Prairie Grouse Primer 2017

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AN IN-DEPTH, STATE-BY-STATE LOOK AT THIS FALL'S HUNTING PROSPECTS AND HOTSPOTS FOR SHARP-TAILED GROUSE, PRAIRIE CHICKENS AND SAGE GROUSE

By Tom Carpenter
 
The sun doesn’t climb as high in the sky each day. It sets noticeably earlier every evening. And there’s a twinge of autumn orange in its softening rays. 
 
Nights are cool. Grass is tall. Bird dogs whine: They know what’s coming, but it can’t come soon enough. 
 
You see it all. And feel it too. But what to do? 
 
Quail dreaming only goes so far. Why not make this the year to take a jaunt after prairie grouse as a warm-up? Seasons generally open earlier than they do for quail, public land hunting opportunities abound, the dog will love some work, birds await … and most prairie grouse populations go underhunted at best.
 
Welcome to Quail Forever’s 2017 prairie grouse primer: the state-by-state bird forecasts and season details you need to start planning a hunt now.


COLORADO

Colorado offers huntable populations of all three species of prairie grouse – sage grouse, sharptails and prairie chickens. 

When Quail Forever talked to Ed Gorman, Small Game Manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) for the summer quail report, he had the following to say about Colorado’s winter: “It was dry in Colorado,” says Gorman, “with no severe storms impacting our quail populations. Southeast Colorado did have a severe spring blizzard, but it appears that any potential mortality from that storm will be offset by tremendous nesting and brooding conditions.”

Some of that positivity should transfer to prairie grouse this year. And winter across northern Colorado – the epicenter of the state’s prairie grouse populations – was rather uneventful as well.

Colorado has some good habit initiatives on the ground and in the works. “Colorado recently completed its inaugural Upland SAFE Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) signup through the USDA's Conservation Reserve Program,” adds Gorman. “Across the project area, Colorado landowners enrolled over 20,000 acres into the SAFE in roughly 6 days.  On many of these enrollments, habitat establishment will begin this winter and next spring.”

Areas open to greater sage-grouse are annually modified based on grouse populations, so be certain to double-check the regulations this year. Check out this map to find Colorado’s best sage grouse concentrations, mostly in the Northwest.

To find Colorado sharptails and prairie chickens, this guide will map you right to them. Always butt up against hunting regulations though (see below), to make sure there is an open season where you plan on going.
 
Hunting Season Details
 
Greater Prairie Chicken
Season Dates: Oct. 1 – Jan. 1 (Only GMUs 93, 97, 98, 100, 101 and 102)
Open Area: Designated Areas
Daily Limit: 2 birds per year 
Possession Limit:  2 birds per year 
 
Sage Grouse
Season Dates: Season 1 / September 10 -11 (Only GMUs 6, 16, 17, 161, 171); Season 2: September 10- 16 (GMUs 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 13, 18 except east
of Colo. 125 in Grand County, 27, 28 except north and east of Grand CR 50 (Church Park Rd.), 37, 181, 201, 211, 301 and 441)
Open Area: Designated Areas
Daily Limit: 2
Possession Limit: 2 (starting with Season 2, the possession limit becomes 4)
 
Mountain Sharp-Tailed Grouse
Season Dates: Sept. 1 – 18 (Only GMUs 4, 5, 12, 13, 14, 131, 211, 214, 441)
Open Area: Designated Areas
Daily Limit: 2
Possession Limit: 4
 
Hunting Notes and Maps 
 

IDAHO

“Greater sage-grouse and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse are not typically impacted by cold and snow, and the winter of 2016-17 was no exception,” reports Jeff Knetter, Upland Game and Waterfowl Staff Biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish & Game. “However, wings returned from hunter-harvested birds in 2016 indicated poor productivity that year. That translated to an 18% decline at sage grouse breeding leks statewide in spring 2017. Lek counts were down for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse as well.”
 
“Research studies on sage-grouse in Idaho are indicating poor nest success in 2017,” Knetter adds. “Flush counts for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse in the Upper Snake Region were low; however, there probably wasn’t much early nesting cover this spring as a result of a large wildfire in late summer 2016.”
 
Idaho is working to add and enhance grass. “Idaho has around 563,000 acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program and the CRP-State Acres For wildlife Enhancement (CRP-SAFE) program,” says Knetter. 
 
