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Michigan small game and waterfowl forecast



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An upland bird hunter and his eager companion get ready to search out some grouse in Iron County, in the western U.P. Michigan DNR photo
October 01, 2012
Small game hunting season has begun with the opening of the early Canada goose season and continues until rabbit and hare season ends on March 31. Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists across the state say hunters should find conditions similar to last year -- with a couple of notable improvements -- in Michigan's wood lots, farm fields and wetlands.

Rabbits

Season: Cottontail rabbits and varying (or snowshoe) hare can be hunted from Now - March 31, statewide. The daily bag limit is five in combination with a possession limit of 10.

Outlook: Roughly 60,000 hunters reported pursuing rabbits in 2010 (the most recently completed harvest survey), and about 15,000 hunted hares. Cottontail populations are good throughout their range over much of the state. Concentrate on thick cover, such as briar patches and brush piles, often near agricultural fields. Snowshoe hare populations, which are cyclical, are down somewhat from historic levels. Look for early-successional forests (such as aspen stands), and low-lying swamps with blow-downs and brush piles in the northern two-thirds of the state.

Squirrels

Season: Now - March 1. The daily bag limit is five per day with 10 in possession.

Outlook: Both fox and gray squirrels are at moderate to high levels across much of the state. Areas that had good acorn or nut production last year are a good bet as are wood lots adjoining corn fields. Post-deer-season hunting, in January and February, is increasingly popular. About 70,000 hunters pursue squirrels each year.

Ruffed Grouse

Season: Now - Nov. 14 and Dec. 1 - Jan. 1, statewide. The bag limit is five per day/10 in possession in the northern two-thirds of the state, three per day/six in possession in Zone 3 (southern Michigan).

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Hunters make their way along a snow-covered trail after a successful rabbit outing in Ionia County. Michigan DNR photo

Outlook: Grouse populations are cyclical, typically rising and falling over a 10-year period, and indications are that we are coming off a peak, though spring drumming surveys indicate populations are still high and a warm, dry spring should help this year's reproduction.

Michigan boasts about 85,000 grouse hunters. Grouse are denizens of early-successional forests -- young to moderate-aged aspen stands (with trees of a diameter ranging from a cue stick to a baseball bat) and tag alder thickets. Food sources are important, but berry and wild fruit production is down because of the dry summer this year. Grouse are most numerous in the Upper Peninsula and northern

Lower Peninsula, but hunters may find local populations in areas with good habitat in southern Michigan as well. Grouse and woodcock hunters are asked to assist the DNR in monitoring populations by reporting their results. Cooperator forms can be found on the DNR website at www.michigan.gov/ hunting – select Upland Game Birds and then Ruffed Grouse.

Woodcock

Season: Sept. 22 - Nov. 5, statewide. The daily bag is three with a possession limit of six.

Outlook: Although woodcock populations are in long-term decline because of decreasing habitat quality, hunters can expect about the same results they enjoyed last year, when roughly 35,000 hunters – often in conjunction with grouse hunting -- said they pursued woodcock. Found in all parts of Michigan, woodcock are migratory, and although their population densities are higher in the northern two-thirds of the state, they often can be found in good numbers in southern Michigan later in the season as the birds head south. The best woodcock habitat is in young cover along streams and on swamp edges; the long-beaked birds feed by probing the earth for worms and other invertebrates that are adapted to moist soils. Peak migration occurs in mid-October in the northern portions of the state. Hunters are reminded that they must have a Harvest Information Program (HIP) endorsement printed on their small game licenses to legally take woodcock. See the 2012 Michigan Hunting and Trapping Digest for details.

Sharp-tailed Grouse

Season: Oct. 10-31 in the eastern Upper Peninsula, east of M-129 and east of I-75 north of M-48. The limit is two daily, with four in possession; six per season.

Outlook: This is the third season of hunting after nearly a decade of closed season. Sharptails are birds that use grasslands and associated shrubby habitat; think pheasant habitat, as sharp-tailed grouse feed on upland seeds and berries. Often found in small flocks and sometimes difficult to approach; sharptails can require relatively long-range shooting compared to ruffed grouse. Sharptail hunters are required to have a (free) sharp-tailed grouse endorsement on their hunting licenses.

Pheasants

Season: Oct. 10-31 in the Upper Peninsula in Menominee County and portions of Iron, Marquette, Dickinson and Delta counties, Oct. 20 - Nov. 14 in the Lower Peninsula and Dec. 1 - Jan. 1 in selected areas of Zone 3. The limit is two cocks daily, with four in possession.

