Begin Main Content Area

Ruffed Grouse

Pennsylvania State Bird
Scientific Name: Bonasa umbellus
Seasons and Bag Limits

 

Species Status Update

Commission Meeting Presentation video (15:00)
This presentation describes data and rationale leading to the recommendation of a 2018-19 statewide closure of the Grouse Late Season, and a description of the harvest framework that will guide season-setting in future – presented to Board of Game Commissioners on Jan. 29, 2018.

What's New?

Are "tame" grouse really tame? Video (5:42)

Grouse Priority Siting Tool (G-PAST) - Pubic Version

 Accordion ‭[1]‬



Expand AllClick here for a more accessible version

Ruffed Grouse Season Setting Process - Responsive Management

The post-Christmas grouse season (hereafter “late season”) is well-loved by many grouse hunters. It is a time to be in the woods with few other people. Ticks are inactive and temperatures are just right for running the dogs. And a quiet, snowy covert makes a grouse flush all the more dramatic.

Unfortunately, due to recent declines in hunter flush rates and brood observations, the 2019-20 grouse season recommendation calls for a continued statewide closure of the late season for at least one year. Future season-setting will be guided by a consistent and transparent process based on grouse abundance, summer sightings, and disease risk. This ‘responsive harvest framework’ recommends a reduce Late Season when grouse populations are low, then increasing late season length as populations improve.

Several states have shortened or closed their grouse season after grouse populations crashed. This framework represents an effort to proactively revise Pennsylvania’s season-setting process in an effort to respond to declines while we still have a functional statewide population.

Rationale:
All measures used to track grouse populations have undergone steady declines since the statewide late season was established in the 1980s. Of more immediate concern, dramatic declines began in the early 2000s and continue to present. All indicators reveal signs of a population in distress:

  1. depressed hunter flush rates (grouse flushes per hour)
  2. declining July and August brood observations (an index of brood survival)
  3. dramatically decreased recruitment of juveniles into the adult population since the 1980s (i.e. very low juvenile per hen ratios in hunter-harvested birds and summer brood sightings)
  4. decreased proportion of juveniles in the winter harvest (Dec and Jan)

The goal of the Grouse Management Program is to support statewide population recovery. The PGC is limiting late season harvest in an attempt to carry more birds into the spring breeding population.

View details of the Responsive Harvest Framework, including decision thresholds used to develop the 2019-20 season recommendation.

View a recording of the season recommendation and rationale as presented to the Board of Game Commissioners.

View the 2019 report on Grouse Population Status and Management Plan Implementtion.

View the 2018 report on Grouse Population Status and Management Plan Implementation.

View the 2017 report on Grouse Status in the Northeastern US, Produced by the Northeast Upland Game Bird Technical Committee.

Frequently Asked Questions:

 

Reference

 

Research

The Status of Ruffed Grouse; 2017 (award-winning video, 9:10)
 

How You Can Help

 

Send Us Your Grouse Feathers

The Game Bird Section has initiated a statewide study of grouse recruitment. In wildlife management terms, 'recruitment' refers to the recruitment of young animals into a population and is an important driver of population trends.

Grouse population declines have been documented throughout Pennsylvania and appear to be especially pronounced in the state's southern regions. By replicating a recruitment study conducted in Pennsylvania during the 1970s and 1980s, we can determine if grouse recruitment has changed over time in northern and/or southern Pennsylvania.

For this study, hunters are asked to submit the 3 outer primary wing feathers ("flight feathers") or the entire wing, a central tail feather, and 2 to 3 rump feathers, along with harvest location information. The goal is to collect a representative sample of harvested birds from throughout the state, with at least 1,000 samples in total. This is an ambitious goal and we need your help!

Grouse Feather Collection Survey – If any member of your party harvests a grouse, please submit the following feather samples: one entire wing (or 3 outer flight feathers), 1 central tail feather, 2 to 3 rump feathers ( see instructions and diagram (PDF)). Enclose feathers in an envelope. Provide your NAME/PHONE, COUNTY OF KILL, TOWNSHIP and WMU OF KILL, AND DATE OF KILL on the backside of the envelope. DO NOT mix different birds in one envelope. Submit feathers from one grouse in one envelope. If you do not wish to send a tail feather, please send rump and wing feathers anyway. Those feathers still provide important information.
 

Plan Your Hunt

October 2014 - Just in time for upland bird hunting season, DCNR Bureau of Forestry released an online mapping tool that shows locations of recent timber harvests (since 2005), young aspen, thermal cover, herbaceous openings and other features of interest to hunters. The map includes GPS and measurement tools to enable hunters to find the best routes to sites on state forest lands. The site can be viewed here http://maps.dcnr.pa.gov/bof/huntmap/index.html

The Game Commission also has an online tool for planning trips on Game Lands: Game Commission Mapping Center

 

Grouse Season Questions & Answers

 Accordion ‭[2]‬



Expand AllClick here for a more accessible version

 

Frequently Asked Questions & Answers

What will happen to the grouse season in future?
Recommendations for season and bag limits are made to the Game Commission Board of Commissioners (hereafter ‘BOC’) each year, followed by a public comment period and BOC final vote. This allows season changes to be made in response to new research and population data obtained each year. The duration of the late season closure is unknown. Re-opening of late season opportunities will occur when grouse population indicators improve.

A ‘responsive harvest framework’ (hereafter ‘RHF’) has been developed that will provide a mechanism for expanding and restricting the late season as new population information is received. This framework relies on indicators of abundance (hunter flushes per hour), production (grouse summer observations) and disease risk (West Nile Virus surveillance). This framework relies on a split zone approach to season-setting because northern and southern grouse populations face differential hunting pressure and disease risk, and are exhibiting different population trends. For more information on the Split Zone approach and the Responsive Harvest Framework.

What is Responsive Harvest Management (RHM)?
A responsive harvest framework is used for some migratory game birds (doves and woodcock) as a safeguard to prevent over-harvest. A RHM framework incorporates abundance and productivity measures into season-setting decisions so that seasons and bag limits respond to changes in populations. Thresholds and triggers are identified that direct population managers to set liberal, moderate, or conservative seasons.  When the population exceeds certain thresholds, the season is lengthened. If population indicators drop below certain thresholds, the season is restricted. The benefit of a responsive harvest framework is that season-setting is consistent from year to year, responsive to the grouse population, and transparent to the public.

What are future research and management priorities of the Grouse Program?
The primary research priority is to identify factors that influence WNV prevalence in grouse habitat (such as mosquito species involved, elevation, slope, distance from standing water, vegetation characteristics). By understanding the distribution of vector mosquito(es) in grouse habitat, we may find information we can exploit during habitat management. The primary management priorities are to establish an appropriate grouse season and to increase the amount and quality of grouse habitat. In addition, we are focusing on habitat ‘targeting’, i.e. placing habitat where grouse populations can best take advantage of our efforts. Special emphasis in our habitat management efforts will be creating secure and high-quality brood cover to increase grouse production. Since private lands are the key to large-scale population recovery, enhancing collaboration with traditional and non-traditional partners to communicate the dramatic need for grouse habitat restoration is also a high priority

Why are roads closed on many public lands during grouse season?
(Information taken from Devers 2005: Population ecology of and the effects of hunting on ruffed grouse (Bonas umbellus) in the southern and central Appalachians)

Research conducted as part of the Appalachian Cooperative Grouse Research Project (ACGRP) indicated ruffed grouse have larger home ranges and make less use of preferred habitat features including regenerating clearcuts and mesic bottomlands on areas open to hunting than on areas closed to hunting (Whitaker 2003).

Our results also indicate ruffed grouse in the region have lower productivity and may be nutritionally stressed, particularly during late-winter (February-March) which coincides with the late hunting season (February) in many Appalachian states.

In light of these findings, we recommend state agencies manage ruffed grouse hunting in the Appalachian region at current harvest levels and for high quality experiences. We stress that managers should not strive to increase harvest rates beyond those experienced in this study because increased harvest mortality may be additive. To provide high quality hunting opportunities (i.e., low hunting pressure, low vehicle traffic, high flush rates) we recommend using road closures in conjunction with habitat management (see above).