“That figure is slightly down from last year. CRP-SAFE is being implemented in the Southeast, Magic Valley and Upper Snake regions to improve or enhance sharptail habitat,” says Knetter.  “Idaho’s CRP-SAFE allocation is currently 162,300 acres statewide, with an enrollment exceeding 150,000 acres. USDA and the Department are putting a renewed effort into promoting mid-contract management which should result in better game bird habitat on these acres.”
 
Sage grouse are getting attention too. “The Sage Grouse Initiative is being implemented across the range of sage grouse in Idaho to improve or enhance sage grouse habitat,” says Knetter. “The Habitat Improvement Program (HIP) is implemented statewide to improve wildlife habitat on private lands.”
 
“The best hunting for sage-grouse in 2017 will likely be in Owyhee, Custer and Lemhi counties,” predicts Knetter. “Columbian sharp-tailed grouse hunting opportunities are found in the Southeast, and in the Upper Snake region in eastern Idaho.”
 
“Like many other places, some of the best hunting here is found off the beaten path and on private lands,” advises Knetter. “Hunters willing to wear through some boot leather as well as knock on doors can find good success. Excellent Columbian sharp-tailed grouse hunting opportunities can be found on Access Yes! properties.”
 
“There are abundant public land (state and federal), and many Access Yes! properties that provide access for hunting,” says Knetter. “Access Yes! is a program designed to improve sportsmen's access to private land or through private land to public land by compensating willing landowners who provide access.  In Fall of 2017, Idaho will provide nearly 1 million acres of private and landlocked public lands through this program.”
 
Hunting Season Details
 
Sharp-Tailed Grouse
Season Dates: Area 1 Only / October 1 – 31 
Open Area: Map 
https://idfg.idaho.gov/sites/default/files/seasons-rules-upland-2016-2017.pdf
Daily Limit: 2
Possession Limit: 6
Shooting Hours: Half hour before sunrise to half hour after sunset 
 
Sage Grouse
Idaho’s 2017 sage grouse season dates and zones were not yet finalized when this article was published. We will update this space when information is final.
 
Notes
*Shooting hours for upland game birds are from 10 a.m. to one-half hour after sunset on the following WMAs: C.J. Strike, Cartier Slough, Fort Boise, Market Lake, Montour, Mud Lake, Niagara Springs, Payette River and Sterling.
*Sage/Sharp-tailed Grouse Permit Validation: Any person hunting sage grouse or sharp-tailed grouse must have in possession their hunting license with a sage/sharp-tailed grouse permit validation.
 
Hunting Notes and Maps 
 

KANSAS

“Prairie chickens in Kansas seemed to come through the 2016-2017 winter in relatively good condition,” says Kent Fricke, Small Game Coordinator with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. “Kansas overall had a mild winter with indications of good over-winter survival of prairie chickens. A late-April snowstorm in western Kansas may have delayed nesting and likely had a minor impact on the overall population.”
 
Not surprisingly, Kansas’s prairie chicken prospects are always tied to grass.

 
“Prairie chickens are dependent on large areas of intact grassland,” explains Fricke. “Loss of grassland habitat through disturbance, development and conversion to row crop agriculture is always an issue. Additionally, while prescribed fire at regular intervals generally has a positive impact on prairie chicken populations by reducing woody plant encroachment, it can be also be detrimental when used too often, which reduces the amount of nesting cover available to hens in the spring.”
 
That said, all things are relative, and Kansas is an excellent bet for planning a prairie chicken hunt. “The Flint Hills in eastern Kansas and the Smoky Hills in north-central Kansas have maintained themselves as stronghold regions with the highest densities of prairie chickens in the state, due to large areas of intact grassland,” says Fricke.
 
“Prairie grouse are an underutilized resource in Kansas,” says Fricke, “with less than 2% of the estimated population being harvested each year. Of harvested grouse, most are taken opportunistically while hunting other upland game birds.”
 
“With liberal season lengths,” Fricke adds, “there is abundant opportunity for prairie grouse hunters in Kansas. Kansas’ early prairie chicken season (September 15 -October 15) is a great time to experience prairie chicken hunting. Birds are more likely to hold for pointing dogs, and the birds tend not to flush at longer distances that are more typical of the regular prairie chicken season, which opens November 18.”
 
“With over 1 million acres of walk-in access (see our Fall 2017 Atlas),” says Fricke, “there are ample opportunities across the state for hunters to hunt upland birds. While the Smoky Hills have a higher density of walk-in access, the Flint Hills do have good opportunities. Hunters would do well to target areas with large tracts of grassland early in the season and areas adjacent to agricultural fields that prairie chickens utilize as food sources later in the season.”
 
