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Thread: Ptarmigan scarce this year?

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    Default Ptarmigan scarce this year?

    Howdy all you dedicated ptarmigan hunters!

    The days are longer and the weather seems to be warming a tad. I've been out and about a bit with my little Brit. Each weekend from now on hopefully I will be out looking over the high country and snowshoeing as possible to get near flocks of these beautiful game birds. My dog is learning to point and I am pleased to be in those alpine areas.

    Bird populations seem to me to be down the last few years, everywhere I've heard. This year we've seen few birds and few tracks. A friend from the Copper River Valley reports few birds and that he isn't hunting them to conserve them. Some have said the birds are up in the mountains and haven't come down due to little snow pushing them down.

    I just hope they are there. I probably won't be doing much snowmobile ptarmigan hunting but that is an excellent way to get in to more remote back country alpine areas.

    ADF&G reports they will be doing a ptarmigan study around the proposed Susitna Dam area this Spring. Hopefully we citizens can contribute to a data base in someway. Maybe checking with the small game bio at ADF&G would be a good idea.

    I don't want to hear where your secret spot is exactly located but it would be cool to hear if people are seeing flocks in areas and what your take is on population trends. It seems skinny out there again this year.... Actually I've seen very few game birds here in the Fairbanks area or in Southcentral. Seems they are generally down. What say you?
    That country was so hungry even the ravens were packin' a lunch.... HUNGRY I tell ya'!!

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    Member 907pride's Avatar
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    Early in the winter I spent a bunch of time on the Paxson side of the Denali Highway. I saw about the average amount of birds that I see every year. In unit 13B you can only hunt them until Nov. 30th. I believe that the F&G did this because of the easy snowmachine access and the high number of birds that can easily be taken later in the winter. Maybe this needs to be implemented in a few more areas. I'm not a huge fan of cutting seasons, but good management is better than mismanagement.

    I have also spent some time around Gunsight Mountain this year and have seen plenty of them. To me it seems that the flocks are doing okay in those two areas. Last weekend when we went and knocked two caribou down around Eureka we also drove to Lake Louis. We saw allot of Ptarmigan tracks that day but no Ptarmigan. I'm sure they were there but we weren't targeting them. I also spend allot of time in the Talkeetna mountains and last winter I saw more ptarmigan than I had ever seen.

    It will be interesting to see what the F&G comes up with in the Susitna Dam area. I am headed to Maclaren River lodge next week. I'll give a quick report after I get back. The season there is closed but I'll still let you know how many I see.

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    My experience is obviously limited to the areas I hunt but I've seen good ptarmigan numbers so far this year.IMG_2360.jpg

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    Good numbers all around the North side of the dam site. Butte Creek, Butte Lake, Sheep Valley, etc. The tough part this year has been the weather keeping them low. 6 weeks of snow and wind has kept them in isolated spots. When we get some clear weather, they move around and spread out. Seen some huge groups in very small locations all winter.
    Experience Real Alaska! www.alpinecreeklodge.com

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    My experience has been that the last couple years have been decreasing numbers of birds. That is hunting around the south central and the eastern side of Denali highway. A few buddies have said the same thing. A couple trips in October and November resulted in a few birds but they were scattered, they were in small groups and pairs when they are normally in larger groups at that time of year.
    Other sources of info I have encountered....
    * Earlier this season (end of September) I tried to schedule a fly out hunt with a guide and he said that he would take us out but wanted us to know that numbers where down and he wasn't finding many birds. He said other ptarmigan guides had similar results and where cautioning clients that numbers were not great. He did say that due to all the rain, he was not able to get out flying as much as normal and that could have been a factor. However when he was out he wasn't finding as many birds.

    * when Speaking with the biologist in Palmer, he seemed to concur with decreases the last couple years. I haven't talked to him since October, so not sure how this season is shaping up from his point of view.
    I try to get all the info and bird parts to the biologist that I can in hopes he will be able to learn and share as he goes along.

    I have not been out for a few weeks due to snow conditions being tough for the dogs...mostly been working with young Brit (Lil' Joe) in the yard and local fields with pigeons and chukar. I look forward to snow conditions shifting and getting some spring hunts.

