Seasons open for small game in two states

The dusky grouse, better known as the blue grouse, is a forest bird that prefers high open slopes in fall. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)
The dusky grouse, better known as the blue grouse, is a forest bird that prefers high open slopes in fall. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)

Hunting seasons for some of the smallest and most difficult targets will open Tuesday in the Inland Northwest.

Mourning doves and forest grouse will become fair game in Idaho and Washington, as well as for cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares. Hunting for raccoons also opens Tuesday in Washington, although the species can be hunted year-round in Idaho.

Hunters in Washington’s Chelan and Okanogan counties will have to make the biggest adjustments.

“Birds really took a hit from the big fires we’ve had in the past few years,” said Mike Schroeder, state Fish and Wildlife Department grouse specialist in Brewster.

“The fires had primarily impacted the winter habitat for the duskies (better known as blue grouse) and the spruce grouse.”

New this year, Washington’s daily limit for forest grouse – dusky, spruce and ruffed grouse – has been increased to four.

When season dates and rules were debated last winter, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission had no pressing reason to increase the limit from three, but rather the panel said, “Why not?”

Some biologists opposed the idea but were overruled.

Schroeder explained the reason biologists are concerned.

“Our wing-barrel data on duskies shows that chicks and females are hardest hit in the first two weeks of September,” he said.

“The males tend to move up from the low breeding areas to the high wintering areas before Sept. 1 while the females stay down lower with their broods. So the hunters cruising the roads are primarily hitting these broods.”

Chicks make up most of the harvest in early September, but about two-thirds of the adult duskies bagged are females. And these are the successful breeding females.

“The ratio for spruce grouse is closer to three-quarters females,” Schroeder said.

“I’ve recommended that if we go ahead and stay with the four-bird limit, we should change the season- opening date to Sept. 15. That way we’d take some of the pressure off the females.

“A season that was so heavily skewed toward taking females would never be tolerated for pheasants. We kind of get away with it for grouse because some of them live in such remote areas. But we still could be overharvesting them in some local areas.”

Dove season runs through Sept. 30 in both Washington and Idaho, and forest grouse can be hunted through December.

“We see most of the (hunting) effort on doves in the first week of the season, or the first day,” said Don Kraege, WDFW migratory bird manager. “After that, it drops off. We also usually get a cold front that comes through in September, and birds tend to move out.”

That statement was verified last year, the first time in decades in which Washington’s season was extended two weeks through the end of September.

“Our surveys showed no significant change in harvest rates despite the two-week extension of the season,” said Mikal Moore, WDFW biologist in Ephrata.

The largest number of doves harvested in 2003-2007 seasons were in Grant and Yakima counties. Doves typically leave roosts in trees in the morning to feed in harvested grain fields. They return in the afternoon or early evening.

Stevens and Okanogan counties usually are the state’s top forest grouse producers, state surveys show.

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