Tuesday, October 25, 2011

2011 Prairie Grouse and Hungarian Partridge Forecast

2011 Prairie Grouse and Hungarian Partridge Forecast

By Larry Brown
bird imageThe outlook for prairie chickens, sharp-tailed grouse, and gray (Hungarian) partridge is a mixed bag at best this season.

In MONTANA, a very severe winter and heavy rains in the spring had a strong negative impact on upland birds in general. Those areas of the state where prospects for one or the other species are at least average are: Region 3: Huns improved from last year, close to average, same in Region 4 (north); Region 4 (south): sharptails average; Region 5: Huns improved, close to average; Region 7 (south): Huns above average.

came into the breeding season following its third consecutive harsh winter, and spring 2011 was unusually wet.  With a sharptail breeding population that’s 30% lower than last year, that spells lower bird numbers, for both species.  More rain than normal also means taller cover, which in turn means that the birds will be harder to find.  It all adds up to lower numbers for both sharps and huns, although there will be localized pockets with decent hunting.
Especially for nonresidents planning a trip to the western part of the state (the best region for huns and sharptails), there’s an additional problem:  the state’s oil boom means that lodging is hard to come by anywhere west of Bismarck.  If you haven’t secured reservations, don’t count on finding a place to stay.
Although the oil industry has provided a significant economic shot in the arm, there are concerns about the impact of the oil fields on sharptails.  And North Dakota is losing significant amounts of both CRP and PLOTS (Private Lands Open To Sportsmen) acres because of high grain prices.

Things look somewhat better to the south. With an estimated 57,000 birds bagged, SOUTH DAKOTA experienced its best prairie grouse harvest (sharptails and chickens combined) since 2001. That was a significant increase over the 39,000 birds hunters took in 2009.
This year, spring lek counts were down somewhat for sharptails, but up for chickens. Although there was some heavy rain during the nesting season, overall conditions were relatively favorable. Rains do help the grass, which puts the habitat in good shape for the coming season.

Top grouse counties are Stanley, Dewey, Lyman, and Hughes in the central part of the state, and those immediately adjacent to them. The South Dakota website includes an excellent map showing grouse densities.

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