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2015-16 Grouse and Woodcock Hunting Log Results

During the 2015-16 ruffed grouse and American woodcock hunting seasons, 237 hunters recorded their daily hunting activities, including the number of birds flushed, the number of hours hunted, the number of birds killed, and whether a dog was used to hunt grouse and woodcock. The primary purpose of the log was to monitor the number of birds flushed per hour. Changes in the flush rate illustrate trends in the grouse and woodcock populations when viewed over a long period of time and will provide insight into statewide distributions for these popular game species as habitats change both locally and on a landscape scale.

You can view, print, or download the 2015-16 Grouse and Woodcock Log Report (PDF) (1.6 MB).

We thank all the hunters that participated in this survey during the 2015-16 season.

Results from the 2015-16 Season

During the 2015-16 season, participants reported data from over 2,600 hunting trips across the state, from the lower Hudson Valley in the south, to the Adirondacks and St. Lawrence Valley in the north, and the Lake Plains and Allegheny Plateau in far western New York. They spent over 7,200 hours afield and flushed 6,400 grouse (about 0.9 flushes/hour) and almost 2,600 woodcock (about 0.7 flushes/hour). Findings from the 2015-16 season include:

Grouse Hunting

  • Hunters participating in the survey averaged about 31 hours afield during the 2015-16 season. They took about 11 trips afield for the season and spent about 3 hours afield per trip.
  • Grouse log participants averaged about 27 grouse flushed per hunter for the 2015-16 season and had to spend about one hour and 6 minutes hunting in order to flush one grouse. In addition, hunters averaged almost 2 birds harvested for the season and had to invest almost 17 hours of hunting effort to harvest one grouse. On average, one out of every 15 grouse flushes resulted in a kill (a 6.8% success rate).
  • About two-thirds of the effort expended by hunters occurred during the first half of the season (September-November). In addition, about 66% of the grouse flushed and 63% of the grouse harvested occurred during this early part of the season, but the flush rate was higher during the late portion of the season (December-February).
  • Slightly more effort was expended by hunters on public lands, and the number of grouse flushed was slightly higher there; however, the flush rate was slightly higher on private lands.
  • Overall, there was far more effort expended in the southern grouse season zone than the northern season zone (about 75% of the total), but the flush rate was higher in the northern zone (about 1.07 flushes/hour vs. 0.88 flushes/hour).
  • Hunting effort was well distributed across major geographic regions of New York State. About 41% of the hunting effort took place in western New York (35% Appalachian Hills & Plateau Ecozone, 6% Lake Plains Ecozone), about 26% in northern New York (17% Adirondacks Tug Hill Ecozone, 7% St. Lawrence Valley Ecozone, 2% Champlain Valley Ecozone), and about 33% in the southeastern part of the state (21% Catskills Delaware Hills, 12% Mohawk Valley Hudson Valley Taconic Highlands).
  • The flush rate was highest in the Adirondacks-Tug Hill ecozone (about 1.27 grouse flushed/hour), followed by the Catskills-Delaware Hills and St. Lawrence Valley ecozones, respectively (1.12 and 0.99 birds flushed/hour). The rest of the ecozones were below the annual statewide average of 0.92 grouse flushed/hour.
  • Most hunters that participated in the survey used a dog to hunt grouse. In general, hunters that used a dog flushed and harvested more grouse and had a higher flush rate (1.06 grouse flushed/hour) than hunters that did not use a dog (0.69 grouse flushed/hour).

Woodcock Hunting

  • Analyses for woodcock data were restricted to 20 September through 30 November. This represents the period in which resident and migrating woodcock were in New York and accounted for 99% of all the woodcock observations during the survey. The results presented in this report are based on 1,748 trips and 4,895 hours afield by 211 hunters.
  • Hunters participating in the survey averaged almost 23 hours afield during the 2015 woodcock season. They took about 3 trips afield for the season and spent about 3 hours afield per trip.
  • Survey participants averaged about 12 woodcock flushed per hunter for the 2015 season and had to spend about 2 hours hunting in order to flush one woodcock. In addition, hunters averaged over 2 birds harvested for the season and had to invest just under 10 hours of hunting effort to harvest one woodcock. On average, one out of every 5 woodcock flushes resulted in a kill (a 19% success rate).
  • Hunting effort was evenly distributed over the 45-day season, with a peak in effort during the third week of October. More birds were flushed and killed during the third week of October than during any other week of the season, but the highest flush rate occurred during the last week of October (0.84 birds flushed/hour). The overall flush rate from 20 September through 30 November was 0.65 birds/hour.
  • There was more hunting effort and woodcock flushed and killed on public land than on private land, but the flush rate was higher on private land (0.75 vs. 0.58 woodcock flushed/hour).
  • There was more hunting effort and woodcock flushed and killed in the southern zone than in the northern zone, but the flush rate was higher in the northern zone (about 0.71 vs. 0.62 woodcock flushed/hour).
  • The flush rate was highest in the Lake Plains ecozone (1.1 woodcock flushed/hour), followed by the St. Lawrence Valley ecozone (1.0 woodcock flushed/hour). The Catskills-Delaware Hills and Adirondacks-Tug Hill ecozones were close to the statewide average flush rate (0.65 birds flushed/hour), and the remaining ecozones were below the statewide average.
  • Most hunters that participated in the survey used a dog to hunt woodcock. Hunters that used a dog flushed and harvested more woodcock and had a higher flush rate (0.89 birds flushed/hour) than hunters that did not use a dog (0.15 birds flushed/hour).