Hunting Season Details
 
Greater Prairie Chicken 
Early Season Dates: September 15 - October 18 (Permit Required); Regular Season Dates: November 18 – January 31 
Open Area: Statewide except Southwest Unit (Map
Daily Limit: 2
Possession Limit: 8
Shooting hours: Half hour before sunrise to sunset
 
Hunting Notes and Maps
 

MINNESOTA

“We collect data on sharp-tailed grouse harvest and conduct annual lek surveys,” says Charlotte Roy, Grouse Project Leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “But data is not yet analyzed on winter survival or the spring nesting season.”
 
“However,” she adds, “anecdotally, the spring and early summer had few heavy precipitation events that would pose challenges to nest survival or chick survival.  Winter conditions varied considerably throughout the state, with poor conditions for snow roosting in more southern portions of sharp-tailed grouse distribution (lots of crusty ice) and better conditions (powdery snow) in the northern portions of their range.”
 
“Sharptail populations this year, as indicated by the raw lek survey data, were similar to last year,” says Roy. “Generally, sharptails are faring better in their northwestern Minnesota core range than in east-central Minnesota, where populations have declined over the last 10 years.  This year, the hunting season will open later in the east-central region than in the Northwest.” Check out the Minnesota DNR’s grouse page here.
 
“Northwest is definitely the direction to head if you want to focus on Minnesota sharptails,” says Roy. The region also holds plenty of ruffed grouse in its forested areas and aspen parklands, and dual-species days can easily be had here.
 
When to come? As with most prairie grouse, the earlier weeks of the season see birds holding tighter for pointing dog enthusiasts, and not flushing as wild for retriever fans. That changes as broods grow up and gain experience. “But the plumage of those immature birds gets nicer a little later in the season in October,” says Roy, “for the hunter interested in mounting birds.”
 
Minnesota also hosts a remnant prairie chicken population. “Prairie-chicken populations are stable in Minnesota right now,” says Roy. “They declined for a while beginning in 2007, concurrent with a loss of CRP enrollments. But for the last few years populations have stabilized at a new, lower level.” See Minnesota’s 2017 prairie chicken survey data here.
 
“As always, keeping grassland on the landscape remains a challenge with many competing land uses, but efforts from many cooperating natural resource agencies continue to provide habitat for these birds,” says Roy. Only Minnesota resident can hunt the state’s prairie chickens, and it is on a lottery basis, with applications due annually in mid-August. 
 
Hunting Season Details
 
Sharp-Tailed Grouse
Season Dates: September 17 -  November 30 (Northwest Zone); October 14 – November 30 (East-Central Zone)
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 6
Shooting Hours: half hour before sunrise to sunset 
 
Hunting Notes and Maps
 

MONTANA 

REGION 4 / NORTH-CENTRAL MONTANA
 
“It was another normal winter and slightly wet spring for sharptails and sage grouse in North-Central Montana” reports Jake Doggett, Upland Game Bird Biologist with Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Region 4. “The average nest hatch date was likely a little later then average given spring rain showers.”
 
“Then the weather dried up and warmed up significantly by July and August,” he adds, “so birds have likely shifted home ranges to include areas still holding onto moisture and green perennial vegetation.”
 
“In general, I would say that prairie grouse populations are doing good here,” he says. Hunters looking to find sharptails and sage grouse, and willing to work a little, will find birds.
 
“Lewistown continues to be a destination for folks looking to hunt sage grouse in North-Central Montana,” says Doggett. “There are several core areas for sharptails across the region. Some of the best are Toole and Liberty Counties to the north, Pondera and Teton Counties to the West, and then southern Cascade and Judith Basin Counties to the south and out east of Lewistown.”
  
“Hunters should remember that each species of upland bird has slightly different habitat requirements,” says Doggett. “Land cover and land use will dictate which species may be present at any given location.  Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has an excellent online application, called the Hunt Planner App, that is available to hunters looking to see where public access opportunities are located and which overlapping land cover type they can are associated with.”  
 
REGION 6 / NORTHEAST MONTANA
 
“Winter conditions in northeast Montana were average, and spring surveys of sharptails and sage grouse in the region showed that both species had declines from the 2016 counts, depending on the area,” reports Ken Plourde, Upland Game Bird Biologist with Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Region 6.
 