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    Member bnkwnto's Avatar
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    I've been out a lot this year and all of my spots within several hours of Anchorage there seems to be a lack of the normal numbers of willow Ptarmigan. We have been able to find plenty of whitetails but we are not finding the normal big flocks of Willows. It may have something to due with snow not being deep enough to drive the birds down.

    It's been so bad that my buddy and I have decided to take it easy the rest of the season and not be too concerned with trying to limit out.

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    I haven't been seeing as many as previous years in the interior up the Steese Hwy. either. Figure they are like rabbits and grouse and go up and down in cycles.

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    NUmbers appear to be low.
    "If I could shoot a game bird and still not hurt it, the way I can take a trout on a fly and release it, I doubt if I would kill another one." George Bird Evans

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    I got back last night from the Paxson side of the Denali Highway. I went out Wednesday and came back Thursday night. I put about 110 miles on the sled and I saw more ptarmigan than I usually see. It's hard to say which groups I saw twice but I would say I saw between 1500 and 2000 Ptarmigan. It seemed like every alder patch that I came across on the way in and out had about 100 ptarmigan. In one spot it appeared as if the ground was moving there were so many of them running around on the snow.

    I really do think that the numbers in that area have been good since they cut the season short. It was nice to see so many.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 907pride View Post
    I got back last night from the Paxson side of the Denali Highway. I went out Wednesday and came back Thursday night. I put about 110 miles on the sled and I saw more ptarmigan than I usually see. It's hard to say which groups I saw twice but I would say I saw between 1500 and 2000 Ptarmigan. It seemed like every alder patch that I came across on the way in and out had about 100 ptarmigan. In one spot it appeared as if the ground was moving there were so many of them running around on the snow.

    I really do think that the numbers in that area have been good since they cut the season short. It was nice to see so many.


    Awesome report 907pride! That would be worth the ride just to see. Hard to beat this time of year.
    Could a 4-wheeler make it up the snowed in Denali highway on the trail and get near some birds or does one really need a snowmobile to get there? I'd like to take my dog and a friend in my side by side. Thank you! I think the 5-bird limit is a good one. Conservation seems to be working.
    That country was so hungry even the ravens were packin' a lunch.... HUNGRY I tell ya'!!

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    Member 907pride's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alaskan Woodsman View Post
    Awesome report 907pride! That would be worth the ride just to see. Hard to beat this time of year.
    Could a 4-wheeler make it up the snowed in Denali highway on the trail and get near some birds or does one really need a snowmobile to get there? I'd like to take my dog and a friend in my side by side. Thank you! I think the 5-bird limit is a good one. Conservation seems to be working.
    I think that you could actually get a wheeler all the way to Maclaren as long as you stay on the trail, but I would want to go with somebody else to give you a tug if you get stuck. There were ptarmigan everywhere but you can't hunt them up there right now. From Paxson to The Big Susitna you are in unit 13B which has a different season for ptarmigan. You can only hunt them from Aug.10th until November 30th. So right now you can only take photos of them. Here is a video that I took of some caribou and ptarmigan. There are some other videos in this photobucket album as well. Here is the link.

    http://s1054.beta.photobucket.com/us...7d2fc.mp4.html

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    907pride, Good to hear! and I hope it is true that the restricted season is having a positive impact on ptarmigan numbers. I know I was out that way this fall and numbers were down compared to what I usually see in that area at that time of year. Are you comparing the numbers you saw to similar times of year? Have you been out enough years to see the ebbs and flows of the bird numbers? How many years has the restricted season been in effect? Is this the first year you have seen the increase?
    Seeing that many birds would be awesome. It can be deceiving though. Last winter people thought there were more birds in one particular area, but it was more a factor of volumes of snow pushed them into places they dont usually show up...close to the highway....not saying that is the case in your report.

