Grouse Hunting May Be Below Average in Some Areas; Squirrels Abound in Pennsylvania’s Forests and Woodlots; Game Commission Posts Field Forecasts on Website
HARRISBURG, Pa., Oct. 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Due to late spring/early summer weather conditions across much of the state, Pennsylvania Game Commission biologists expect ruffed grouse hunting to be somewhat below average 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. 17, and runs through Nov. 28. The season reopens Dec. 14 to 23, and then again from Dec. 26 to Jan. 23. Participating hunters must have a valid Pennsylvania hunting license and follow the regulations that govern this rugged sport of brush-busting and mountain-scampering.
“Pennsylvania’s 2008-09 grouse season was a pretty good one, at least by recent standards,” said Ian Gregg, Game Commission grouse biologist. “However, observations of both broods and total grouse were down from last year, and below the long-term average. Much of this is the result of the weather conditions that impacted nesting and brooding success, which will consequently impact what hunters will encounter in Penn’s Woods this fall.
“Grouse populations and flushing rates may vary, as is always the norm, and there certainly will be pockets of higher than average grouse numbers, and other sections where grouse may seem sparse.”
Last year, grouse flushing rates increased in five of the state’s six geographic regions when compared to 2007-08 flushing rates, with the only decline recorded in the South Central region. Those regional rates essentially equaled the statewide long-term average of 1.42 grouse flushed per hour.
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 can obtain reporting forms, as well as gather other grouse information, through the agency’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), by selecting on “Hunting,” then clicking on the photo of the ruffed grouse.
According to the agency’s Game Take Survey, an estimated 102,100 hunters took 108,700 grouse during the 2008-2009 seasons, during 581,700 hunting days. Numbers of hunters pursuing grouse in Pennsylvania increased six percent compared to 2007, but still remain well below peak numbers of the mid-1980′s when Pennsylvania had more than 400,000 grouse hunters.
The Northeast Game Bird Technical Committee, comprised of state game bird biologists throughout the Northeastern United States, reported that overall ruffed grouse populations have declined along with the amount of early-successional forests. Populations relative to hunted habitats fluctuate over the years, providing years of good hunting (reflected by high hunter grouse flushing rates) despite the negative trend in total grouse numbers. The 2008 statewide flushing rate of 1.42 was similar to the long-term average of 1.41 flushes per hour. Over the past 44 years, rates have ranged from a low of 0.95 flushes per hour in 2004 to 1.74 in 1995. Pennsylvania’s huntable grouse populations hit high levels during each decade from the 1960s through the 1990s, with the successive highs generally increasing for the northern tier of the state and, by and large, decreasing for the southern tier.
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 is anticipated to be available for public comment next year. 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).
SQUIRRELS ABOUND IN PENNSYLVANIA’S FORESTS AND WOODLOTS
If there’s one game animal that could use some additional attention in Pennsylvania, it’s squirrels. Pennsylvania Game Commission field officers report squirrel populations are strong in most areas of the state.
Gray squirrels continue to be found across Pennsylvania in sizeable numbers, and the black-phase gray squirrel isn’t hard to find north of Interstate-80 and east of the Ohio line all the way into the state’s North Central counties. Fox squirrels also are becoming increasingly available as they continue to push east of the Allegheny Front and north through Pennsylvania’s ridges and valleys. Fox squirrels can be found as far east as the Susquehanna River.
Squirrel populations have been enjoying the benefits of declining hunting pressure and the maturation of habitat instate for some time. These factors have spurred fox squirrel range expansion and recovery. Game Commission field officers believe squirrel hunting will be good to excellent in many of the state’s forests and woodlots.
For county-specific details on game populations, habitat conditions and where-to-go hunting information, visit the Game Commission’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us). Reports filed by Wildlife Conservation Officers, Land Managers and foresters are available from every county. To access them, just click on the “Field Officer Game Forecasts” link found on the homepage.
