Friday, September 9, 2005
2005–06 upland game hunting forecast
Hunters should find good to excellent chukar partridge, forest grouse and cottontail rabbit hunting in Utah this year. Populations of all three species are doing well through most of the state.
"The really exciting story is chukar partridge," says Dean Mitchell, upland game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. "The number of chukars counted during our annual West Desert helicopter survey was up nearly 240 percent over last year and is the highest number we've counted since 1999."
Mitchell says the amount of rain received this past spring was above normal throughout much of Utah, and that resulted in good nesting and chick raising habitat conditions for nearly all the state's upland game bird species.
"Cool, wet weather during the peak of the hatch in late spring appears to have impacted first broods though," he says. "Hens may have lost entire first broods or one to two chicks per brood might have survived.
"Hens that still had chicks from first broods did not renest," he says. "Hens that lost their entire first broods likely did renest and produced chicks later than normal. Because nesting took place during different times this spring, hunters will probably see a variety of age classes of birds."
Thanks to favorable winter conditions, and the spring and summer rains, Mitchell says hunters should expect to see increases in most upland game populations this fall. He provides the following report for the bulk of Utah's upland game species (a pheasant, quail and sharp-tailed grouse report will be available in mid-October):
Chukar partridge populations are most closely tied to spring precipitation received from January through April. Above average precipitation fell statewide during early spring and summer.
DWR biologists who conducted the division's annual West Desert helicopter survey on Aug. 18, 2005 saw a big increase in chukar numbers from last year. Biologists counted 566 chukars on the survey transect this year. That's up from the 167 chukars counted in 2004 and is the highest number counted since 1999. Results of the West Desert helicopter survey from 1996–2005 are shown in following table.
|Survey area (sq. miles)
|Number of coveys
|Total chukars counted
Hunters should keep in mind that the helicopter survey is conducted only in select areas of the west desert and may not represent the number of chukars found in other areas of the state.
However, researchers and volunteers working on a chukar guzzler (drinking water) assessment study report sizeable chukar broods this year in study areas ranging from Box Elder County south to Juab County in the West Desert.
Overall, chukar numbers are up noticeably in most areas of Utah this year.
The best strategy for chukars is to begin at the top of a mountain range and hunt down on the birds. Listening for the chukar's well-defined call is an excellent way to locate coveys of birds. If you take a dog along on a chukar hunt, make sure the dog is in excellent physical condition and take plenty of water for not only yourself, but the dog as well. Because chukar habitat in Utah is comprised of much shale and lava rock, it may be wise to purchase leather or rubber booties to protect the pads on your dog's feet.
Chukar conditions by DWR region:
Northern Region: In Box Elder County, upland game habitat conditions are improved from last year and chukar populations have increased. In Cache and Rich counties, chukar numbers also appear to have increased from last year. In Morgan County, chukar numbers are up considerably.
Central Region: Wildfires were not bad in the region this year and grasshopper and Mormon crickets are abundant. As a result, more food is available for chukars and chick survival has improved. In the western portion of the region, brood size and chick survival have improved. Hunters should expect more chukars this year than last. However, late summer rains have provided additional water sources at various elevations, and the birds will be scattered over a wider area.
Northeastern Region: Hunters can expect generally fair hunting in the Duchesne and Uintah County area this fall; precipitation this year and last year have probably had a very positive impact on broods. Cover on rangelands is somewhat better this year.
Southeastern Region: Chukar production seems to be up this year and birds should be available in all the traditional areas. However, due to the wet weather, birds are scattered and will be more difficult for hunters to access.
Southern Region: Chukar populations in the Southern Region are slightly improved from last year, and success is expected to be fair and good. In Washington County, chukar hunting is expected to be excellent while hunting in Millard County is expected to be fair.
About 4,000 pen-reared chukars will be released throughout Utah again this year. Details on release site areas will be provided to hunters in a DWR news release in mid-September, just before the chukar season opens.
Despite improved nesting and brooding habitat conditions this year, blue and ruffed grouse (forest grouse) observations are mixed throughout the state. In some areas bird numbers are higher than last year and in some areas bird numbers are lower. Forest grouse will be more scattered this year because of improved habitat conditions.
Keep in mind that forest grouse populations can vary greatly between mountain ranges. Look for birds in areas of mixed mountain brush that offer berries. Berry production is good to excellent across Utah this year. Ruffed grouse prefer areas along stream and watercourses. Blue grouse are usually found higher on the mountain, usually in the Douglas fir/aspen zone above an elevation of 8,000 feet.
