Photo by Phil Douglass
Two hunts that are great ones to take your children out on—Utah's cottontail rabbit and forest grouse hunts—start Sept. 11, 2010.
The snowshoe hare hunt also starts Sept. 11, 2010. But you don't have to wait until Sept. 11, 2010 to start upland game hunting. If you're really adventurous, you can head to the high country now to pursue white-tailed ptarmigan. The hunt for this bird that lives above the timberline started Aug. 21, 2010. It runs until Oct. 17, 2010.
Take your kids out
Dave Olsen, upland game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says taking your kids on a cottontail rabbit or a forest grouse hunt is a perfect way to introduce them to hunting. Rabbits can be taken with small .22 caliber rifles, and grouse can be taken with shotguns as small as .410s. If you match the size of the firearm to the size of your child, your child should have fun and find some success.
Olsen says the two hunts are also a great way to introduce children to nature.
"Rabbits and grouse are small enough that your kids can help you dress the game they've taken and prepare it for the table," he says. "And forest grouse have beautiful and intricate feather patterns that help them blend into their surroundings. It's fun to watch your children marvel at the birds' feathers."
The following is a preview for each of the four hunts:
Two forest grouse species live in Utah—ruffed grouse and dusky grouse. (Dusky grouse are commonly known as blue grouse).
Good numbers of forest grouse were born in Utah this past spring. And many of the grouse survived this past summer. About the same number of grouse that were available last fall—and maybe a few more—should be available to you this season.
Areas that have aspen trees are good places to find ruffed grouse. Aspen forests with streams and heavy understory vegetation and tangles are especially good places to try.
You'll often find dusky grouse on the edge of the forest where the mountain brush blends into the forest. Dusky grouse can also be found deeper in the forest. In the winter, try wind-swept ridges that have pine trees.
Cottontail rabbit populations go through a boom-and-bust cycle that lasts about 10 years. After reaching the top of the cycle, rabbits decline in number until they reach the bottom of the cycle about five years later. Then their numbers start to build back to the high levels again.
The last rabbit population peak across most of the state occurred around 2005. That means rabbit populations across most of Utah are at the bottom of their cycle and are just starting to build again. You can expect to find and harvest cottontails, but hunting will be a little slower than it is when populations are at the top of the cycle. Taking a full bag limit will likely require some time and effort.
Snowshoe hare populations appear to be in fair condition again this year. You'll find most of Utah's snowshoe hares in higher elevation mountain ranges that have pine and fir trees and a brushy understory. You have to be willing to put some time and effort in to find their habitat. Early morning and evening are the best times to hunt hares. That's when they're the most active.
White-tailed ptarmigan live above the timberline in the Uinta Mountains. Once you've gotten above the timberline, look for ptarmigan on talus rock slopes and outcrops that have dwarf willow bushes that are located near springs, streams or other wet areas.
Hunter success this year should be similar to past years. Ptarmigan are limited in distribution, and they're highly prized because of their novelty.
Before hunting ptarmigan, you must obtain a free white-tailed ptarmigan permit. You can obtain one from hunting license agents across Utah and at any DWR office.
You can also obtain a free permit at wildlife.utah.gov. Once you arrive at the site, click on the Licenses choice, and then click on the "Buy fishing licenses, hunting licenses and hunting permits online" choice. Enter your date of birth and your Social Security or Customer ID number. Then proceed through the screens until you come to the list of available permits.
The free white-tailed ptarmigan permits are listed under the Small Game option.
Respect private landowners
All four of these species are found on public land, so finding a place to hunt shouldn't be a problem. But some cottontail, snowshoe hare and forest grouse hunting opportunities are also available on private land.
If you allowed someone to hunt on land you owned, how would you want that person to treat your property? Olsen says that's the same way you should treat private property that landowners give you written permission to hunt on.
"If you treat landowners and their land with respect, there's a decent chance they'll allow you on their property in the future," Olsen says.
More information about upland game hunting in Utah is available in the 2010–2011 Utah Upland Game Guidebook. The guidebook is available at wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks.
You can also learn more by visiting the upland game portion of the DWR's website at http://www.wildlife.utah.gov/ .