2019 Prairie Grouse Hunting Forecast

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It’s time for prairie adventures for sharptails and chickens! Here’s Pheasants Forever's state-by-state rundown of hunting prospects.

By Andrew Johnson
 
“Better have rubber boots ready.”
 
That five-word response came from an upland biologist in South Dakota when asked what field conditions would be like heading into fall hunting seasons. He may have been kidding, but his response is telling.
 
Historically, my own September forays into western South Dakota after sharpies and chickens have been hot, dry, dusty affairs. Snake boots? Maybe. But rubber boots have never been on my grousing gear list.
 
However, after talking to other wildlife officials, upland gurus and Pheasants Forever farm bill biologists across seven states where sharptails, prairie chickens and sage grouse roam, it seems that same five-word response could apply to a majority of the prairie grouse region. 
 
Simply stated, prairie grouse country is saturated. From the famed Flint Hills of Kansas to the sagebrush steppe in western Idaho, long winters with above-average snowfall and extremely cold temperatures followed by late, cool springs with record-setting precipitation were the norms instead of exceptions to the rule. As a result, many upland biologists are questioning how prairie grouse populations fared throughout nesting and brood-rearing seasons.
 
The good news? Grouse handle cold winters and wet springs much better than drought, and while the impact record amounts of rain had on grouse production remains to be seen, the wet weather was definitely a boon for habitat that has been slowly recovering from widespread drought in 2017. 
 
With that in mind, what follows is your one-stop shop for state-by-state bird forecasts and season details you can use plan a hunt. Rubber boots might be an exaggeration, but if you head out when seasons start opening in September, it wouldn’t hurt to pack them … just in case.
 

South Dakota

Sharp-tailed grouse and greater prairie chicken populations held steady the past two years in the Rushmore State, and the hope is this year’s wet spring and summer won’t have a huge impact on birds come fall.  
 
Last year, nearly 10,000 hunters bagged upwards of 23,860 prairie grouse, according to survey data collected by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Departmen (SDGFP). Those numbers were up slightly from 2017, when hunters killed 22,153 grouse.
 
“This past winter was fairly harsh, but prairie grouse are well adapted to these conditions,” says Travis Runia, senior upland biologist for SDGFP. “Spring lek counts were nearly unchanged from 2018, which indicates the winter may not have had a major impact on the adult population.”
 
Runia says prairie grouse rely on residual grassland cover for their initial nesting attempts, and that type of cover is typically better, of course, after a non-drought year. 
 
“Only minor drought conditions occurred in 2018, so nesting habitat was good across most of South Dakota’s prairie grouse range heading into 2019,” he reports. “However, this spring’s weather during the primary nesting season of April and May was the 18th coldest and fourth wettest on record in South Dakota in 125 years of collecting data. Cold and wet weather during the nesting and early brood-rearing season can suppress grouse production.”
 
The wet weather didn’t stop when summer arrived, either, as heavy rainfall events have rolled across the state through mid-August, resulting in phenomenal habitat conditions across the state, Runia says. 
 
“None of the state experienced any form of drought during 2019, which is a rare occurrence,” he explains. “Hunters will find very tall vegetation as they hit the grouse fields this fall. This may improve hunting success as grouse may hold tight in the taller-than-average grass. The tall grass should lead to good nesting habitat in 2020, as well.”

Still, Runia isn’t quite sure what types of numbers grouse hunters might encounter across South Dakota this year.
 
“The 2019 hunting forecast is challenging,” he admits. “Typically drought is the primary weather factor that adversely influences prairie grouse production, but the direct impacts of historic moisture on nesting and brood-rearing success is difficult to predict, even though habitat conditions are amazing.”
 
If you’re looking to hunt grouse in South Dakota, Runia says it’s hard to go wrong with the Fort Pierre, Grand River and Buffalo Gap national grasslands, which are all traditional prairie grouse hunting destinations.
 
“Of these three, the Fort Pierre National Grassland in the central part of the state provides the greatest potential for a mixed bag of prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse,” Runia says. “In addition, the many large walk-in areas of western South Dakota also provide great public-hunting opportunities, as do many of the private ranches where landowner permission is required.”
 
If You Go
 
South Dakota’s prairie grouse season opens Sept. 21 and closes Jan. 5. Shooting hours are from sunrise to sunset. The daily limit is three birds, with a possession limit of 15. Hunters should be aware that the historic rains have resulted in many road closures across the state. In addition, many county and township roads are in poor condition, so hunters should be cautious when traveling and avoid causing additional damage to wet or already-damaged roads.
 

Nebraska

Nebraska endured an exceptionally hard winter, especially when a “bomb cyclone” weather event of heavy precipitation and frigid temperatures gripped most of the state in February and March. When the sun showed up again in April, heavy flooding was the result, most notably in the eastern part of Nebraska.   
 
“Although these environmental factors likely caused stress and potentially some mortality, overwinter survival is expected to have been relatively high, as this generally doesn’t limit prairie grouse populations in Nebraska due to their inherent winter survival tactics and ability to fly long distances in search of suitable cover and food,” says John Laux, upland habitat and access program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. “Spring lek counts conducted in March and April for prairie grouse were generally lower compared to previous years, but many of these surveys were confounded by poor weather conditions and inaccessible roads.”
 
Laux notes that most of the flooding subsided by the time prairie grouse initiated their nests, and that both sharptails and prairie chickens prefer to nest on higher-elevation sites. However, much like South Dakota, Laux says the late spring may have had a negative impact on the success of early nesting attempts.
 
