Tomorrow marks the beginning of several small game hunting seasons, including ruffed grouse, cottontail rabbit, coyote and wild turkey (although I don’t consider turkey as “small game” since there’s a seasonal rather than daily limit on harvesting them). While rabbit and grouse seasons remain open until Feb. 28, 2011, others close earlier, so hunters need to check the regulations for when the other game species seasons close.
I found it encouraging to hear some distant early morning shotgun volleys this month, indicative that at least some hunters are harvesting overabundant Canada geese in our area. Probably due to the specialized nature of goose hunting?which often requires large decoy spreads, calls, and expensive non-toxic ammo?the number of hunters participating in our part of the state seems to have declined significantly in recent years, despite the liberal daily limits and numerous geese flocks.
As reported in previous columns, grouse populations in our area have been steadily declining, and apparently the DEC is admitting that. In a recent press release the department notes: “While some grouse are found in more mature forests, the greatest population densities are in younger forests. These preferred habitats are declining as most of New York State's forests grow older, resulting in a decline in grouse numbers since the 1960s.” Upland hunters are being asked to participate in a survey which asks hunters to record their daily grouse hunting activities on a “Cooperator Ruffed Grouse Hunting Log.” The hunting log requests information such as the number of hours hunted, number of grouse flushed, and the number of birds killed. The log can be downloaded at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/9351.html.
After decades of watching our state forests mature to climax levels (especially the evergreen plantations) the DEC is finally starting to cull some of this old growth in strips to allow fresh growth to appear. Since low emerging flora is the key to supporting many species of wildlife, such as grouse, rabbit, hare and woodcock, this offers a promise that we’ll eventually start seeing a more diversified mix of wildlife in our public forest lands.
On a related note the DEC is also asking sportsmen and non-sportsmen alike to consider purchasing the $5 Habitat/Access Stamp, an optional stamp that helps support the DEC's efforts to conserve habitat and increase public access for fish and wildlife-related recreation. The new 2010-2011 stamp features a drawing of a pair of Common Loons. Buying a $5 stamp is a way to help conserve New York's fabulous wildlife heritage. More information about purchasing a Habitat Stamp is available at www.dec.ny.gov/permits/329.html .
Although I’ve heard reports of large turkey flocks, the norm appears to be smaller flocks with fewer poults than in previous autumns. There also seems to be poults that are substantially smaller in size than normal, probably the result of hens either re-nesting after losing their first clutch, or nesting later in the spring due to inclimate weather earlier. Seeing as how the spring season turkey harvest was well below average, it pointed toward fewer birds being available this fall...