Hunters should find more abundant upland game bird populations this fall.
After two years of drought and poor over-winter survival, the spring/summer of 2014 was much more favorable for upland birds. Winter weather was very mild and drier than average, so overwinter survival is expected to be high. Spring conditions were generally favorable for upland game bird production in 2014. In addition, abundant rainfall in August provided much of southern Idaho with excellent late summer brood-rearing habitat for many species. Broods of a variety of species have been observed thus far and we are optimistic about an improved year for upland game birds during fall 2014.
Like many other years, hunting can vary widely geographically. Idaho is an extremely geographically diverse state. However, given the weather over the last eight months or so and most reports from the field, this fall should be promising for wingshooters.
2014 upland game bird outlook by species and region are available at the links below:
Panhandle Region - Pheasant, gray partridge, California quail, forest grouse (dusky, ruffed, spruce) – PDF, [85 KB]
Clearwater Region - Pheasant, chukar, gray partridge, California quail, mourning dove, forest grouse (dusky, ruffed) [PDF, 95 KB]
While weather certainly impacts game bird populations on a yearly basis, the quantity and quality of nesting habitat is critical to maintaining Idaho’s game bird populations for the long-term. Game birds require adequate undisturbed nesting cover to successfully hatch a nest and then abundant broadleaf plants and insect populations to successfully raise chicks to adult size.
Overall populations can change significantly from one year to the next. This phenomenon is tied to their basic biology. Game birds are very productive and short lived, with the largest portion of the population at any given time consisting of young birds of the year. When weather and nesting conditions are favorable, populations are able to respond and increase rapidly. On the other hand, when conditions are not favorable, dramatic population declines can result.
Because both weather and habitat conditions are critical to the abundance and survival of game birds, hunting success will vary widely.
Fish and Game monitors upland game bird populations across the state by conducting brood route surveys each August. Beginning at sunrise, department biologists drive slowly along designated, 20-mile routes and count the number of birds they observe. Each brood route is surveyed three times during the month using standardized methods when weather conditions are optimal for observing game birds.
Results of these surveys are then compared with results from the previous year and the previous 10-year average, which generally offers a fairly reliable indicator of the actual game bird population. It is important to note that our outlook reflects the best available information on the relative abundance of upland game birds among the regions of Idaho and cannot be used to predict hunting conditions or local population densities at any single location within the state.