The beginning of many upland game seasons in southern Idaho is upon us. Winter severity and spring nesting conditions influence gamebird numbers, although winter generally affects pheasants and quail more than gray partridge and our native grouse species.
The 2021-22 winter was relatively mild while spring precipitation should have provided favorable nesting and brood rearing conditions. Unfortunately, continual loss of CRP that provides important gamebird habitat in much of southeastern Idaho may reduce the number of birds available to hunters.
Two species of “forest grouse,” ruffed and dusky (aka blue), occur in southeastern Idaho. Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) harvest data over the past five years suggests reasonably stable numbers for both species. This summer I have seen numerous dusky grouse broods in the mountains north of the Snake River Plain and suspect hunters should find plenty of birds in many areas.
Number of males counted on established lek routes was higher in 2022 than 2021 in most management areas. IDFG reported that statewide populations of sage-grouse rebounded somewhat in 2022 after population lows in 2019, 2020, and 2021. Sage-grouse hunters in 2022 will have to buy a tag to hunt in any of 12 sage-grouse hunting zones. Hunters can buy up to two tags and may buy a tag for more than one zone. Sage-grouse firearm season runs Sept. 17 through Oct. 31.
IDFG states that the sage-grouse tag system is designed to limit harvest to less than 10 percent of each zone’s estimated fall population. A total of 2,510 tags were offered for 2022. The number of tags was substantially increased for 2022 even though hunters shot far fewer sage-grouse than the agency expected in 2021. To estimate fall populations, IDFG must have good data on the number of breeding females, nest success, and brood survival. This information is difficult to acquire and, to my knowledge, the agency lacks those data so their “estimate” of the fall population is likely no more than a semi-educated guess.
Chukar and Gray Partridge
Chukars occur in only a few localized areas in southeastern Idaho and numbers are generally low. In contrast, gray partridge are widely distributed throughout the area. Like sharptails, this partridge is commonly found in CRP fields but I have also successfully hunted them in farmland and sagebrush habitats. Although populations fluctuate, numbers appear generally stable over the long term. I expect this year will be similar to last year.