“That decrease brought sharptails down to their 10-year population average and sage grouse were back down to just above their 15-year average,” he explains. “The previous years had seen some high counts for both species, so populations returning closer to normal was not unexpected.”
 
“Habitat conditions and weather were generally good during the early nesting season,” says Plourde, “so it should have gone well. However, since March northeast Montana has gone into extreme drought. The effect is likely lower chick and brood survival in many areas. Similarly, habitat conditions in most upland areas are relatively poor do to the minimal plant growth this year. As a result, fall populations of prairie grouse in northeast Montana will almost certainly be below what they have been the last several years.” 
 
“On the whole, prairie grouse populations in northeast Montana are doing roughly average compared to the long term,” says Plourde, “but may decline to some degree this year due to that drought. Hunting is expected to be fair in areas with sufficient amounts of good habitat, but may be poor in other areas that lack the diverse habitats that help get birds through tough conditions.”
 
“Regions 4, 6, and 7 typically offer some of the better habitat and populations of sharptails, and they can be found in good numbers in many areas of each region,” says Plourde. “Sage grouse can be hunted in portions of regions 4, 5, 6 and 7, wherever there are large expanses of sagebrush cover.”
 
For more information on species distribution and where to hunt in Montana, hunters should visit Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks' Hunt Planner Map.
 
“Back in northeastern Montana, due to the drought conditions, areas that tend to hold water longer like brushy coulees and riparian areas will be more important to prairie grouse this year,” advises Plourde. “In general, hunters will need to be more mobile, cover a lot of ground, and focus on locating those areas of high quality habitat if they expect to consistently find birds in the drought-stricken areas of the state.”
 
Hunting Season Details
 
Sage Grouse 
Season Dates: September 1 - 30
Open Area: Statewide 
Daily Limit: 2
Possession Limit: 4
Shooting Hours: half hour before sunrise to half hour after sunset
 
Sharp-Tailed Grouse 
Season Dates: September 1 - January 1
Open Area: Statewide 
Daily Limit: 4
Possession Limit: 16
Shooting Hours: half hour before sunrise to half hour after sunset
 
Hunting Notes and Maps

 
NEBRASKA

"Spring rural mail carrier survey results were mixed for greater prairie chicken and sharp-tailed grouse, with abundance comparable to 2016,” reports Jeff Lusk, Upland Game Program Manager with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. “Indices were down in the Sandhills and Central regions, the core area of prairie grouse range in the state, but were up in other regions.”
 
“Early moisture resulted in good, early habitat conditions,” Lusk says, “but abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions set in over the summer, likely impacting production.”  
 
“Prairie grouse abundance was down on our summer rural mail carrier survey,” Lusk says, “likely due to the effects of the abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions in the Sandhills, Central, and Panhandle regions.  We did note increases in other regions of the state not affected by the drought – the Northeast, Southeast and Southwest regions.”  
 
“Whereas the Sandhills and Central regions still have the highest relative abundance of prairie grouse based on our survey results, the decreases observed in these regions may see some hunters trying other areas of the state,” says Lusk. The northeastern, southeastern and southwestern regions are worth exploring.  
 
It’s inviting to come out and try an early hunt to Nebraska, and that can be productive.  “Although the season starts on September 1,” Lusk advises, “temperatures later in September are more conducive to an enjoyable hunt for both hunter and dog.”  You’ll also avoid opening week hunting pressure, and have the fields more to yourself. 
 
Hunting Season Details
 
SharP-tailed Grouse and Prairie Chicken
Season Dates: September 1 – January 31, 2018 
Open Area: Statewide 
Daily Limit: 3 
Possession Limit: 3 (12 allowed in west zone / west of highway 81)
Shooting Hours: Sunrise to sunset 
 
Hunting Notes and Maps
 

NEVADA

“Much of northern Nevada was hit with an exceptionally wet winter, after five years of relative drought conditions,” reports Shawn Espinosa, Upland Game Staff Biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
 
“Snowpack, as of May 1, 2017, was 167-178% of median in the Humboldt Basin in northern Nevada; 154% in the Snake Basin in eastern Nevada; and 129% in the Owyhee Basin in north-central Nevada,” says Espinosa.  (Source: NRCS Nevada Water Supply Outlook – May 2017).
 
“This was welcome news for Nevada after experiencing one of the worst droughts in recorded history,” explains Espinosa. “But it created some hardships for upland game species in some areas. Even though sage grouse normally gain weight in the winter as they forage exclusively on sagebrush species, drought and Aroga moth infestations led to the eventual die-off of fairly vast stands of sagebrush. This may have affected sage grouse body condition during periods of greater snow accumulation as they searched for more limited live sagebrush plants that met their nutritional needs.”
 
“Sage grouse nest success, as determined from several ongoing research projects in Nevada, was poor in much of the northern portion of the state and fair to good in the central part of the state including the Desatoya Mountains, Reese River Valley, Monitor Valley and south Newark Valley,” says Espinosa.
 
“Trends obtained from a subset of breeding leks indicated that male sage grouse attendance at these leks was down 10% from the prior season,” he reports, “but overall attendance is up slightly (about 2%) from the 20-year average. Production, as estimated from hunter harvested wings, indicates that chicks per hen values have exceeded 1.5 for the past four years, which seemingly has contributed to a stable population during this timeframe.”
 
Where to hunt? “Normally, the best areas to encounter birds are within north-central Elko County,” answers Espinosa. “However, given improved nest and brood success in central Nevada this year, northern Nye County in the areas of the upper Reese River Valley, Toquima Range and Monitor Range around Butler Basin will likely offer some of the better sage grouse hunting in Nevada this year.” 
 
“Sage grouse hunting in Nevada is closed to non-residents except for the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge Special Sage Grouse hunt, which offers two hunt periods,” says Espinosa. “Each season is two days in length with a bag limit of 2 birds per day and 4 in possession. This season normally runs the third and fourth weekend in September.”

Here’s a cool hunt summary on one hunter’s Sheldon adventure.
 
Hunting Season Details
 
Sage Grouse
Season Dates: September 16 - 17 (Unit 033 of Washoe and Humboldt Counties (Sheldon NWR) excluding the Little Sheldon and other areas as posted); September 23 -24 (Unit 033 of Washoe and Humboldt Counties (Sheldon NWR) excluding the Little Sheldon and other areas as posted)
Daily Limit: 2
Possession Limit: 4
Shooting Hours: 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset 
 
Hunting Notes and Maps
 

NORTH DAKOTA

“Sharptails had a tough start to winter,” reports Rodney Gross, Upland Game Management Biologist with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. “We had record snowfall and low temperatures in December and January and that undoubtedly led to some mortality. Nesting season has been poor. We have a severe drought in most portions of the state, and exceptional drought in others. We are doing a brood surveys through August, then we will know how production went.” Follow North Dakota Game and Fish here to know when this report is out.
 
“For sharp-tailed grouse, spring survey data showed a 25% decline in the number of males counted at leks on the survey areas,” says Gross. “Sharptails have been declining the past few years.”
 
“Prairie chickens are relatively unchanged from last year,” he adds. “Our population is very small, as there is not much habitat left. As for sage grouse, we translocated 60 birds this past spring from Wyoming to try to augment the population.” Neither prairie chickens or sage grouse have an open hunting season in North Dakota.
 
“For sharp-tailed grouse, the southwestern and north-central parts of the state are best,” says Gross. “Scouting is key to success.” The birds are there, but finding them can be a challenge when numbers are down. It is best to work hard to find a good area. The more grass, the better. 
 
Check out North Dakota’s Public Hunting Lands page, and its PLOTS (Private Lands Open to Sportsmen) program to find places to hunt.
 
Hunting Season Details
 
Sharp-Tailed Grouse
Season Dates: September 9 - January 7, 2018
Open Area: Statewide with exceptions*
*Exceptions – That portion of North Dakota bordered on the west by ND Highway 32, on the north by the Sheyenne River, on the south by ND Highway 11 and on the east by the Red and Bois de Sioux rivers; and an area in Grand Forks County bordered on the east by the Red River, the south by U.S. Highway 2, the west by ND Highway 18 and the north by the Walsh and Grand Forks county line.
Daily Limit: 3 
Possession Limit: 12
Shooting Hours: 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset
 
Note: Prairie chicken and sage grouse seasons in North Dakota are closed in 2017 due to low populations
 
Hunting Notes and Maps
 

OREGON

“Winter survival of sage grouse in general is good in most years, and this year was no exception,” reports Dave Budeau, Upland Game Bird Coordinator with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Above average precipitation and winter snowfall has resulted in some of the best sagebrush steppe habitat conditions since 2011.”
 
In addition, “based on radio-marked birds, nesting success was better this spring over last, with nearly 50% nest success,” adds Budeau.
 
“Following three years of increases, the statewide breeding population was estimated to be down 8% from last year,” he says. “But as noted above, nesting success was better this year.  Sage grouse populations remain below desired levels,” but at least they have stabilized due to the ideal conditions.
 
“The Whitehorse and Beatys Butte management units consistently have the highest hunter success,” says Budeau. 
 
“800 permits were offered in Oregon in 2017, and the season will be September 9 - 17 for successful applicants,” says Budeau.  Application deadline was August 21, so look to Oregon for a sage grouse adventure in 2018.  Permit allocations by unit can be found here.  
 
Hunting Season Details
 
Sage Grouse
Season Dates: September 9 - 17 
Daily and Season Limit: 2
Shooting Hours: 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset 
 
Hunting Notes and Maps
 

SOUTH DAKOTA

“The winter of 2016-17 was harsh in north-central South Dakota and near normal throughout the rest of the state,” reports Travis Runia, Upland Game Biologist with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. “Fortunately, spring thaw came early with most of the snowpack melting by the first of March.  We may have had some minimal negative impacts from the harsh winter in the north-central.”
 
That’s the good news. Drought is the tough news. “Much of our prairie grouse range experienced severe and extreme drought during the spring and summer months,” says Runia. “Drought has been associated with poor reproductive success during past years.  Hunters could find fewer birds this fall and less cover to hold birds.”

 
“Prairie grouse abundance, as measured by spring lek counts, are near the 10-year average,” says Runia. “Prairie chickens are slightly above the 10-year average while sharptails are slightly below.  Both species had higher counts in 2017 versus 2013 after the severe drought of 2012 reduced abundance.”
 
“Spring lek counts do offer insight into population trends,” Runia points out. “But hunter success is very dependent upon reproductive success, which is difficult to predict prior to the hunting season.”  
 
“Harvest increased in both 2014 and 2015, but a slight pullback occurred last year when hunters harvested nearly 43,000 birds,” Runia says.       
 
“Central and south-central South Dakota are the best areas for mixed bag prairie grouse hunting. In these areas, mixed flocks of sharptails and prairie chickens are common,” says Runia. “The world-renowned Fort Pierre National Grasslands area is a popular destination, but hunters should not overlook many of the public walk-in areas and other National Grasslands of western South Dakota.”
 
“Severe drought conditions have taken a toll on rangeland conditions throughout the prairie grouse range of central and western South Dakota,” Runia sums up. “These conditions could concentrate prairie grouse in shrubby draws or alfalfa fields where some regrowth has occurred.  Hunters should adapt to the changing conditions to improve their hunting success.”
 
Important Links: 
 
Hunting Season Details
 
Prairie Chicken and Sharp-Tailed Grouse
Season Dates: September 16 – January 7 2018
Open Area: Statewide 
Daily Limit: 3 
Possession Limit: 15 
Shooting Hours: Sunrise to sunset 
 
Hunting Notes and Maps 
 
Note: There will be no sage grouse hunting season in South Dakota in 2017.

UTAH
Utah currently offers limited populations of sage grouse and sharptails, with limited hunting seasons as follows:
 
Sage Grouse 
Season Dates: September 30 – October 22
Open Area: Diamond, Blue Mountain (SG1000); Parker Mountain (SG1001); Rich County (SG1002) and West Box Elder County (SG1003)
 Limit: Only 2 birds of either sex may be taken for the season 
*Greater sage-grouse permit required.
Shooting Hours: 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset
 
Sharp-Tailed Grouse
Season Dates: September 30 – October 22
Open Area: Northeast Box Elder County (ST1000) and Cache County (ST1001)
Limit: Only 2 birds of either sex may be taken the whole season 
*Sharp-tailed grouse permit required 
Shooting Hours: 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset
 
Hunting Notes and Maps 
 

WYOMING SHARPTAILS

SOUTHEASTERN WYOMING
 
“Sharp-tailed Grouse in Southeast Wyoming experienced mild winter conditions and appear to have come through in decent shape,” says Martin Hicks, Wildlife Biologist with the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, out of Wheatland. “There was a May snowstorm and a June hail storm that most likely affected nesting and brood rearing success.  Early spring precipitation was good, and August has been cool and wet, which should help with brood rearing and creating good winter cover.”
 
