrants arrive. An increase in the daily bag limit for wood ducks, from two to three birds this fall, should provide additional opportunities for early season hunters, especially in isolated bayous and beaver ponds. The St. Marys River system in the eastern Upper Peninsula, Saginaw Bay, Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie are great areas to hunt diving ducks, which usually begin arriving around mid October. Last year hunters harvested 375,000 ducks in Michigan.

GEESE

Season: The early season is Sept. 1-15 in the Lower Peninsula statewide, except for Saginaw, Tuscola and Huron counties (Sept. 1- 10). In the Upper Peninsula, this early season will be Sept. 1-10. The limit is five per day. The regular goose season in the North Zone is Sept. 22 - Nov. 5. In Middle Zone, the regular season is Oct. 4 - Nov. 10 and Nov. 27 - Dec. 3. In the South Zone, the season is Oct. 11 - Nov. 13 and Nov. 27 - Dec. 7 except in some Goose Management Units. The season is the same as the South Zone for the Saginaw and Tuscola /Huron GMUs. The season at Allegan County GMU is Nov. 8-10 and Dec. 20 - Jan. 30. The season at Muskegon County Waste Water GMU is Oct. 14 - Nov. 13 and Dec. 2-15. The limit is two per day. Check the 2008 Michigan Waterfowl Hunting Guide for GMU boundaries.

The late Canada goose season is slated for Jan. 3 - Feb. 1 in all of the South Zone except the Allegan and Muskegon WW GMUS. The daily bag limit is five except in GMUs, where it's two.

Outlook: Michigan's local population of giant Canada geese continues to supply more than 70% of the state's total Canada goose harvest. The early September hunts and the 30-day late season help control these local flocks through recreational hunting. Resident Canada goose populations are stable to slightly increased this year. The South James Bay Population of migratory Canada geese, which passes through the southeastern portion of the state, is very similar to last year and the five-year average. The Mississippi Valley Population, which generally migrates through the western portion of the state, however, is significantly below the five-year average. Last year, hunters killed 181,000 Canada geese in Michigan.

(Editor's note: This article was provided by the DNR as part of its "Showcasing the DNR" program.)

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