    Thanks for sharing your video and report.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Burke View Post
    907pride, Good to hear! and I hope it is true that the restricted season is having a positive impact on ptarmigan numbers. I know I was out that way this fall and numbers were down compared to what I usually see in that area at that time of year. Are you comparing the numbers you saw to similar times of year? Have you been out enough years to see the ebbs and flows of the bird numbers? How many years has the restricted season been in effect? Is this the first year you have seen the increase?
    Seeing that many birds would be awesome. It can be deceiving though. Last winter people thought there were more birds in one particular area, but it was more a factor of volumes of snow pushed them into places they dont usually show up...close to the highway....not saying that is the case in your report.

    Thanks for sharing your video and report.
    Burke,

    I can completely understand your skepticism of the report. I would ask the same questions. Just so you know, I grew up in unit 13 and have spent many of my weekends as a youth on the Eastern portion of the Denali highway. I have been hunting ptarmigan around Paxson since I was probably around 10 years old. My stepdad would drag my brother and I up there every winter on cross country skis and although I definitely don't know the area better than some, I would say that I know the area better than most.

    The fish and game changed the season in Unit 13B in the regulatory year of 2009-2010 which cut the season so that you could not hunt them past November 30th. I personally have noticed an increase in ptarmigan numbers for the past 2 years. This winter and last winter I have seen very good numbers. I believe that later in the winter it is much easier for people to wipe out the smaller groups of ptarmigan because of the ease of hunting by way of snowmachine. There are rarely times that I can snowmachine before November 30th because of a lack of a good base for the sleds. So I think that the new season eliminates the snowmobile hunters. I'm sure you know just how easy it is to get your 15 once you have found a small cubby of ptarmigan while riding a snowmachine. I'm not sure, but I think that's what they were trying to eliminate.

    I would like to think it is because of the better management that I am seeing good numbers these past 2 years, but it could very well be because of the snow volumes in certain areas. I know that last winter I saw the largest group of ptarmigan that I have ever seen in my life. It was actually early in the winter around November 10th and it was early morning. It appeared that there were about 10 acres of ground moving around, and it took me half a second to adjust my eyes and see that the ground for about quarter of a square mile was covered with ptarmigan. It's pretty cool seeing large groups of them. Most of the time I just see smaller cubbies between 20 and 100, but every now and again I find them grouped up in larger numbers.

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    Member Burke's Avatar
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    907pride...I apologize, I was not intending to be skeptical. I am still trying to learn about these birds. I can't begin to compare my ignorance to yours and others extended experience in the field. Sometimes I ask too many questions...
    i can only imagine how a group of ptarmigan could be easy pickins from a snow machine in the winter/spring when they are flocked up. I dont have a snowmachine but I have heard stories...and I think good management can make a difference. My experience is limited to the last two years up there and has been limited to foot hunting...I need to spend more time exploring with the dogs.
    I have read about the migrations that ptarmigan make being significant and can contribute to the concentration of birds. I have only once seen numbers like you mention and it was while I was in Kenai Mtns hunting caribou. It was earlier in the season (Sept) and they spent a lot of time taking short flights from spot to spot rather than running on the ground. Their wings sounded like a small jet plane and looked like a white cloud floating around the valley.
    Thanks again for sharing, it is encouraging to hear good news regarding ptramigan population increases.

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    Member 907pride's Avatar
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    Burke, I wasn't a bit offended. I'm headed back up there with my wife this next weekend and if I see a large group I'll take some photos or video. I'm gonna be with the wife though so I probably won't be going far from the trail.

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    Well, as much as I love the birds and do whatever I can to help them, I must say how I'm not a big fan of totally closing a season. I am keenly aware of the massive numbers of ptarmigan killed by snow machine hunters who can pick off limits with a .22 quite easily. But if given a vote on the subject I'd opt for a lowering of the limit before totally closing a season. We know very little about ptarmigan. Not much work has been done on their behalf...ever. We still look at the limited work done by biologists back in the '60s and, although, great work done by some fine scientists, it is quite minimal compared to the number of birds and varied habiat all accross Alaska. Ptarmigan are hard to study and to do so is also quite expensive. Ptarmigan move about a lot and some days you'll find a lot of them in one area, and the next they will be gone. I'm presently trying to come up with $12,000 to fit only 6 ptarmigan with collars and have them tracked here in the interior, and if we succeed in getting this project going we could experience disaster in less than a couple of weeks. I recently watched a gyrfalcon hunt the slopes for rock ptarmigan that are already staking out breeding areas and I can't see how any ptarmigan can survive during this period, but they do. Soon these males will be all white in a dark world and they make it easy even for a human to find them. A similar study done with sharp-tailed grouse many years ago resulted in disaster due to raptors killing the collared birds rather soon after collaring. ADF&G wil be doing a massive collaring of ptarmigan along the Denali Highway this spring, and as far as I know no one has ever undertaken such a study of these fine birds. I'm excited about the prospects for future study, but we have to be cautious about how we approach all this season closure, limit reduction stuff.

    This is a great conversation. Hard to do with the typed word on a internet site. Better done around a table while sipping coffee. Better yet, when done around a campfire. For a long time now I've reported my sightings and findings to ADF&G and I hope to get others to do the same all over Alaska.

    907Pride, Thanks for your report and your concerns. Be very interesting to see if those birds are still hanging around in the same area upon your return. Looking forward to hearing what you report.

    Here in the interior there haven't been many ptarmigan around throughout the winter, but conditions have been ideal for ptarmigan to stay put and not migrate all that much. There has been very little snow in the interior and ptarmigan need snow to conceal them and keep them warm, but not so much of it that the snow will elliminate security cover. But now that the breeding urge has them on the move toward traditional breeding areas they are showing up. I've already observed flocks of male rock ptarmigan arriiving in breeding areas, and I've noted one male already that has separated from the others and staked out his little piece of tundra to attract hens. I've not seen the females arrive just yet. Some willow ptarmigan now moving through the area enroute to their breeding areas, but I don't know where that is, other north of here.

    I'll end here for now and wait to hear from others.

    Regards,

    Jim

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    Member Burke's Avatar
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    Interesting comments regarding the closure vs. lower limits.

    I know that many conversations were had in Montana (certainly still are happening)about bird populations limits, seasons, and supplemental bird planting. One thing that always came out of those was the fact that hunters were rarely the major factor in the decline or growth of a population. Natural variables like Weather, habitat loss, predators were the key.

    This conversation makes me want to return to Montana to hunt the B-52s of the prairie (Sage Grouse) again. I would like to take a big cock bird and have a taxidermist create a work of art from it...however the season closes before they get fully feathered. Oh we'll....memories, and bucket lists, gotta love em

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    You know, if you asked ADF&G why the bag limits remain so high - 15 to 20 birds per day in most areas- they would tell you it's because of a need by subsistence hunters. Hmmm, curious indeed! A person could enjoy a wee bit of sport and still bring home a meal for a small family if the daily limit was reduced in late winter to say...five birds; not so for a totally closed season. Game hogs wouldn't likely go out for only five birds, but most hunters would enjoy a grand day of hunting the late season if they could stuff five nice wild birds into their gamebag.

    It's never easy dealing with these matters. But clearly we need to know a whole lot more about the status of ptarmigan. Biologist's report unusually low numbers of ptarmigan in the Yukon, but the way. We need more science, study, and more anecdotal evidence from hunters and others concerned about the ptarmigan.

    Jim

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    No expert here but.....I do seem to remember hearing from old timers in the past, that birds are on cycles similar to rabbits. I also talked with miners in parts of unit 13 that this past spring brought unusually cool temps followed by flooding in many of the areas that we generally consider breeding areas. I wonder, as these conversations come up from time to time, whether we give ourselves too much credit on the impact we have. In some cases, definately we have influence. In cases like this, not so sure. Some areas maybe, wide spread.......?

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    Forum Admin Brian M's Avatar
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    Has anyone been sending in wing samples for the ADF&G study mentioned on page 125 of the regs? They're asking for hunters to submit wings in order to better understand statewide age structure. Seems like a reasonably easy way to contribute to a better understanding of these bird populations. I haven't had the pleasure of taking a ptarmigan yet this winter, but hopefully that'll change over the next couple of weeks.

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