Photo courtesy Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Lots of doves in Utah
It's time to oil your shotgun and grab some shells—four upland game hunts are about to begin.
Lots of mourning doves are in Utah right now. This fall's dove hunt starts Sept. 1.
Sept. 1, 2011 is the first day you can hunt dove, forest grouse, cottontail rabbit and snowshoe hare in Utah this fall. But it won't be the last day. Many of Utah's upland game seasons—which were already long—have been lengthened even more this year.
You can see the new season dates in the 2011–2012 Utah Upland Game & Turkey Guidebook. The free guidebook is available at http://www.wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks .
Justin Dolling, upland game and waterfowl coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says DWR biologists are seeing lots of doves in Utah. And they're also seeing good numbers of cottontail rabbits in concentrated pockets across the state.
The number of forest grouse biologists are seeing is mixed—in some areas, grouse numbers appear to be up this year. In other areas, they appear to be down.
The number of snowshoe hares is similar to last year.
Dolling says DWR biologists are seeing good numbers of doves in Utah right now.
That's not surprising, considering what they saw last spring. During late May surveys along dove survey routes, the number of mourning doves biologists saw was up a whopping 247 percent from what they saw in May 2010.
Dolling says dove habitat is plentiful in Utah this year. And the habitat is in excellent condition. "The moisture the state received this spring and summer led to excellent plant growth," he says. "Lots of sunflowers and weedy vegetation are available for the doves.
"I'm expecting a good dove hunt this year."
Dusky and ruffed grouse reports Dolling has received are mixed. In some areas of the state, forest grouse numbers appear to be up. In other areas, the numbers appear to be down.
Dolling says gathering information about forest grouse is challenging for DWR biologists. "We have a limited number of biologists and a lot of surveys to conduct," he says. "Our biologists have to gather forest grouse information while they're in the field working on other projects or surveying other species."
The following is a summary of the forest grouse reports Dolling has received from each of the DWR's five regions:
Northern Grouse are doing better this year than in 2010. Both dusky and ruffed grouse numbers appear to be up.
Central Most of the forest grouse chicks that were born last spring survived, but a lot of water and habitat are available for the birds. Grouse will be spread out this fall.
Northeastern A cold spring may have affected grouse production in the region this year.
Southeastern The number of grouse in the northern part of the region appears to be down. Chick survival was much better in the southern part of the region, though. Good numbers of grouse await those who hunt in the southern part of the region.
Southern The number of grouse appears to be down from previous years. Vast areas of grouse habitat burned during the past few years. While the fires have affected grouse in the short term, the fires will improve the habitat and should result in more grouse in future years.
Cottontail rabbit populations go through a cycle that lasts about 10 years.
At the start of the cycle, rabbit numbers are high. Then the number of rabbits decreases until it bottoms out about five years later. After bottoming out, the population starts to increase again until it reaches a high point about five years after bottoming out.
Then the cycle repeats itself.
Dolling says the number of rabbits in Utah is increasing after bottoming out about two years ago.
DWR biologists are conducting rabbit surveys right now, and early indications are encouraging—they're seeing good numbers of rabbits in concentrated pockets across the state.
Outside of those areas, though, rabbits are scarcer.
"Rabbit populations are rebounding," Dolling says, "but they haven't reached a point where enough rabbits are available to spread out and fill all of the available habitat.
"If you can find a group of rabbits," Dolling says, "you should be in for a good hunt."
The only snowshoe hare surveys in Utah are conducted by the U.S. Forest Service in the northern part of the state.
Those surveys indicate the number of snowshoe hares in northern Utah is increasing slightly.
"Snowshoe hares are a fun animal to hunt," Dolling says, "but they aren't real abundant, even in areas that have good habitat.
"I'd encourage you to give snowshoe hare hunting a try," he says, "especially in the winter, when there isn't as much to do in the outdoors. Hunting snowshoes is a fun and unique opportunity. And it can provide you with a lot of solitude."
Before you hunt hares, Dolling encourages you to learn the difference between a snowshoe hare and a white-tailed jackrabbit. Illustrations and descriptions that show and explain the difference are available on pages 46 and 47 of the 2011–2012 Utah Upland Game & Turkey Guidebook.
The free guidebook is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks .