Prepare to hold your fire, Washington grouse hunters.
For the first time since 1972, the season on ruffies, sooties, duskies and spruces will start on a date other than September 1.
September 15 is the new opener, a change approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission this April.
Evergreen State hunting managers say that mamma grouse make up a strong portion of the early harvest, affecting survival of young-of-the-year birds and in turn leading to a longterm population decline.
Fair enough that we need to change our ways to ensure the resource is conserved for the long haul. Sure, we might, er, grouse about it, but hunters adapt.
Always have, always will.
But after nearly 50 years, September 1 and grouse are also about as ingrained as Thanksgiving and turkey, Christmas and carols.
Indeed, for some the opener is a veritable national holiday – with Labor Day Weekend affording a great chance for a three-day hunt. Camp in the hills, harvest a couple limits, enjoy some great eats.
It’s such a strong, strong linkage that, even if you should always read the current year’s regulations pamphlet, this year’s opener will likely be assumed by a few to be par for the forest.
A couple readers contacted Northwest Sportsman via Facebook last week about helping to get the word out.
We’ve mentioned it in a couple spring blogs, and looooooooooongtime Evergreen State thunder-chicken chaser Dave Workman dedicated much of his May On Target column to the topic.
One of the readers said he’d first learned about it on our website, but he noted that a friend of his who has hunted grouse for 60 years reads neither blogs nor Facebook and had to be shown the new regs before believing the opener had been changed.
He suggested WDFW do “a serious public education program prior” to September 1.
It turns out WDFW has been active on that front.
Staci Lehman, a Spokane-based agency spokeswoman, this morning told me that outreach has included Facebook posts on WDFW’s page and hunting groups; shares on Twitter, Instagram and the Hunting Washington forum; mentions in all six regions’ monthly Weekenders; and a question-of-the-week spot on a Colville radio station.
“It will also be included in a news release when the hunting prospects go out next week and we are putting together a blog post about it,” Lehman added.
A 20-minute video interview with WDFW grouse researcher Mike Schroeder is also in the works.
That’s a great start, but to put things into grouse hunting terms, WDFW might want to take the choke out altogether and kick the brush some more.
I think more radio and print outreach in markets where folks like our reader’s buddy are likely to hear or see the news would go a long ways to spreading the word.
(I also assume that outdoor reporters in Spokane, Yakima, Port Angeles, Chehalis, Lewiston-Clarkston, Vancouver and elsewhere, plus the radio guys, are planning on or have already done this story.)
Meanwhile, our upcoming September issue includes a Northwest grouse prospects article, in which our MD Johnson interviews WDFW statewide specialist Sarah Garrison about this fall’s hunting expectations and more on the change.
“The 2021 season opens September 15 in order to protect breeding-aged females since this demographic drives population growth or decline,” Garrison told him. “We’ve seen a long-term decline in grouse harvest in the data, so this season change is intended to increase forest grouse abundance and availability to hunters. Hens are being disproportionately harvested during the first two weeks of the season.”
“For example, in Okanogan County, breeding-aged females are approximately twice as likely to be harvested as (are) breeding-aged males. Forest grouse broods typically break up in mid-September, so the season delay will allow more hens to get to a point where they’re independent of their broods and can resume normal movements,” Garrison said.
For the record, opening day of grouse season varies across the U.S. and Canadian west from as early as August 1 and 10 in Alaska, to August 30 in Idaho, September 1 in Oregon, September 10 in much of British Columbia and September 11 in California.
While there’s little interest in winter grouse hunting in the Evergreen State, season does now run through January 15.