“Sharp-tailed grouse populations in southeastern Wyoming have been relatively stable for the past few years,” says Hicks, “but numbers are definitely up from the 2002 and 2012 droughts.”
 
“Platte, Goshen and Laramie counties all have decent sharp-tailed grouse numbers, with Laramie county probably having the highest density of grouse,” says Hicks. “There are plenty of acres enrolled in the Department's Walk-In Area (WIA) program that hold sharptails. That should make it worth a hunter’s time to go to the field this fall.”
 
“CRP tracts for the most part in southeast Wyoming are not as productive as they were back in the late 1990s,” says Hicks. “But with the adequate spring precipitation, they will provide cover for grouse and are still the places to focus on.  During early hunting season (September), any WIAs with wildlife watering guzzlers can be productive. Later, in November and /December, scenting conditions can improve if there is snow on the ground.
 

NORTHEASTERN WYOMING

“In northeast Wyoming (Crook, Weston, and Niobrara Counties), prairie grouse seem to have had a couple years of decent reproduction and survival,” says Joe Sandrini, wildlife biologist with the Wyoming Game & Fish Department out of Newcastle. 
 
“In 2016, grouse in many areas were beset by mild to moderately severe drought in early- and mid-summer,” Sandrini says. “The same thing this year.”
 
“Last winter was generally mild,” he adds, “with snowfall well below normal. Incidental observations of broods of all gallinaceous species indicate good chick production and survival this spring and summer. However, much of my area is closed to sage grouse hunting and those areas open, really are not worth the trip.”
 
“There are localized areas where a hunter can find a sharp-tailed grouse, but it is probably not worth planning a trip unless a hunter knows a landowner with grouse,” notes Sandrini. “There is some opportunity on the Thunder Basin National Grasslands, but it is spotty.”
 
Hunting Season Details
 
Sharp-Tailed Grouse
Hunt Area 1 Only
Season Dates: September 1 – December 31 
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 9
Shooting Hours: Sunrise to sunset 
 
Hunting Notes and Maps 
Public Lands:
https://wgfd.wyo.gov/Regulations/Regulation-PDFs/Regulations_CH11_GrouseMap.pdf
 

WYOMING SAGE GROUSE

Upwards of 40% of the continent’s sage grouse call Wyoming home. That makes the Cowboy State a top destination for hunting these high plains game birds. 
 
“While winter conditions in western Wyoming were tough last year, we found no evidence of increased winter mortality to sage grouse,” reports Tom Christiansen, Sage Grouse Program Coordinator with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
 
 
“This is not unusual, as sage grouse typically gain weight over winter as long as there is sagebrush exposed above the snow that they can access,” says Christiansen.
 
“The 2017 nesting season appears to have been about average,” he says. “In western Wyoming, the ground was saturated and flooding was common due to the heavy winter snows.  This resulted in good plant growth but could have reduced nest success.”
 
“Spring 2017 lek counts were down about 10% statewide from 2016,” he adds. “This is primarily due to low 2016 chick production likely caused by cool, wet weather during the 2016 nesting season.”
 
“The best sage-grouse hunting in Wyoming occurs in the central and southwest portions of the state,” says Christiansen. “This includes Sublette, Lincoln, Fremont, Sweetwater, Carbon and Natrona counties.”
 
“There is an abundance of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Wyoming that provides excellent sage grouse hunting access,” says Christiansen. “Maps are available from the BLM.” Explore BLM access and find maps here.
 
Christiansen offers some sage advice for first-time Wyoming sage grouse hunters: “Sage grouse hunting can be intimidating to new hunters because of the vastness of the sagebrush landscapes occupied by these birds. If it is dry, look near water sources. If it is wet, hunt the ridges. Avoid highly developed areas. Successful sage-grouse hunting requires burned boot leather, not tire rubber.”
 
Hunting Season Details
 
Sage Grouse
Hunt Area 1 (Map)
Season Dates: Sept. 16 - 30
Daily Limit: 2
Possession Limit: 4
Shooting Hours: Sunrise to sunset 
Sage Grouse Hunting Closed in Hunt Area 2 & 3
 
Hunting Notes and Maps 
 
Tom Carpenter is Digital Content Manager for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever.

Photo Credits: Prairie Chicken, iStock/Jack VandenHeuvel; Sage Grouse Retrieve, iStock/ChucknGale Robbins; Sage Grouse and Flowers/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.