Another mild winter and timely rainstorms during spring and early summer provided good rearing conditions for young upland game birds, and hunters will likely see more birds this year than last.
"Reports across the state are up for a variety of species," says Jeff Knetter, Idaho Fish and Game's upland game and migratory bird coordinator.
Out of Fish and Game's seven regions, nearly all found stable-to -improving populations of upland game birds compared with last year and the 10-year trend.
Fish and Game wildlife managers rely on a combination of anecdotal reports from the field and surveys known as "brood routes" where F&G personnel drive set routes and spot birds, then compare the numbers with what was seen in previous years.
It gives them a predictor of what hunters are likely to see when during the fall season.
Forest Grouse and dove seasons already opened statewide. California and bobwhite quail, sage grouse, chukar and gray partridge open Sept. 19. Sharptail grouse season opens Oct. 1, and pheasant season opens Oct. 10 and Oct. 17, depending on which area of the state. For all dates and rules, check Fish and Game's upland rules booklet for hunting rules, or go to http://fishandgame.idaho.gov and look for "Upland Game" under the "Hunting" tab.
Weather is a primary factor in upland bird populations from year to year, and although Idaho is in a drought, timely rainstorms after hatches provide plant growth and also spark insect populations that feed the young birds.
A full report on the upland game bird seasons throughout the seven Fish and Game regions can be found under the Features section on Fish and Game's website.
Here are some highlights from the regions:
Panhandle: Grouse are abundant this year. We predict excellent grouse hunting this fall. Pheasants, gray partridge and quail are restricted to the southern portion of the region. Populations of those species appear stable to slightly increasing relative to previous years. The dry spring and summer resulted in extensive wild fires this summer and fall. Hunters are encouraged to check for closures on public as well as corporate timber land before hunting. Access is very limited in some areas.
Clearwater: The 115 pheasants observed in 2015 represent a 423 percent increase from the 22 birds tallied in 2014 and is 147 percent above the previous 10-year average of 47 birds. There are only six years out of the past 25 where more birds were tallied on regional routes. However, the 115 birds observed in 2015 still represents just 58 percent of the historical high count of 199 counted in 2005.
Chukar productivity and populations have appeared to be trending upward in recent years. Observations and reports from field staff and the public appear to indicate very good chukar nesting success and chick survival. The number of gray partridge observed this year was much higher than last years' total, and above the long-term average.
Southwest: Quail production appears to be good to excellent, with reports of good quail numbers across the Treasure Valley and west-central areas. Quail hunting should be good in areas with deciduous shrubs and berries near perennial water sources. Dove production appears to be very good with many young birds observed along established routes. Reports from field indicated excellent ruffed grouse production. Chukar populations along the Bruneau and East Fork of the Owyhee rivers are up and should provide good hunting.
Populations of chukar at Arrowrock and Brownlee reservoirs, and along the South Fork of the Payette River, are up slightly. Gray partridge numbers have been excellent during the past three years and should continue to be good.
Magic Valley: Generally, bird numbers are up this year compared with the 2014 season and may provide the best hunting in many years. During the past several years, quail hunting has been very good and it appears to be another bumper crop this year. Hunters should expect to find area with abundant quail along the Snake River and its tributaries west of Twin Falls. Early reports from around the region suggest hunters should find more chukar and gray partridge this year than last, and hunters should find good forest grouse populations in the northern portions of the Magic Valley.
Southeast: Lek surveys for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse have remained relatively stable over the last 10 years. If conditions are dry, hunters should expect early movement of grouse into the mountain shrub communities and to areas where green forbs can still be found. Other upland game bird populations are stable. Fish and Game has large Access Yes! properties leased in the region, and hunters can find maps at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/ by clicking on the green Access Yes! logo at the bottom of the page.
Upper Snake: There have been reports of good-sized gray partridge broods across the region. Areas that hold pheasants in the Upper Snake have reported early broods and many good-sized broods. Sharp-tailed grouse populations have remained stable over the last five years. The best hunting can be found in Conservation Reserve Program fields that have green alfalfa and/or other forbs.
Salmon: Sage grouse lek counts were up across the Salmon Region, particularly in the Antelope Flat area southwest of Challis. Dusky grouse production this year appears above average and hunting will be very good. Most chukar habitat in the region is marginal due to wide variation in weather conditions. However, favorable weather last winter and spring/summer should provide very good chukar hunting this fall.
Statewide pheasant stocking: Fish and Game will stock the same number of pheasants as last year on its wildlife management areas. The department stocks pheasants at nine wildlife management areas in the Southwest, Magic Valley, Southeast and Upper Snake regions. Stocking will begin before the youth hunts each WMA and will continue throughout the season. For details on the stocking program see page 15 in the upland birds hunting rules booklet, or go to Fish and Game's website and look for pheasants under the "Upland Birds" heading on the "Hunting" page.