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OUTDOOR RECREATION: Forest grouse hunt looks promising



Dove hunt also opens Sept. 1
If you enjoy hunting forest grouse in Utah, plenty of birds should be available when the hunt starts Sept. 1. Lots of mourning and white-winged doves should be available too.

Forest grouse

Most of the forest grouse hunters see each fall are just a few months old. Abundant snow and rain this past winter and spring are just what they needed.
Jason Robinson, an avid forest grouse hunter who also serves as the upland game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says results from the second year of a two-year forest grouse study in the Logan Canyon area, coupled with field observations from DWR biologists across Utah, have left him optimistic about this year’s dusky and ruffed grouse hunts.
“Depending on where you hunt,” he says, “your hunt should range from good to great.”
Robinson says abundant snow and rain provided forest grouse with lots of green vegetation this spring and summer. Hens were in good shape as they entered the nesting season and were able to produce additional eggs. When the eggs hatched, chicks found plenty of insects to eat. Insects are vital to chicks during the first three weeks of their life, when their need for protein is the highest.
“I think the forest grouse hunt will be above average statewide and excellent in some areas,” Robinson says.
You can see where dusky and ruffed grouse live in Utah—and get more information about the birds—on pages 33 and 44 of the 2017 – 2018 Utah Upland Game and Turkey Guidebook.  The free guidebook is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks.

Finding grouse

Robinson says ruffed grouse live along the Wasatch Plateau (the range of mountains that run north to south, through the center of the state), and east into the Uinta Mountains.
Finding aspen trees is the first step to finding ruffed grouse. The birds usually live in, or close to, stands of aspen trees. Stands that have lots of young aspens are especially attractive. Aspen stands that have shrubs with berries and a water source can be ruffed grouse magnets.
“You’ll often find ruffed grouse along streams, near aspen stands that have willows and chokecherry bushes along their edges,” Robinson says.
Dusky grouse in Utah are distributed over a wider range than ruffed grouse. Some of the best places to hunt dusky grouse include Cache County and the Wasatch Plateau. Areas near Cedar City in southwestern Utah, such as Cedar Mountain and the Pine Valley area, also hold good numbers of grouse.
“Isolated mountains in western Utah also hold good numbers of dusky grouse,” he says, “but it can be challenging to get to the areas in those mountains where the grouse live.”
Dusky grouse live higher in elevation than ruffed grouse. A good spot to find dusky grouse is the zone where aspen trees transition into conifer forest. Ridgelines that have pine and Douglas fir trees on them are also attractive areas.
Because ruffed and dusky 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 heavy vegetation to rest. 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 done feeding. If you wait until then, plenty of bird scent will be on the ground for your dog to follow.”

Hunting tips

If you’re hunting without a dog, move slowly and stop regularly to watch and listen. Grouse will often hunker down and let you walk past them. Stopping occasionally can make a grouse that’s nearby nervous and cause it to flush. Always be ready to shoulder your gun and shoot; grouse flush quickly and fly away fast.  

Mourning and white-winged doves

Blair Stringham, migratory game bird coordinator for the DWR, says the dove hunt is a great hunt for new and young hunters. “The areas where doves live are easy to access,” he says, “and the weather on opening day is usually warm and pleasant. Make sure you bring plenty of shotgun shells.”
Based on surveys DWR biologists conducted in Utah last spring, it looks like the number of doves produced locally is down slightly this year. Early results from surveys in other parts of the West, however—where the bulk of the birds that migrate through Utah come from—show dove numbers were up a bit.
No matter how many doves were born this spring, weather is the main factor that  determines how many birds are available when the hunt opens. “If the weather stays warm and dry,” Stringham says, “plenty of doves should be available for the Sept. 1 opener.”
You can get more information about mourning and white-winged doves, including maps that show where the birds live in Utah, on pages 39 and 50 of the free 2017 – 2018 Utah Upland Game and Turkey Guidebook. The free guidebook is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks.
If you take a mourning dove or a white-winged dove that has a leg band on it, please report the band number to www.reportband.gov.

Finding doves

To find the greatest number of doves, look for fields with grain in them—such as wheat or barley—that also have water holes nearby. “Grain fields that have a water hole near them can be dove-hunting hotspots,” Stringham says.
Concentrations of trees near grain fields and watering holes are another thing to look for. Doves will fly into these areas before roosting for the night.
Stringham says Box Elder, Millard and Utah counties are three of the best counties in Utah to hunt doves. Southern Utah is also a good choice. “The climate in southern Utah is warmer,” he says, “so the birds tend to stay a little longer in that part of the state.”
If the area you’d like to hunt is private property, Stringham reminds that you must have written permission from the landowner before hunting the area.
Stringham says a hot, dry summer will probably affect the number of watering holes and grain available to doves this fall. “If you find an area that has a good watering hole and plenty of crops near it,” he says, “you could do really well.”

Hunting tips

The key to hunting doves is locating the areas they’re using, and then setting up along flight paths the birds are using. As doves fly past, they provide quick, challenging shots. Bring plenty of shotgun shells loaded with No. 8 or No. 7½ shot.

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