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Thread: Ruffed Grouse/Spruce Grouse Population Dynamics

  1. #1

    Default Ruffed Grouse/Spruce Grouse Population Dynamics

    Does anyone have a good handle on what the population cycles are like for grouse in AK? I know the hares run in 10 year cycles, but I'm not real familiar with the grouse population swings and how severe they are compared to the hares.

    The other question I have is, has anyone else noticed the spruce grouse seem to be lower this year, but the ruffed grouse seem to be much higher than I have ever seen around where I live in the valley?

    In the past I have only seen a few ruffed grouse here and there once in a blue moon. But this year I have seen a lot of them.

    Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy eating the ruffed grouse more than the spruce grouse, but I know that the spruce grouse are native to the Matanuska Valley and the ruffed grouse were actually introduced.

    So, I am wondering if it is possible that the ruffed grouse is outcompeting the spruce grouse in the area. Again, I'm sure that would be a bad thing, but at the same time, when a nonnative species sometimes outcompetes a native one, sometimes there can be devastating effects for the balance of the ecosystem.

    Remove one link in the food web, and the whole system can come unraveled.

    I'm not trying to sound like a bunny hugger or anything, just wondering what other people think about this.

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    Ruffed grouse do indeed cycle all across their native habitat, and the common belief is that it is a ten year cycle, but that can vary quite a bit. But the current belief is that Mat/Su ruffed grouse do not cycle. I do not believe the ruffed grouse has any affect at all on the spruce grouse population. The ruffed grouse cycle is on the rise in the Interior, and that's a good thing for my pointing dogs and I. Spring nesting/rearing weather has a great affect on the survival of grouse and ptarmigan chicks and can adversely affect the number of fall birds about in the woods and on the tundra.

  3. #3

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    That's good news Jim. Thanks for sharing. You have a wealth of information on the topic. Do you know how severe the spruce grouse will decline in their low point of their cycle? Is it like the hares where they exponentially grow and then crash, or is it more of a gradual up and down cycle? Just curious. Normally by this time of year my family and I will have harvested about a half a dozen spruce grouse just around our neighborhood as we talk little strolls around in the woods. So far this year just 1 spruce and 1 ruffed. Now granted, we are not making much of an effort. Again this is just passive walks around the neighborhood with a 22. But in the past, we usuallt see more. Especially when the high-bush cranberries are ripening.

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    I'm seeing more ruffed than spruce grouse in the Mat Valley, too.
    I'm trying not to take any more ruffs this season, as they are such a welcome treat, I don't want to over hunt them.
    Unless it's a perfect 'point' and a 'clear' shot, I just let them go. It's nice enough just to get them 'up'.
    I've been targeting sruce grouse to try and keep the dog 'in tune'. I haven't seen many, except the occassional bird along side the road.

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    Member dkwarthog's Avatar
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    Good info Jim. If you notice a decline in pops around your neighborhood, i wouldnt necessarily look to population dynamics as the cause. I've found the best thing to improve the population of grouse is for the unemployed loser in your neighborhood to get arrested or move away. You know, the guy that kills 30 or 40 grouse a year in a small area, just because they are there and he has nothing better to do...grouse are so easy to find and kill that they are prone to over harvest easily, IMO.

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by dkwarthog View Post
    I've found the best thing to improve the population of grouse is for the unemployed loser in your neighborhood to get arrested or move away.
    Wow! I am going to be the better man here and assume you weren't referring to me in that post. If I'm wrong than I think you should know that I have never been on unemployment in my entire life and I find your post incredibly offensive.

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    Member dkwarthog's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bushwhack Jack View Post
    Wow! I am going to be the better man here and assume you weren't referring to me in that post. If I'm wrong than I think you should know that I have never been on unemployment in my entire life and I find your post incredibly offensive.
    No, no, no, not you!!! Sorry if it sounded that way!! That person in MY neighborhood left and the grouse population began rebounding noticeably.