Outlook: Pheasant populations have been in decline for a number of years, primarily because of changes in agricultural practices and/or urban sprawl, though biologists are optimistic that ideal nesting conditions this spring may show a bump in young-of-the-year birds. Typically, the best habitat is on private lands that have been managed for pheasants, especially those that are enrolled in farm set-aside programs, though some public land is being intensely managed for pheasants. Generally speaking, hunters who enjoyed success last year should find similar hunting conditions in the same areas. The best counties for pheasant hunting occur in south-central to mid-Michigan and into the Thumb, though locally abundant populations can be found almost anywhere. Look for warm-season grasses, especially idled farm fields. Late-season hunters can have success in cattail and shrub lands adjoining picked agricultural fields. An estimated 27,000 hunters pursue pheasants in Michigan.

Quail

Season: Oct. 20 - Nov. 14. Quail can be hunted only in Branch, Calhoun, Clinton, Eaton, Genesee, Gratiot, Hillsdale, Huron, Ingham, Ionia, Jackson, Kent, Lapeer, Lenawee, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Montcalm, Oakland, Saginaw, St. Clair, St. Joseph, Sanilac, Shiawassee, Tuscola, Washtenaw and Wayne counties. The bag limit is five per day/10 in possession.

Outlook: Quail hunting often is associated with pheasant hunting in Michigan, and bird populations are patchy at best, though spring nesting conditions were ideal. Fewer than 1,000 hunters reported quail hunting in 2010.

Wild Turkey

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Two youth hunters experience the thrill of the hunt during a duck expedition in Monroe County. Michigan DNR photo
Season: Now - Nov. 14 in eight management units including the entire Upper Peninsula (except Isle Royale) and all counties to the south of and including Oceana, Newaygo, Mecosta, Isabella, Midland, Bay and Huron (except Wayne and Monroe) and Beaver Island. A total of 50,050 licenses are available -- 3,350 general licenses that may be used on public or private land and 46,700 licenses for private land only. Licenses are issued by lottery, though leftover licenses are available over the counter on a first-come, first-served basis until management unit quotas are met. The limit is one bird of either sex per license.

Outlook: Fall turkey seasons are only held in areas where populations are stable to increasing, so prospects are very good. Roughly 16,000 hunters pursue wild turkeys in the fall hunt, many of them during the archery deer season.

Ducks

Seasons: Sept. 22 - Nov. 16 and Nov. 22-25 in the North Zone (Upper Peninsula); Sept. 29 - Nov. 25 and Dec. 15-16 in the Middle Zone; and Oct. 6 - Nov. 30 and Dec. 29 - Jan. 1 in the South Zone.

The bag limit for ducks is six per day with no more than four mallards (no more than one hen), three wood ducks, four scaup (bluebills), two redheads, two pintails, one canvasback and one black duck. Five additional mergansers (no more than two may be hooded mergansers) may be taken. Possession limit is two days' daily bag limit.

Outlook: Hunting prospects for Michigan's 40,000 duck hunters are excellent as continental populations are at an all-time high and most species are above long-term averages. Locally, spring surveys indicated a 70-percent increase in mallard numbers, but biologists are tempering their enthusiasm because of drought conditions this summer. Good opportunities for puddle ducks, especially wood ducks, exist in beaver ponds and small inland floodings, but some of those areas could be dry this year. Diving ducks, which usually begin arriving in good numbers around mid-October, should be plentiful on the Great Lakes, with improved bluebill numbers allowing for a larger bag.

Canada Geese

Seasons: The regular goose seasons are Sept. 22 - Dec. 22 in the North Zone; Sept. 29 - Dec. 29 in the Middle Zone; and Sept. 22-23, Oct. 6 - Nov. 30, and Dec. 29 - Jan. 1 in the South Zone, except in designated goose management units (GMUs). The daily bag limit is two. In the Saginaw County and Tuscola/Huron GMUs, the season is Sept. 22-25 and Oct. 6 - Jan. 1 with a daily bag limit of two. In the Allegan County GMU, the season is Oct. 6 - Nov. 25, Dec. 8-23 and Dec. 29 - Jan. 22 with a bag limit of two. In the Muskegon Wastewater GMU, the season is Oct. 9 - Nov. 13 and Dec. 1-23. The bag limit is two.

The late goose season, in the South Zone excluding the GMUs, is Jan. 12 - Feb. 10 with a daily bag limit of five.

Hunters may take 20 snow, blue or Ross geese daily and one white-fronted goose and one Brant during the regular and late seasons.

Outlook: Resident Canada goose populations, which account for more than 70 percent of the state's total harvest, are above population goals, so hunters should find plenty of geese, and with 107 days of hunting, more opportunity than ever. Roughly 35,000 hunters pursue geese in Michigan.

For more information on Michigan hunting seasons, licensing and other information, visit www.michigan.gov/hunting.

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