PA Grouse Outlook 2010-11

Average Grouse Hunting Expected Overall In Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, PA -- With favorable late spring/early summer weather conditions across much of the state, Pennsylvania Game Commission biologists expect ruffed grouse hunting to be average to slightly above average -- where good habitat exists -- for the more than 100,000 hunters who annually pursue these challenging game birds.

The opening day of the state's three-part grouse season is Saturday, Oct. 16, and runs through Nov. 27. The season reopens Dec. 13 to 23, and then again from Dec. 27 to Jan. 22. Participating hunters must have a valid Pennsylvania hunting license and follow the regulations that govern this rugged sport of brush-busting and mountain-scampering.

"Landscape-level trends in early successional habitat over the last several decades have been bad news for grouse, woodcock, and other young forest species throughout most of the northeastern United States, and Pennsylvania has been no exception," said Ian Gregg, Game Commission Game Bird Section supervisor. "Christmas Bird Count and 2nd Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas data suggest that overall grouse populations have declined 30 to 50 percent since the early 1980s, which is no surprise given that over that same period, even though our total forested acreage was pretty stable, the percentage in seedling/sapling cover declined from about 20 percent to 12 percent. Simply put, our forests are getting older, and that's a negative for grouse.

"The good news is that in our remaining young forest habitat where grouse hunters concentrate their efforts, Pennsylvania's state bird is holding its own. In the 2009-10 hunting season, our statewide flushing rate was 1.4 per hour, essentially right at the 44-year average of 1.41. Following a dip from 2002-05, grouse numbers have bounced back more recently with three of the last four years - including last year - being right about at the long-term average."

Gregg noted that Pennsylvania consistently maintains the highest flush rates among central and southern Appalachian states, which includes Kentucky, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia.

"We conduct a summer sighting survey in which Game Commission foresters and surveyors record broods and total numbers of grouse seen while working in the woods during the months of June, July and August," Gregg said. "Sightings during the summer of 2010 were up about 25 percent from last year.

"Trends in the fall flush rate follow those in the summer survey about 80 percent of the time, so I'm forecasting an average to slightly above average grouse season in 2010-11."

Flushing rate information and other grouse data is reported by participants of the Game Commission's "Grouse Cooperator Survey," which uses information recorded in hunting logs by volunteers. Hunters interested in participating in the Game Commission's annual Grouse Cooperator Survey are asked to write to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Bureau of Wildlife Management, Attn: Grouse Cooperator Survey, 2001 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797.

"We are working toward providing a web-based option for hunters to sign up for the survey and enter data, but until that is finalized, new participants still need to contact the Bureau of Wildlife Management to be added to the cooperator list," Gregg said. The agency's website ( currently offers links to the annual newsletter provided to all survey participants, and blank data forms that existing cooperators can print out for use in replacing lost forms or reporting additional data. To access these items, put your cursor over "Hunt/Trap" in the menu bar at the top of the homepage, click on "Hunting" in the drop-down menu listing, then choose "Ruffed Grouse" in the "Small Game" section.

According to the agency's Game Take Survey, an estimated 104,200 hunters took 76,000 grouse during the 2009-10 seasons, during 521,700 hunting days. Numbers of hunters pursuing grouse in Pennsylvania increased two percent compared to 2008, but still remain well below peak numbers of the mid-1980s when Pennsylvania had more than 400,000 grouse hunters.

Gregg added that an early spring and relatively dry weather across most of the state during peak hatch and early brood-rearing were probably beneficial to survival of young birds in 2010.

"However, the statewide trends do not apply equally throughout Pennsylvania," Gregg emphasized. He said that Pennsylvania regions can be grouped into three categories, as far as grouse hunting prospects:

1) Northwest and Northcentral: good to excellent. These regions are consistently the top two in the state and have maintained grouse flush rates at or above their long-term averages in recent years. The rate of timber harvest over the next few decades in this part of Pennsylvania may put enough land into good grouse cover that the "good old days" are just ahead. The six contiguous counties of Warren, Forest, McKean, Potter, Elk, and Cameron had the highest flush rates in the state and offer a lot of acreage in public and open-access private lands for hunters looking for new coverts.

2) Southwest, Southcentral and Northeast: fair. These regions maintain intermediate flush rates and habitat conditions with somewhat less extensive overall forest cover and lower rates of active forest management. From 2008-09 to 2009-10, flush rates increased slightly in the Northeast, but declined in the Southwest and Southcentral regions. In recent years, the Southcentral seems to have under-produced the most, relative to hunter expectations. Still, some hunters in each of these three regions experience good success in localized hotspots.

3) Southeast: fair in areas north of the Blue Mountain and poor south of it. Good habitat in southeastern Pennsylvania was already scarce and this region has lost early successional habitat at a rate even more rapid than the rest of the state over the past few decades. Consequently, grouse hunting opportunities in the agricultural and urban-dominated landscapes south of the Blue Mountain are extremely limited. Some pockets of decent habitat exist in Schuylkill and northern Dauphin counties.

Over the past 40 years, Pennsylvania has lost half of its early successional forest habitat, which is important to grouse and many other species of birds dependent on this declining habitat type. The Game Commission, along with other agencies and conservation partners, is attempting to reverse this decline through aggressive habitat management. The agency is drafting a Ruffed Grouse Management Plan, which will be made available for public comment when completed. The plan will provide strategies and habitat goals for increasing grouse habitat in the state.

Grouse hunters are reminded to wear at least 250 square inches of fluorescent orange clothing on the head, chest and back combined at all times; limit hunting parties to no more than six individuals; and plug shotguns to three-shell capacity (magazine and chamber combined).