Specifically, working from the habitat recommendations of Whitaker (2003), we recommend ruffed grouse management units be divided into refuge and recreational areas. Refuge areas will minimize recreational disturbance on ruffed grouse during critical times of the year (i.e., late winter and spring) allowing them to reduce their home range size and make more use of preferred habitat features (e.g., regenerating clearcuts, access routes, and mesic bottoms, Whitaker 2004). It is possible, though beyond the scope of our data to conclude, that refuge areas will produce birds that will disperse across the landscape and may be available to hunters in recreational areas.

Hunting pressure, harvest rates, hunter success, and thus, hunting-related disturbance are all related to distance from roads or initial starting point (e.g., gate or hunting cabin; Fischer and Keith 1974, Gullion and Alm 1983, Broseth and Pedersen 2000, Gratson and Whitman 2000, Hayes et al. 2002, McCorquodale et al. 2003). In Alberta, harvest rate (48%) was higher for birds trapped <101 m from a road than birds trapped >101 m from the road (19%; Fischer and Keith 1974). Furthermore, male grouse holding territories >201 m from the road had higher annual survival (36%) than male grouse defending territories <201 m from the road (23%; Fischer and Keith 1974). In Maine, Michigan, and Wisconsin the majority of ruffed grouse hunting occurs within 402 m of roads (Gullion and Alm 1983).

We define REFUGES as areas receiving habitat management treatments (i.e., timber harvest, prescribed burning, girdling, road seeding) located >402 m from any open road (see Figure). RECREATIONAL AREAS are defined as any area <402 m from an open road (Figure). Note, we are not recommending locating all silvicultural prescriptions >402 m from gates. In fact, to provide high quality hunting opportunities some portion of silvicultural treatments should be <402 m from gates to allow foot access. We suspect hunters will make heavy use of roads (Broseth and Pedersen 2000) and recommend placing greater emphasis on locating girdled patches along (open and seeded) roads to provide additional hunting opportunities. This type of configuration will provide high quality habitat across the entire landscape, but will also minimize disturbance in some portion while providing high quality hunting in the remaining landscape.

At this time, we cannot make explicit recommendations as to what portion of the landscape or management unit should be maintained as refuge or recreational. areas, but encourage implementing our recommendations in an adaptive management framework based on local management goals. An adaptive management framework will allow managers to experiment with different spatial configurations of refuge and recreational areas until successful distributions are identified. Management of roads will require balancing sociological, ecological and economic considerations

We are not aware of any studies that have investigated attitudes towards road closures as a management tool in the Appalachian region, but studies in other areas have indicated hunters do support road closures as a management tool (Gratson and Whiteman 2000, Little 2001). In the Appalachian region, dedicated ruffed grouse hunters compose a minority of hunters (G. Norman, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, personal communication). Many are members of the Ruffed Grouse Society and spend the majority of their time and resources in the pursuit of ruffed grouse in the Appalachian region and other parts of the United States. Their satisfaction tends to be based on time in the field, the probability of flushing grouse, and working with their dogs, not necessarily the number of harvested grouse. Other hunters will harvest ruffed grouse opportunistically, but ruffed grouse hunting is not the focus of their efforts.

We suspect dedicated ruffed grouse hunters will enjoy and support road closures. In areas identified specifically for ruffed grouse management we encourage closing roads from the start of the hunting season until the end of the early-brood period (late June to mid-July). Closing roads during this period will decrease disturbance during the 2 most critical periods of the year for ruffed grouse (i.e., winter and the breeding season).

In areas managed for multiple use, and particularly areas that experience high levels of hunting for other species, we strongly encourage closing roads in the late hunting season (i.e., mid-December) to the end of the early-brood period. This strategy should provide road access to hunters during archery, muzzleloader, and rifle seasons, but minimize disturbance to ruffed grouse during late-winter and the breeding season.

Ruffed Grouse