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by dkwarthog View Post
    No, no, no, not you!!! Sorry if it sounded that way!! That person in MY neighborhood left and the grouse population began rebounding noticeably.
    Okay thanks for clearing that up. I thought I might have misunderstood you.

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    Spruce grouse get no respect in a lot of ways, like no one has really done much studying of spruce grouse. They cycle alright, but not much is known about the actual population dynamics of spruce grouse, or even ptarmigan. All that may change over the next decade, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting.

    What I do know, and what some have mentioned, is that one person, or several people, swatting every grouse they see in a small area will significantly impact the local population. Concerns me when I see internet posts detailing early season killing of nearly ever grouse in a single brood. It's ignorance that drives such people, I think. Surely if they knew what damage they were doing you would think they might reconsider and take one or two and move on. Mat/Su ruffs are somewhat few and far between for the most part, and if one person takes out most of a brood it might be a very long time until other grouse populate the area. And that same person will continue to use the same area and take as many grouse as he finds each time afield.

    I really worry when I see folks arrive at one particular spring ptarmigan hunting area and go out on the snow near the road and ground sluice every bird they can, because it's a breeding area and these birds are sort of stuck there because of the urge to stake out their ground and breed. Ignorance on the part of the guy carrying the gun, IMHO.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim McCann View Post
    Spruce grouse get no respect in a lot of ways, like no one has really done much studying of spruce grouse. They cycle alright, but not much is known about the actual population dynamics of spruce grouse, or even ptarmigan. All that may change over the next decade, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting.

    What I do know, and what some have mentioned, is that one person, or several people, swatting every grouse they see in a small area will significantly impact the local population. Concerns me when I see internet posts detailing early season killing of nearly ever grouse in a single brood. It's ignorance that drives such people, I think. Surely if they knew what damage they were doing you would think they might reconsider and take one or two and move on. Mat/Su ruffs are somewhat few and far between for the most part, and if one person takes out most of a brood it might be a very long time until other grouse populate the area. And that same person will continue to use the same area and take as many grouse as he finds each time afield.

    I really worry when I see folks arrive at one particular spring ptarmigan hunting area and go out on the snow near the road and ground sluice every bird they can, because it's a breeding area and these birds are sort of stuck there because of the urge to stake out their ground and breed. Ignorance on the part of the guy carrying the gun, IMHO.
    Interesting comments Jim. I wonder if you mentioned your concerns to the Alaska Board of Game if they would listen and perhaps consider being more conservative with the bag limits of grouse and ptarmigan. I've often thought 15 a day and 30 in possession was a little excessive.

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    Well sir, I've talked with ADF&G a lot about this over the decades. It's all about "subsistence" in their view. Personally, if a person is actually living off grouse and ptarmigan I'm good with pretty much whatever they have to do in order to get by. I have some birds in my freezer I'll share with them. Laws mean nothing then. I do believe some changes in daily limits will come about, but I doubt they will cause much change. Some folks will remain ignorant of the restrictions, some will willfully disobey them, some will find clever ways of taking multiple limits, like having a non-hunting person along...lots of ways to get around the legal limits. I think education is the best way to solve any problems related to the taking of too many birds. If more folks knew of the population dynamics and studied the life of the quarry they intend to hunt, then things might change. I've always been a proponent of hunters becoming and remaining the student, not just learning where to go and how to kill a limit every day, but learning everything available on the quarry and making important field observations. Just a short version of my take on the deal.

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bushwhack Jack View Post
    Interesting comments Jim. I wonder if you mentioned your concerns to the Alaska Board of Game if they would listen and perhaps consider being more conservative with the bag limits of grouse and ptarmigan. I've often thought 15 a day and 30 in possession was a little excessive.
    I appreciate these comments, as well.
    Having watched and hunted the populations since the 60's, IMO 15 a day (especially for the spruce grouse in certain areas) is indeed too excessive. I've mentioned it to F&G several times, but admittedly not to BOG.
    I don't have data, but do know we have far fewer available for table fare than we used to!

    I took one ruffed a couple of days ago and let another be.
    "Punish the monkey - let the organ grinder go" - Mark Knopfler

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    Yes sir, the Alaska of the '50s, '60s and '70s is long gone. We now have more people with more liesure time out seeking the same fish and game resources and, sometimes, in some places, any one particular resource can be strained to the max. The Chena River was once considered one of the finest grayling fisheries in the state, but with a limit of 15 fish per day, and a series of high spring runoff years that killed off many of the previous years young something had to change. The Chena went catch and release only and now there are plenty of fish, but it's a shame folks can't kill one or two and cook them over a campfire. As to game birds...stay tuned. I think something will change statewide. We just need to continue to think about these things and talk about these things in a civil and thoughful manner. Good thread.

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    Member Hughiam's Avatar
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    ok newbie question. We live in Palmer, and Saturday a "partridge" walked through our back yard. Coming from Michigan Ive shot many of them, even have one mounted in the living room. Wife says, "that's a Ptarmigan, it has fuzzy feet". The color was exactly the same as a partridge/ruffed grouse, but the fuzzy feet threw me off. Same size as a grouse, and I thought Ptarmigan were smaller.

    What was it?
    In Nature's Image Taxidermy and Game Calls
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    Ruffed grouse have feathered feet as well...
    "Grin and Bear It"

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    I would not mined seeing smaller bag limits as well. I went to college in North Dakota where I got into some great Pheasant hunting, you where only allowed to take three a day. And in North Dakota you are allowed to raise Pheasants and put them in your fields. The last time I checked you can't pen raise Grouse and if you can let me know I will start raising them. So if we all want to enjoy the bird hunting a little more and make it fun for your kids with out making them walk for miles we should lower the bag limit. But we all know it wont happen. Just my thoughts.

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    But on the other wing...we really don't need laws and regulations to cause us to limit our take. If every hunter would become the student and learn more about the plight of the resource - in this case, game birds - then perhaps that hunter will voluntarily limit his take from a brood or specific area. I've often talked with people who have driven out one particular road and ground swatted as many as 35 grouse along the road in one day. What sport is that? Did they stop and think about what they may have done to the resource in that area? Or considered the wants and needs of anyone who might come along after them? Seems to me that lots of folks see limits as some sort of goal to reach during each outing, and to do otherwise is some sort of failure. I think the more hunters become the student and learn more about the life cycles of game birds and their plight to survive, the less they will take from any one place at any single moment in time. Food for thought.

  18. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim McCann View Post
    But on the other wing...we really don't need laws and regulations to cause us to limit our take. If every hunter would become the student and learn more about the plight of the resource - in this case, game birds - then perhaps that hunter will voluntarily limit his take from a brood or specific area. I've often talked with people who have driven out one particular road and ground swatted as many as 35 grouse along the road in one day. What sport is that? Did they stop and think about what they may have done to the resource in that area? Or considered the wants and needs of anyone who might come along after them? Seems to me that lots of folks see limits as some sort of goal to reach during each outing, and to do otherwise is some sort of failure. I think the more hunters become the student and learn more about the life cycles of game birds and their plight to survive, the less they will take from any one place at any single moment in time. Food for thought.
    Totally agree with you that education is valuable and preferable - when it works. Yes, we should use all possible resources and opportunity to educate.
    Sadly, hard numbers, rules, and fines seem necessary for those whom eschew learning (far too many).
    Your earlier statement about 'no respect in a lot of ways' speaks, as well.

    Thanks
    "Punish the monkey - let the organ grinder go" - Mark Knopfler

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    Member Hughiam's Avatar
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    Not where I came from, thanks for the explanation.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tearbear View Post
    Ruffed grouse have feathered feet as well...
    In Nature's Image Taxidermy and Game Calls
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hughiam View Post
    Not where I came from, thanks for the explanation.


    boy cant wait tell i see one so i can eat it. havent had one since last year.
    Semper Fi!

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