Forest grouse conditions by DWR region
Northern Region: In Cache and Rich counties, forest grouse populations are stable and may have increased from years past. In Morgan County, a late hatch occurred and forest grouse numbers are similar to last year. In Summit County, forest grouse numbers have increased from previous years.
Central Region: Habitat conditions along the Wasatch Range are better this summer and grouse are doing excellent. A good hunt is expected. Forest grouse numbers seem to be as high as last year and some areas are slightly better. Brood sizes are larger this year based on casual observations by biologists and conservation officers. In the western portion of the region, expect forest grouse hunting to be a little better than last year. The grouse will be scattered. During the drought years, grouse were easier to find because they were concentrated along streamside areas. With all of the moisture central Utah received this year, grouse are now being found outside of the streamside areas.
Northeastern Region: Good hunting is expected in Duchesne and Uintah counties.
Southeastern Region: Production seems to be up and hunting conditions are excellent. Birds may be scattered, but hunting should be better than normal.
Southern Region: Observations indicate that forest grouse numbers, especially blue grouse, are up this year. All biologists and conservation officers in the region have seen good brood production throughout the region. The birds will be widely distributed due to good habitat conditions this year. A few ruffed grouse are located in the northern part of the region. Expect good success.
Cottontail rabbit hunting will be fair to good throughout most of the state. Cottontail populations are entering the upswing in their cycle in Utah. Cottontail hunters should focus their efforts on dry, brushy draws with dense, rank big sagebrush. No license is required for jackrabbits.
Cottontail rabbit conditions by DWR administrative region
Northern Region: Increased populations have been observed in Box Elder County. In Morgan County, cottontail numbers are up considerably from last year. In Summit County, fewer cottontails were observed.
Central Region: Habitat conditions are improved in the region this year, and rabbits seem to be doing well. Casual observations by biologists indicate good numbers. Rabbit numbers are increasing slowly on the West Desert. With a little effort, hunters should be able to find good numbers of rabbits in the region.
Northeastern Region: Good hunting is expected for cottontail rabbits in Duchesne County. Fair hunting is expected in Uintah County.
Southeastern Region: The number of rabbits has increased this year. Hunting success should be better than normal.
Southern Region: Cottontail rabbit production has improved this year, and DWR field personnel are reporting higher populations throughout the region. Good precipitation during the spring and summer has greatly improved habitat conditions. Abundant, succulent forage is available for rabbits in upland areas away from water, and populations adjacent to agricultural areas look good. Hunting success in the Southern Region is expected to be good to excellent this year.
Important: It is illegal to harvest pygmy rabbits in Utah. The pygmy rabbit has been petitioned (April 1, 2003) for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. Pygmy rabbits closely resemble cottontail rabbits and are easily confused as juvenile cottontail rabbits. Pygmy rabbits can be found in the same habitats as cottontail rabbits.
Information that will help hunters tell the difference between cottontail rabbits and pygmy rabbits is available in PDF format on the DWR Web site: wildlife.utah.gov/habitat/pdf/pygmy_rabbit.pdf
The DWR is highly interested in pygmy rabbit sightings throughout Utah. Hikers, hunters and anyone else who observes pygmy rabbits are encouraged to notify Adam Kozlowski, DWR sensitive species biologist, through e-mail at: AdamKozlowski@utah.gov with a location, date and number of pygmy rabbits observed.
The number of gray (Hungarian) partridge hunters see in northern Utah this fall should be similar to the number seen in 2004, and hunting is expected to be fair to good. Huns can often be found on hillsides that are near grain fields, so private property issues come into play. Be sure to secure proper permission before hunting private property areas. Huns also are found in some of the same areas chukars are found, so there is some opportunity for a mixed bag. Season dates are the same as they are for chukars.
Sage-grouse populations throughout Utah and throughout western North America are at all time lows. Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation are the major causes for the population declines. As a result, hunting has been closed on fragmented and isolated populations of sage-grouse throughout Utah. Sage-grouse are hunted only in areas of the state where there are minimum breeding populations of at least 500 birds. In 2005, hunting will remain confined to core sage-grouse areas: western Box Elder County and Rich County in northern Utah; Blue and Diamond mountains in the Uintah Basin in northeastern Utah; and Parker Mountain in southern Utah.
All sage-grouse hunting is by permit only, and the number of permits is limited on each hunt unit. Permits are available on a first-come, first-served basis on this Web site, DWR offices and from online hunting license agents. Sage-grouse hunting management is designed so that no more than 10 percent of the estimated sage-grouse fall population in a local area is taken by hunters.
