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MADISON – The numbers are looking good for ruffed grouse, pheasant and wild turkey breeding and nesting conditions in Wisconsin this year, according to state wildlife officials who attribute it to more normal winter conditions for temperature and snowfall during the winter of 2014-15, combined with a slightly earlier-than-normal spring green-up.
Average temperature and precipitation during the month of June led to normal nesting and early brood-rearing conditions for Wisconsin’s game bird species – this may have led to an increase in brood production for pheasants, ruffed grouse and wild turkey.
“Brood production surveys for ruffed grouse, pheasants and turkeys were conducted during June, July and August by DNR staff as they went about their normal work duties,” said Brian Dhuey, wildlife survey coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “These data are still preliminary and may change, but they can be used as an index to production and help to forecast fall hunting prospects.”
According to Dhuey, while most of the winter was below normal for temperature and snowfall, a lack of heavy snow cover may have led to an early spring green-up. Timing of spring green-up can affect game bird survival and physical condition going into the breeding and nesting season and in turn effect brood survival.
Wisconsin’s 2015 brood-rearing conditions were average for temperature, with much of the state seeing temperatures close to average for the month of June and average to slightly below average for July and August. Precipitation was close to normal, with no large or prolonged rain events followed by cold weather. Early June weather is the most critical for turkey, pheasant and grouse broods – this is when recently-hatched chicks are most susceptible to hypothermia if they get wet. Weather during July and August was excellent for brood-rearing and survival.
Statewide, ruffed grouse broods seen per observer-hour increased 18 percent compared to 2014 levels. Ruffed grouse production was up 132 percent in the central region and 20 percent in the northern region – these areas compose two-thirds of primary range for ruffed grouse in Wisconsin. Ruffed grouse production declined 41 percent in the southwestern region. Overall, ruffed grouse brood size rose from 4.1 young per brood in 2014 to 4.2 in 2015.
“Breeding grouse numbers were down slightly this spring, while brood production in the primary ruffed grouse range showed a notable increase,” said Dhuey. “Ruffed grouse are currently in their cyclic low period, and while an increase in production is a positive sign, it will likely still be a few years until Wisconsin is at its cyclic high. While some areas of the primary ruffed grouse range will be better than others, it appears that ruffed grouse numbers will be similar or slightly better than last year.”
The ruffed grouse season opened in the zone comprising their primary range, Zone A, on Sept. 12. For more information regarding ruffed grouse in Wisconsin, visit dnr.wi.gov and search keywords “ruffed grouse.”
The number of pheasant broods seen per observer-hour was up 67 percent in 2015 compared to last year. Pheasant production was up in both the primary (41 percent) and secondary (47 percent) pheasant range compared to 2014 levels. However, pheasant brood size was down, with an average of 4 young per brood in 2015 in comparison to 4.9 in 2014.
“While pheasant brood numbers have rebounded in 2014 and 2015, overall breeding numbers have been declining for several years and overall pheasant numbers are down from the highs of the 1990s,” said Dhuey. “While brood-rearing conditions saw an improvement in 2015 compared to 2014, overall pheasant numbers are likely impacted by declining grassland habitat due to losses in Conservation Reserve Program enrollment and increases in commodity prices throughout the pheasant range.”
The pheasant season opens statewide Oct. 17 at noon. For more information regarding pheasants in Wisconsin, search keyword “pheasant.”
Wild turkeys saw a nine percent increase in the number of broods seen per observer-hour, while brood size experienced an overall decrease in 2015.
Four of the five turkey regions saw an increase in observation rate in 2015 compared 2014, with the largest changes occurring in the south-central (196 percent increase), southeast (195 increase), western (43 percent increase), and northern regions (0.2 percent increase), while the northeast region experienced a decrease 43 percent decrease.
The statewide wild turkey observation rate was 14 percent below the long-term mean, and average brood size in 2015 was 4.3 young per brood (down slightly from the 4.5 young per brood seen in 2014).
“Winter conditions in the forested central and northern regions were more normal compared to the past two years of harsh winter weather, which may have caused increased mortality and/or decreased production in the following spring,” said Dhuey.
Fall turkey permits have been issued via mail, and leftover tags went on sale beginning Aug. 22. Hunters can view remaining fall permit availability on the DNR website.
The fall turkey season opened statewide in all zones Sept. 12. For more information regarding wild turkeys in Wisconsin, search keyword “turkey.”