Hunters may find more success and more young of the year sharp-tailed grouse in the landscape this fall, as later hatches and better conditions likely produced more birds than dry 2021 conditions. Photo by Simonson.
By Nick Simonson
With the completion of roadside breeding surveys for the North Dakota highland game, and the opening of the sharp-tailed grouse and partridge season set for this Saturday, hunters may find a better crop of younger grouse compared to 2021 and more ptarmigan are likely to come their way this fall. North Dakota Department of Game and Fish (NDG&F) Upland Game Management Supervisor Jesse Kolar suggests that while the grouse’s early nesting efforts may have been hampered by weather, it’s likely that both species produce more young later in the summer, under moisture-stimulated vegetation and grass cover. conditions in spring.
“A good mark for sharptails; his reproduction seemed much better [compared to 2021]. Conditions recovered this summer, so the last period of their nesting seemed to improve a bit and they were able to expel some chicks,” says Kolar, adding that partridges, although rare, remain stable or improved throughout the state. . they remain as high as they have been in 15 years. They look great. I think populations will be good from Jamestown and further west,” he concludes.
keep a sharp eye
Impacts from last summer’s drought persist on sharp-tailed grouse populations in North Dakota, as adult bird numbers were lower due to lack of recruitment in 2021 resulting in chick deaths in dry conditions due to to the scarcity of food and insects that make up their early diets. This spring’s lekking counts, in which NDG&F agents observed mature sharp-tailed grouse on their mating grounds, confirmed that fact, as bird counts were noticeably off. Hunters are likely to find more of the year’s grouse in the prairie after better conditions this summer, though developed later in the nesting season, helped attract this year’s grouse chicks.
“We forecast things to get worse this spring, and everyone knew that after last year’s drought, it was pretty severe. That’s what we thought with Sharptails, the adults started out lower, so our total grouse per mile in our breeding surveys reflected that they were lower. Then the nesting, we would hope that looking at the ground now everyone thought we were just going to have a booming crop of birds, but it was a little late. Our early nesting was probably cut off; It was probably the snow storms in April and then the very wet and cool weather we had in the first part of May,” explains Kolar.
Huns bouncing off the bottom?
Hungarian partridge, also known as gray partridge, is holding steady and even improving in some areas of the state as conditions lined up for a small rebound. Accustomed to drier conditions and able to forage in areas of lesser cover, partridge showed up slightly more in roadside surveys this summer, and their abundance also expanded eastward.
“This year, for the first time, the prairie pothole region, that second district from the west, reached into the Southwest and had as high a number as the Southwest. A whole third of western North Dakota has numbers as high as we’ve had for 15 years for partridge. Then even further east, the numbers looked pretty good, and they’ve been going up for five or six years in a row now,” says Kolar regarding the results of the summer 2022 road count for Hungarian Partridge in the state.
While in the late 1980s and early 1990s North Dakota survey results were as high as 35 partridges per 100 miles traveled, they dropped sharply in the early 1990s. At this time, overall, the state is at a level of about 12 per 100 miles, or about a third of what it was three decades ago, but even that number today is considered good based on the recent history of the small birds of the Highlands.
“We know that the dry conditions, the fallow fields that have disappeared and some of those combinations of things and some alignment of the stars that happened in the late 1980s I think really benefited the partridge,” Kolar posits for the fall. of partridge in the last three decades and added: “Certainly those CRP plantations may be good for pheasants for years three to six, but I think for partridges they are really good for years one to five. So when the CRP planting is just starting and it looks a little weedy and rough around the edges, that’s what those partridges really liked.”
For the opener coming up, Kolar recommends that the best thing for hunters to focus on when chasing grouse and partridge is to think about where the water is today and where it was several weeks ago.
“As we get drier this fall, think about not just where the riparian and water areas are now, but imagine where those wet, riparian areas were in August, and that’s where most of the hens were taking their chicks. to find bugs, so look for those areas and they should be somewhere close to there.”
Hunting seasons for North Dakota sharp-tailed grouse, grouse, ruffed grouse and tree squirrel open on Saturday, September 10. Hunting hours are half an hour before sunrise to sunset.