Biologist expects average grouse season, fewer woodcock

As the first week of moose season reaches its conclusion, here’s hoping that Mother Nature blesses us with some more seasonal weather. I enjoy beach weather as much as the next guy, but it’s not beach season any longer.

Teddy, an English cocker spaniel, spends a day afield hunting birds. (BDN photo by John Holyoke)

In fact, beginning Monday, it’s bird season — a time of year (typically) marked by crisp temperatures, colorful leaves and days spent afield behind skilled bird dogs.

While my group of hunting friends is spending much of our time planning our October moose hunt, we’ll also likely spend a bit of that week chasing ruffed grouse and woodcock. On Wednesday, I stopped by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Bangor headquarters for an official bird hunting preview from their bird group leader.

Wildlife biologist Brad Allen offered up a mixed bag of predictions: Grouse hunting will likely be average, woodcock hunting might be slower than it has been and wild turkey hunters ought to have the best success of all.


“I’ve been telling everybody that I think it’s going to be somewhat of an average season [on grouse], neither boom nor bust,” Allen said. “All my biologists out in the woods in June and July were seeing good numbers, but I talked to a moose hunter today and he saw a hen with one scraggly little one two or three times, and that was it.”

Reports from the field have been inconsistent, he said.

“We’re getting the gamut: It should be good. It should be poor. So as usual, it will probably fall in the middle,” Allen said.

Allen said he was concerned about the weather in May, during which much of the state received twice as much rain as normal during the nesting season. Young grouse are vulnerable to cold, wet weather and may become hypothermic, and wet conditions also favor predators who sniff out the grouse and eat them.

“But then June and July and August were almost drought conditions, which is usually good for birds, as long as it’s not too, too droughty,” Allen said.

Allen said some cool, crisp weather will help hunters find birds that move toward the roadside to warm up in the sun in the mornings. But another factor might make hunting tougher.

“I’m hearing rumors of a [good] beechnut year, and sometimes that pulls [grouse] off the roads a little bit,” he said.

As for the tiny, long-billed woodcock, Allen said the weather didn’t do that species any favors at all.

“They come back to Maine in March, which is a super gamble, because they eat earthworms,” Allen said.

This year, that gamble didn’t pay off, as the woodcock were greeted by winter-ish weather.

Hunters (and their four-legged companions) will likely notice a difference this fall.

“Woodcock are usually our staple for people who own bird dogs, but they got hit really badly with a March snowstorm,” Allen said. “The birds that came back early got smoked by some early March snows. April weather wasn’t that good for woodcock either, and our surveys were down a bit. So I’m sure that woodcock hunting will not be as good as last year.”

Then, there’s wild turkey hunting.

Allen said the large number of turkeys he has been seeing is a bit confounding.

“I’m kind of a firm believer that weather in May affects wild turkeys and woodcock and grouse, but [despite poor weather] there are wild turkeys everywhere,” Allen said. “I may throw [my May rainfall index] out the window this year, because wild turkeys have had good productivity. No doubt about it.”

A special consideration: Wild turkey season runs from Oct. 2 through Nov. 7, but the seasonal bag limit varies depending on where you’re hunting. In some Wildlife Management Districts, the limit is one bird; in other WMDs, it’s two. Check the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife website to make sure you know exactly what the law is in your area.

And Allen said those who may think there are too many wild turkeys on the landscape can help biologists by taking part in the fall hunt.

“We need more people hunting them in the fall if people are concerned about an overabundant population of wild turkeys,” Allen said.

The fall hunt is different from the spring hunt, though, and may take a bit more work. During the spring, hunters target mating males, which are often receptive to calls. In the fall, that’s not the case.

“I think you have to hunt them more like a deer,” Allen said. “Find out where they are, when they’re feeding, and anticipate how they move between a night roost and a feeding area.”
John Holyoke can be reached at or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.