Comparing 2015-16 to Previous Seasons

Ruffed Grouse

  • Over the past 12 seasons, over 1,300 hunters have participated in this survey. They have taken almost 34,000 trips afield, spent over 94,000 hours pursuing grouse, flushed over 90,000 birds, and harvested roughly 7,600 grouse. During this time period, the average flush rate was 1 grouse flushed/hour.
  • Summary statistics for hunter effort (trips/hunter, hours/hunter) during the 2015-16 season were higher than the previous season and were above the long-term average. Similarly, indices for grouse abundance (flushes/hunter, flushes/hour) were higher than 2014-15 and above the long-term average. The amount of time spent afield to harvest a grouse had been increasing from 2009-10 through 2014-15, but finally declined slightly this past season to just under 17 hours.
  • Flush rates improved from 2014-15 to 2015-16 in five of seven ecozones. The flush rate was similar over the last two years in the Mohawk Valley-Hudson Valley-Taconic Highlands ecozone, and decreased slightly in the St. Lawrence Valley ecozone.
  • Over the past 12 seasons, trends in grouse populations statewide and in major ecozones have resembled a "bell-shaped curve" that peaked around 2009. It is unclear whether this is illustrative of the grouse population "cycles" that have been observed in other states. It is also unclear whether the increasing trend this year or from 2011 through 2014 in the Adirondacks-Tug Hill, and 2012 through 2014 in the Catskills-Delaware Hills and St. Lawrence Valley, indicate a recovering grouse populations in those regions or are just a brief "up-tick" in a longer downward trend. Continued monitoring through this and other surveys will help clarify these observations.
  • The 2015-16 survey results emphasize a "focus area" for grouse in the central part of the state from the St. Lawrence Valley south through the Catskills. When data are analyzed across the 12 years of the survey, they highlight other areas outside of this core region that will also benefit from active habitat protection, management, or restoration. Improving habitat in or close to regions with high quality habitat has a better chance at improving grouse populations than habitat management in regions devoid of high quality grouse habitat. There are several Wildlife Management Units along the southern tier in DEC Regions 8 and 9 that have relatively good grouse populations that would benefit from habitat management efforts.

American Woodcock

  • The flush rate in 2015 was up from 2014 and slightly above the average from the previous five years.
  • It is interesting to note that during the last two seasons the highest flush rate for woodcock has been in the Lake Plains ecozone. In contrast, this is an area of the state that consistently has among the lowest flush rates for ruffed grouse. The migratory nature of woodcock means that this species can find isolated patches of early successional habitat such as young forests and shrublands, whereas ruffed grouse are more dependent upon a landscape with a preponderance of high-quality habitat. This results in there being relatively fewer grouse in the Lake Plains compared to a region like the Catskills-Delaware Hills ecozone where there is a higher proportion of the landscape that is in an early stage of succession.
  • In the spring "Singing-ground Survey" (SGS) coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the number of singing males per route (i.e., the "breeding index") in New York from 2010 to 2012 was 3.01, 2.76, and 2.86 males, respectively, so over this short time span the SGS conducted in the spring and the flush rate from the hunter's log were correlated. This relationship did not continue in 2013 as the singing males index was similar to the previous season (2.85), but the flush rate in the fall increased to 0.70 birds flushed/hour from 0.58 the previous year. This was likely due to good recruitment during summer 2013 as evidenced by the increase in the number of juveniles per adult in the fall 2013 harvest. From 2013 to 2014 there was a decrease in the breeding index, and this was reflected in the decline in the flush rate from 0.70 to 0.53 birds flushed/hour. The breeding index increased from 2014 to 2015, and this was reflected in an improved flush rate in fall 2015.
  • Four of the last six years the peak of woodcock migration occurred during the last week of October, with the exceptions being 2011 and 2014 when it occurred the week of October 18th. The pattern observed in fall 2015 was likely the result of mild fall weather causing an overlap in resident birds and migrants, resulting in consistent flush rates throughout October.