2013 hunt preview

Forest grouse (ruffed and dusky)

Division of Wildlife Resources biologists don't conduct forest grouse surveys. But they watch closely for grouse when they're working in forest grouse habitat.

"It appears the number of forest grouse is as good, or better, than it was last fall," says Jason Robinson, upland game coordinator for the DWR. "I think forest grouse hunters will have a good hunt."

Some of the best areas to hunt this fall include Cache County and areas near Cedar City.

Robinson says several factors have led to the good bird numbers. Those factors include a mild winter at higher elevations that allowed plenty of adult birds to survive; dry weather in June that provided a climate that allowed newly hatched chicks to survive; and rain at higher elevations in July that provided the chicks with plenty of forbs and insects to eat.

To find grouse this fall, Robinson suggests looking in the following areas:

  • Ruffed grouse are usually found in or close to stands of aspen trees. They're especially attracted to stands that have lots of young aspen trees in them. Aspen stands that also have shrubs with berries and a water source nearby are especially attractive.
  • Dusky grouse live higher in elevation. A good spot to look for them is the transition zone where aspen tree stands transition into conifer forest. Ridgelines that have pine and Douglas fir trees on them are also attractive areas.

Because grouse spend most of the day on the ground, you can find birds anytime of the day. However, if you want to hunt grouse when the birds are most active and accessible, hunt early in the morning when the birds are feeding. After they've filled their crops with food, they retire to heavier vegetation to rest and let their food digest. They won't become active again until later in the afternoon, when they feed one more time before flying into trees to roost for the night.

If you have a dog, mid-morning can be a great time to hunt. "By the time mid-morning arrives," Robinson says, "the birds will be finished feeding. If you wait until then, the birds will have left plenty of scent on the ground for your dog to follow."


Every year, DWR biologists survey 15 different mourning dove routes in Utah. Based on surveys conducted this past May, Blair Stringham, migratory game bird coordinator for the DWR, says the number of doves in Utah should be about the same as it was last year.

Fortunately for hunters, weather forecasters are predicting mild weather between now and the Sept. 2 opener. "If the weather stays mild," Stringham says, "most of the doves that are in Utah now will still be here when Sept. 2 arrives."

Stringham says doves must drink water throughout the day. "If you can find a good water source, especially in a dry year like this one," he says, "you might be really successful."

Stringham provides two reminders: Make sure you have written permission before hunting on private property, and shoot plenty of Eurasian-collared doves while you're afield. "Eurasian-collared doves taste great," he says. "And there's no limit on the number of Eurasian-collared doves you can take."

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbits reached the bottom of a 10-year population cycle about three years ago. (After rabbit populations peak, they decline in number for about five years. Then, the populations start to increase again in number.)

Rabbit numbers in Utah have been increasing slowly since bottoming out three years ago. "When rabbits have plenty of green vegetation to eat," Robinson says, "they can produce a lot of young."

From late July through late August each year, DWR biologists survey 14 rabbit routes across Utah. This year, the best rabbit numbers were spotted in southern Utah. In Box Elder County, and other popular rabbit hunting areas in northern Utah, biologists saw about the same number of rabbits as last year.

To find cottontails, Robinson suggests hunting early in the morning and late in the afternoon. "That's when the rabbits are away from their burrows feeding," he says.

If you're looking for cottontails in lower elevations areas, look in the bottom of valleys that have tall sagebrush and deep, loose soil that the rabbits can dig their burrows in. If you're in mid-elevation areas, look for hillsides that have large boulders, thick sagebrush or other thick vegetation that the rabbits can dig their burrows under.

Snowshoe hare

Only a few DWR biologists have snowshoe hares in the areas they manage. Those who do say the number of hares should be similar to last year.

Snowshoe hares live in high-elevation conifer and aspen stands along the Wasatch Plateau, a range of mountains that run north and south along the Wasatch Front and east into the Uinta Basin.

"One of the best ways to locate snowshoe hares is to wait for the first snow and then look for the hares' unique footprint," Robinson says. "The print looks like a miniature snowshoe."

Robinson says snowshoe hares don't have a large home range. "If you find an area that has lots of tracks in it," he says, "there's a good chance a hare is hunkered down in some vegetation nearby."

Snowshoes or snowmobiles are often required to hunt snowshoe hares after the snow falls.

More information

If you have questions about hunting upland game in Utah, call the nearest Division of Wildlife Resources office or the DWR's Salt Lake City office at 801-538-4700.

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