Hunters who successfully obtain sage-grouse permits are allowed to harvest two birds during a nine-day season.
Sage-grouse conditions by DWR region
Northern Region: In both Box Elder and Rich counties, sage-grouse populations are stable and similar to last year.
Central Region: The entire region is closed to sage-grouse hunting. The DWR will increase law enforcement efforts in the Strawberry Valley area of Wasatch County and the Vernon area of Tooele County where there have been reports of sage-grouse being illegally taken. Strawberry Valley and Tooele County are closed to sage-grouse hunting.
Northeastern Region: Hunting is expected to be fair in both Duchesne and Uintah counties.
Southeastern Region: The entire region is closed to sage-grouse hunting.
Southern Region: The majority of the Southern Region is closed to the taking of sage-grouse. The Parker Mountain area is the only area in the region open to hunting. Lek (breeding ground) counts were slightly higher this year, which indicates an increasing population. Brood counts also look good this summer as a result of excellent habitat conditions. Expect a great sage grouse hunt.
For a challenge and enjoyable surroundings, hunters can try for the snowshoe hare. Pine forests interspersed with aspen and alder are home to snowshoe hares. When snow falls, hares turn completely white except for their eyes, which remain coal black. When snow has covered the ground, look for movement at the base of trees and shrubs to locate hares
Hunter pressure is very light for snowshoe hares throughout the state. Hunter success is predicted to be fair to good depending on the mountain range hunted. Snowshoe hares are confined mostly to north-central and northern Utah.
Hunters desiring a trip into the highest of Utah's alpine country can try for the white-tailed ptarmigan. In 1976, ptarmigan were transplanted from Colorado to the Gunsight Pass/Painter Basin area of the eastern Uinta Mountains. Since being released in Utah, ptarmigan have increased their distribution to various drainages of the Uintas. A free permit is required to hunt these birds. Permits are available online at: https://secure.utah.gov/hflo/hflo. Permits may also be obtained at all DWR offices in person, or permit request forms may be submitted through the postal mail. The free permit allows biologists to contact hunters to determine harvest rates and other important biological information used to manage ptarmigan.
An information packet, titled "Guidelines for Locating White-tailed Ptarmigan in the Uinta Mountains" can also be found on the DWR Web site: wildlife.utah.gov/uplandgame/ptarmigan/uinta_wt.html The DWR is highly interested in ptarmigan sightings in the Uinta Mountains. Hikers, hunters and anyone else who observes ptarmigan are encouraged to notify Dean Mitchell, upland game coordinator, through e-mail at: DeanMitchell@utah.gov with a location (preferably GPS coordinates), date and number of birds observed.
Ptarmigan hunting is expected to be good this year for those willing to put forth the effort necessary to get into their habitats.
General upland game hunt forecast information
Annual fluctuations in upland game bird and mammal populations, probably more so than any other group of wildlife species, are very closely correlated with annual climatic patterns. Serene, open winters mean that more upland game survive to reproduce the following spring. Early spring precipitation during the months of March, April and May makes for increases in fall upland game populations. Warm, dry weather, especially during June, is vital for the survival of newly born young.
Severe winter weather bringing deep snow and persistent cold temperatures can impact upland game. Food sources become covered and unavailable. Escape and thermal cover can become drifted in and unusable. Combine severe winter weather with no spring precipitation, or cold wet weather during the nesting and brooding period, and fewer upland game will be available for hunters in the fall.
Highlights for 2005–2006 seasons
In 2005, the Utah Wildlife Board authorized a three-year Upland Game Proclamation. As such, upland game hunting rules and regulations will remain the same in 2006 and 2007 as in 2005 with the exception of changes in the number of Greater Sage-grouse and Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse permits available. These permit numbers are derived annually based on spring strutting and dancing ground count surveys. In addition, new youth chukar hunts will be initiated in all DWR administrative regions beginning in 2006.
Utah's upland game hunters should be aware of several significant highlights applicable to 2005–2006 upland game hunting seasons. Upland game hunters should review a copy of the current Upland Game Hunting Guide (Proclamation) prior to going afield.
Sharp-tailed grouse: This year the sharp-tailed grouse season begins Oct. 29, which is a week earlier than last year. The season has been lengthened to 16 days and ends Nov. 13.
White-tailed ptarmigan: The white-tailed ptarmigan season begins Aug. 27, which is a week earlier than last year. The season ends Oct. 15.
