Grouse hunters are wondering about a recent state Department of Fish and Wildlife season change that will push the opening date of forest grouse season from Sept. 1 to Sept. 15 this year.
The move has ruffled feathers of those for whom the traditional start date, in effect for more than five decades, serves as a Labor Day weekend tradition.
But the two-week delay is intended to protect brood hens with chicks, according to Fish and Wildlife research scientist Mike Schroeder.
Schroeder said that about two-thirds of the forest grouse harvested in the first two weeks of September are juveniles that hatched that year, and roughly 60 percent of the remaining third of the harvest are breeding hens.
“The ratio for spruce grouse is closer to three-quarters females,” Schroeder said.
“Bottom line is the typical brood break up for forest grouse is mid-September. The hens remain with the chicks until then, then the chicks are generally on their own. It’s not a hard date, but as a result, hens are less susceptible to harvest.”
Schroeder is more concerned about hunters taking more of the successful breeding hens than harvesting young chicks.
“Like with deer, we know that selectively harvesting females affects the long-term productivity of the population,” Schroeder said.
And none of this would be an issue if forest grouse species were as easy to recognize in the field as more flamboyantly attired bird species, such as pheasants.
Pheasant hunters would never back seasons that took such a similarly high toll on hens, Schroeder said.
“Just because male and female grouse are harder than pheasants to distinguish in the field doesn’t mean we shouldn’t address the pressure on grouse hens,” he said.
“We’re hopeful this will benefit the grouse population and make the hunting experience better as well.”
Grouse hunter Ward Norden of Quilcene said the move surprised many outdoors-minded folks.
“A lot of hunters and mushroom chasers will get caught off-guard,” Norden said. “I just canceled my much-anticipated huckleberry picking and camping trip next week to the Cascades as a result. I love rabbit as tablefare but prefer grouse stuffed with my huckleberries.”
Beach anglers score
Coho fishing is improving on the busier Whidbey Island beaches like Bush Point, so similar results may be in store for anglers at Fort Flagler or Fort Worden.
Norden recommends the beachbound set switch their Rotator Jig colors from pink to chartreuse or white.
“But pink still works OK,” he said.
Kelp beds not hot
Port Angeles angler Pete Rosko said that Freshwater Bay has been slow for pinks this year.
“Not since 2015 has Freshwater been good for pinks along the kelp,” Rosko said. “Off Port Angeles, it’s better but still hit and miss.”
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected] news.com.