“Gray squirrels are our most abundant game species and are found throughout Pennsylvania,” said Tom Hardisky, Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist. “Look for mast-producing trees such as walnut, butternut, oak and hickory when searching for the best hunting areas. In agricultural areas, woodlots in the vicinity of standing cornfields often support large numbers of squirrels. They can be found throughout deep woods areas. The black squirrel is actually a color phase of the gray squirrel. In general, black squirrels can be found in the northern half of Pennsylvania. Squirrels with this black color variation often occur in local concentrations scattered about their northern Pennsylvania range.
“Fox squirrels are up to 50 percent larger than gray squirrels and weigh about two pounds,” Hardisky explained. “Fox squirrels have been expanding their range eastward in recent years and now inhabit much of the western half of Pennsylvania. They prefer more open areas than gray squirrels and are not found in the deep woods. Fox squirrels favor open fields and pastures with large trees nearby. Small woodlots and forest edges are typical fox squirrel haunts. Although some gray squirrels may possess orange coloration along their sides and tails, fox and gray squirrels do not interbreed, nor do gray and red squirrels. Each squirrel species has some color variation, even within local populations. However, this color variation largely results from genetic differences. Local diet, habitat, and climate differences also may contribute to color variation.”
When hunting squirrels, look for large-trunked trees near a food source. Larger trees offer better protection from predators and are favorite den sites. Gray squirrels are most active during the early morning and evening, while fox squirrels often travel during mid-day.
Squirrel season opens on Oct. 17, and runs through Nov. 28. The season reopens on Dec. 14-23, and Dec. 26-Feb. 6. The daily limit is six.
Pennsylvania’s youth squirrel hunt will be held Oct. 10-16 and is open to youths 12 to 16 years of age who have successfully completed a hunter-trapper education course and are properly accompanied by an adult. A hunting license is not required to participate.
Hunters also are reminded that squirrels are listed as a game animal that can be pursued by youngsters participating in the Mentored Youth Hunting Program, which permits those under the age of 12 to hunt under the guidance of a mentor. For more information about this new program, visit the Game Commission’s website and click on Mentored Youth FAQs in the “Quick Clicks” box in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage.
Information on both of these youth hunting programs also can be found on page 13 of the 2009-10 Pennsylvania Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations, which is provided to each license buyer.
Squirrel hunters are required to wear at least 250 square inches of fluorescent orange clothing, visible 360 degrees, at all times. The daily bag limit for squirrels is six.
GAME COMMISSION POSTS FIELD FORECASTS ON WEBSITE
Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officers (WCOs), Land Management Group Supervisors (LMGSs) and foresters spend a considerable amount of time gathering information about wildlife population trends in their districts. With the small game hunting seasons just around the corner, the Game Commission now is sharing that information – through its website – with those who enjoy Penn’s Woods.
To view these field forecasts offered by Game Commission officers, go to the agency’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), and click on the “Field Officer Forecasts,” select the region of interest in the map, and then choose the WCO district of interest from the map. For LMGS or forester reports, select the link to the LMGS Group or forester link of interest within that region.
“Our field officers and foresters provide wildlife forecasts for small game, furbearers, wild turkey, bear and deer within their respective districts,” said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. “These forecasts are based on sightings field officers have had in the months leading up to the 2009-10 seasons, and some offer comparisons to previous wildlife forecasts. Some WCOs and LMGSs include anecdotal information, as well as hunting and trapping leads in their districts.
“The Game Commission offers this information to hunters and trappers to help them in making plans for the upcoming seasons. Many WCO, LMGS and forester reports offer information on where to hunt or trap within their districts, as well as guidance on where to get more information, particularly for trapping certain furbearers, such as beaver and coyotes.”
Roe noted the Game Commission divides the state’s 67 counties into six regions, and then each region is divided into WCO districts comprised of about 300 square miles each. There are 136 WCO districts statewide. Each of the 29 LMGS groups is comprised of a number of counties or portions of counties within each region, and seeks to equally distribute the amount of State Game Lands and public access lands within the region. The number of foresters ranges per region, from four to nine.
NOTE: For photos to accompany the first two articles,, please visit the Game Commission’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), click on “News Releases” and choose “Release #104-09.”
Note to Editors: If you would like to receive Game Commission news releases via e-mail, please send a note with your name, address, telephone number and the name of the organization you represent to: PGCNews@state.pa.us
SOURCE Pennsylvania Game Commission