Grouse permits on the Internet: For the first time, sage-grouse and sharp-tailed grouse permits can be obtained on this Web site. Permits will be available on a first-come, first-served basis beginning Aug. 8. Permits also may be obtained at Division offices and from online license agents.
Youth chukar hunt: For the first time, a special Youth Chukar Hunt will be held in Utah. The hunt will be held Sept. 10 at the Henefer-Echo Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The hunt is limited to 30 hunters 12 to 15 years old. More information about the hunt is available on page 24 of the 2005–2006 Upland Game Hunting Guide. The Henefer-Echo WMA is located between Echo and Henefer in northern Utah. The WMA will be closed to all other public hunting on Sept. 10.
Youth pheasant hunt moved: The Youth Pheasant Hunt usually held on the James Walter Fitzgerald Wildlife Management Area (WMA) has been moved to the Carr Fork WMA. More information about participating in Utah's youth pheasant hunts is available on page 24 of the 2005–2006 Upland Game Hunting Guide.
Uintah Basin sage-grouse boundary change: The Uintah Basin Hunt #003 boundary has been changed. The new boundary is listed on the table on page 17 of the 2005–2006 Upland Game Hunting Guide.
Age requirements: If you're 12 years of age or older, you may purchase a license to hunt upland game in Utah. If you're 11 years of age, you may purchase a license to hunt upland game if your 12th birthday falls within the calendar year in which the license is issued.
Written permission: You must obtain written permission from the landowner or an authorized representative of the landowner to enter upon privately owned land that is cultivated or properly posted. "Cultivated land" means land that is readily identifiable as: (1) land whose soil is loosened or broken up for the raising of crops; (2) land used for the raising of crops; or (3) pasturage that is artificially irrigated.
Upland game hunting general information
Although not required by law, it's a good idea as an upland game hunter to wear hunter orange so that you stand out while afield. The wearing of a hunter orange ball cap or vest can go a long way in helping to avoid firearms and hunting accidents. This is especially true during those hunts such as for forest grouse when you're in heavy cover or pheasant where you might be afield with, and in close proximity to, other hunters.
Pick up and pack out spent shotgun shell hulls
Upland game hunters are strongly encouraged to pick up all spent shotgun shell hulls in an effort to be respectful of private and public lands that may be hunted. Old decaying shotgun shell hulls left afield are unsightly and litter Utah's landscape. Please do your part and pick up and pack out any shotgun shell hulls that you may expend while afield. Also please pick up and pack out any expended shotgun shell hulls that you might run across left by others. We all need to do our part as ethical and responsible hunters. An uncluttered landscape left by hunters goes a long way toward getting invited back on private lands.
Upland game hunter information
To get you on your way upland game hunting in Utah, drop by one of the DWR offices and pick up a copy of a publication titled Utah Upland Game. This booklet is free and will provide you with information about all of the upland game species in Utah. For each species, there is a map showing distribution throughout the state, species description, preferred habitat, food preferences, mating and nesting habitats, status in the state, and hunting tips. This same information, except distribution maps, is available on the DWR upland game Web pages at: wildlife.utah.gov/uplandgame/upgame.htm
Upland game species information along with Utah distribution maps is available through the DWR upland game Web pages at: dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/ucdc/
To locate DWR wildlife management areas in Utah where you might hunt upland game, you should drop by any DWR office and purchase a booklet titled, "Access to Wildlife Lands in Utah." This booklet is also available online at: wildlife.utah.gov/publications
Information from upland game hunters who have been afield in pursuit of each species can be found in the Wildlife Discussion Forum on the DWR Web site at: wildlife.utah.gov/forums
Accurate upland game harvest data needed
DWR annually surveys hunters to determine harvest levels for each upland game species. Telephone and postal mail surveys are conducted each year. It is critical to upland game management programs that accurate harvest information be reported by hunters for each species hunted. In an effort to collect more accurate harvest information and to assist hunters, the DWR has prepared a harvest record that hunters are encouraged to use to record upland game harvest information for each species and day hunted. Information from the harvest record should be shared with the DWR representative who may call over the phone or transferred to the appropriate upland game harvest postal questionnaire that you may receive. Hunter's Harvest Records can be found on page 26 of the 2005–2006 Upland Game Hunting Guide.
Please enjoy your fall hunting experience and thank you for your support of wildlife conservation in Utah! Don't forget to pick up a copy of the Upland Game Hunting Guide and to purchase your license and permits before heading afield. Good hunting!