Truth be known, the bloom is off the rose for me when it comes to upland bird hunting. It just isn’t the same when your favorite gun dog is no longer of this earth. But my memory still works, and the intense pleasure of breathing cool fall air against a color-coated autumn backdrop, while watching my Sally on point, is never forgotten.
Still, there will be a few grouse taken for my skillet, dog or no dog. And I will be one of thousands of Maine upland hunters who is mesmerized by the lure of grouse and the annual magic that is October in the Maine woods.
The question is always asked often and early when there is the promise of first frost: “What’s the bird situation, how does it look?”
Maine state game bird biologist Brad Allen, himself a devoted upland hunter and gundog man, has answers for us.
While snow in March and April is important to woodcock, the spring weather big picture for some game birds occurs in May and June when weather influences both nest success and then brood survival. May was not so good, but June and July were favorable for successful hatches and survival of young birds.
In support of this are recent favorable reports of grouse production in the big woods. I have several hunting friends and colleagues who have reported something similar to, “I’m seeing a few grouse broods, some with large chicks and some with little guys.” For midsummer, these are fairly optimistic reports. So, I anticipate another average year for the ruffed grouse, neither a “boom” nor a “bust.”
For the past few years, the department has been working in conjunction with the University of Maine to conduct a winter mortality study on grouse using telemetry and collared birds. By this spring, according to Allen, the radioed female grouse — still alive — survived the cold and wet May and hatched their clutches at a normal or improved rate over the previous two springs.
What about woodcock? Allen is predicting that timberdoodle numbers will be down this fall. He says the snow and cold in March may have a done a number on early arriving woodcock.
As for ducks and geese, Allen reports that, although he has no solid statistical data on duck populations, he is predicting, based on national reports and anecdotal information, that Maine waterfowlers are going to do well in the duck blinds this fall. Canada Goose populations appear excellent this year. Gamebird biologist Kelsey Sullivan told Allen that never in her career has she seen such a high ratio of goslings to adults.
So on balance it appears that the fall gamebird outlook is fair to good. Brad Allen would be the first to admit that forecast or no forecast, you can never be sure when it comes to predicting the prevalence of partridge, our favorite upland bird.
For a number of seasons now it has been a feast or a famine, depending upon which neck of the woods the upland gunner chose to hunt. May you make good choices, hunt safe and lead well.
The author is editor of the “Northwoods Sporting Journal.” He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program — “Maine Outdoors” — heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on “The Voice of Maine News – Talk Network.” He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com.