Contact(s): Brian Dhuey, DNR wildlife survey coordinator, 608-221-6342; or Mark Witecha, DNR upland game ecologist, 608-267-7861
MADISON - Game birds should have been in good condition going into the spring breeding season due to a mild winter this year. This, combined with an early spring green-up, led to better game bird breeding and nesting conditions than previous years.
Average temperatures and above average precipitation during the months June through August resulted in varied weather impacts across the state for brood production. While Wisconsin's game birds showed increased brood production from the previous year, most areas were still below their long-term mean for brood production.
"Brood production surveys for these species were conducted by DNR employees during the months of June, July and August as they went about their normal work duties," said Brian Dhuey, DNR wildlife survey coordinator. "These data are still preliminary and may change," added Dhuey, "But they can be used as an index to production and help in the forecast of fall hunting prospects."
Game brood observations indicate birds are generally making a comeback.
Temperatures during the spring brood-rearing period were average and precipitation was above normal for much of the summer brood rearing season. Although Wisconsin's winter had below normal snowfall and above average temperatures, the lack of heavy snow cover may have led to an early spring green up, early June weather is the most critical for turkey, pheasant and grouse broods as this is when recently-hatched chicks are most susceptible to hypothermia if they get wet. Most of the summer was wet, but didn't seem to negatively impact brood survival as drastically as it had in 2016.
Statewide, ruffed grouse broods seen per observer hour were up 18 percent compared to 2016, but still 44 percent below the long term mean. Ruffed Grouse production was up in two of the three regions that compose the primary range for ruffed grouse, central (13.7 percent), northern (16.5 percent), and southwestern (-38.0 percent) part of Wisconsin. Ruffed grouse brood size fell from 4.0 in 2016 to 3.6 young per brood in 2017.
"Spring breeding grouse numbers were up in 2017, and brood production in the primary ruffed grouse range showed an increase from last year, but still remained below the long term mean. Ruffed grouse are currently coming out of their cyclic low, an increase in breeding grouse and brood production shows the expected increase which will build to a cyclic high in a few years," said Dhuey. "While some areas of the primary ruffed grouse range will be better than others, it appears that ruffed grouse numbers should be at least similar or better than last year."
Ruffed Grouse season opens in the primary portion of their range, Zone A, Sept. 16. For more information regarding ruffed grouse management in Wisconsin, search the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, keywords "ruffed grouse."
The number of pheasant broods seen per observer-hour was up 8.8 percent in 2017 compared to last year. Pheasant broods per observer-hour while higher than last year, were 59.4 percent below their long-term mean. Pheasant brood production was a mixed bag with a large increase in the primary (82.4 percent) pheasant range but a decrease in the secondary (-52.3 percent) pheasant range from the 2016 levels. Pheasant brood size was unchanged, with an average of 4.7 young per brood in both 2016 and 2017.
"While pheasant breeding and brood production numbers have rebounded a bit from 2016 levels, overall breeding numbers have been declining for several years and pheasant numbers are down from the highs of the 1990s," said Dhuey. "Overall pheasant numbers are likely impacted by declining grassland habitat due to losses in Conservation Reserve Program grassland acres throughout the pheasant range."
Pheasant season opens statewide Oct. 14 at 9 a.m. For more information regarding pheasant management in Wisconsin, search keyword "pheasant."
"Wild turkeys also saw an increase in brood production, with a statewide increase of 47.8 percent in the number of broods seen per observer-hour over last year's level. Four of the five turkey regions saw increases, northeast (28.2 percent), northern (88.7 percent), southcentral (16.9 percent), and western (25.2 percent), only the southeast saw a decrease (-33.4 percent). The size of those broods did show a decrease though, from 4.5 in 2016 to 4.1 this summer," Dhuey said.
"Turkeys, like the other two game bird species, saw increases from the previous year, but were below their long-term mean in broods per observer hour."
The fall turkey season opens statewide in all zones Sept. 16. Fall turkey permits have been issued via US mail, and leftover tags are currently available. For more information regarding wild turkey management in Wisconsin, search for keywords "wild turkey management."