“Cool, wet weather conditions often lead to delayed nesting and/or abandonment, but it remains unclear to what extent these environmental factors may have impacted nesting this year,” he says. “Broods hatched later in the nesting season are generally smaller in size, so this can potentially reduce overall production.”

While the weather’s impact on nesting success is still up in the air, habitat conditions were above average for nesting and brood-rearing seasons.
 
“Habitat conditions across much of the prairie grouse range were good to excellent going into the 2019 nesting season,” says Laux. “Ample residual cover from the 2018 growing season and moisture received this winter and spring promoted good growth of native grasses and forbs that created ideal cover for nesting.”
 
Taking it a step further, Laux says habitat remained in good-to-excellent condition during the brood-rearing season throughout most of the state, as consistent rainfall events resulted in an abundance of broad-leaf plants, which provide shade and cover, produce seeds, and attract insects — everything a chick needs.
 
“That being said, field reports suggest that the availability of insects may have been delayed in parts of the state this year,” Laux says. “In portions of the Sandhills, the abundance of grasshoppers was reportedly much lower in mid-June compared to early July. As a result, broods hatched from later nesting attempts may find more abundant food resources and experience higher survival. Brood observations are generally limited for prairie grouse due to the remoteness of the grasslands they inhabit, yet field staff and local ranchers have been observing broods of variable sizes throughout different portions of the Sandhills, as well as elsewhere in the state.”
 
The aforementioned Sandhills region is the prairie grouse stronghold in the state. In fact, Laux says prairie grouse hunting in the Sandhills should be on every upland hunter’s bucket list.
 
“This region arguably provides some of the best opportunities to harvest both greater prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse, often on the same walk,” he says. Other popular hunting destinations Laux pointed out included the Nebraska National Forest (90,445 acres), Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest (114,722 acres) and Valentine National Wildlife Refuge (71,516 acres).  
 
“In light that we may have relatively lower overall production this year, hunters may have to work a little harder or longer to bag birds,” he reports. “There should still be some great opportunities out there, and those that put in a little time and effort should have a successful hunt. Overall, prairie grouse are underutilized in Nebraska considering the excellent bird numbers and abundance of publicly accessible land.”
 
Go For a Slam
 
Laux also encourages hunters to participate in the Nebraska Upland Slam, a challenge aimed at bringing awareness to Nebraska’s excellent mixed-bag hunting opportunities. 
 
To complete the slam, hunters must harvest all four of Nebraska’s primary upland gamebirds — greater prairie chicken, sharp-tailed grouse, ring-necked pheasant and northern bobwhite quail. Hunters who submit at least one harvest to the Nebraska Upland Slam will be automatically entered into monthly drawings for prizes, such as ORCA tumblers with the Upland Slam logo, memberships to Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, and more. Each hunter who completes the slam will be entered into a grand-prize drawing for a Browning Silver 12-gauge semiautomatic shotgun, and the drawing will take place at the Pheasants Forever State Habitat Meeting on Feb. 1. 
 
If You Go
 
Nebraska’s prairie grouse season runs from Sept. 1 through Jan. 31. To hunt grouse in Nebraska, all resident hunters 16 years old and older and all nonresident hunters are required to purchase a 2019 small game hunt permit and habitat stamp. 
East Zone (East of Highway 81):
Bag and possession limits are 3 and 3 (in aggregate), respectively.
Special grouse permit required (400 permits issued for free on first-come, first-served basis). Call 402-471-5410 for more information.
West Zone (West of Highway 81):
Bag and possession limits are 3 and 12 (in aggregate), respectively.
No special grouse permit required.
 

Kansas

“Greater prairie chicken harvest in 2018 was similar to 2017,” says Kent Fricke, small-game coordinator for Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. “Conditions through most of the winter were wet, which likely limited some hunter access during the late season.”
 
The wet conditions continued into the spring nesting period in April and May, when Fricke says heavy rainfall and flooding occurred throughout the state, likely having a negative impact on early nesting. 
 
Similar to other prairie grouse states, however, the wet spring has led to improved prairie chicken habitat throughout the state.

“Early reports through western regions indicate fewer broods but large brood size with excellent re-nesting conditions,” Fricke says. “Prairie chicken habitat looks to be good to excellent entering the fall, given abundant precipitation throughout the spring and summer.”
 
Overall, Fricke says prairie chicken hunters can expect similar conditions to 2018. 
 
“Abundant opportunity exists for access to quality hunting habitat,” he says. “Kansas’ Walk-in Hunting Access program provides over 1 million acres of hunting access across the state.”
 
Jacob Christiansen, a farm bill biologist and Kansas private lands conservationist, believes there are plenty of areas across the state where hunters stand a good chance to bag a bird.
 
“Chicken hunters should focus their efforts on the Flint Hills, an area with expansive grasslands in eastern Kansas, if they are strictly looking for the highest number of huntable greater prairie chickens,” he says. “The small portion of the northwest zone that is open is probably our second-highest-producing region, where you also gain the rare chance of bagging a lesser in these areas.”

“Personally, if hunters only had time or patience to target one location in Kansas, I would hands down point them to the north-central region,: Fricke adds. “The chicken population in this area is more limited with isolated pockets still having good numbers, but it is also holds some of the best pheasant- and quail-producing areas in Kansas. This gives hunters the opportunity for multi-species hunts.”
 
If You Go
 
The early season for greater prairie chickens is open in the east and northwest zones from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The regular season for the same two zones opens Nov. 16 and closes Jan. 31. The daily bag limit for each season is two birds, with a possession limit of four times the daily limit. Shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to sunset. The southwest unit remains closed to prairie chicken hunting in 2019 to protect lesser prairie chickens.
 

North Dakota

Wildlife biologists in North Dakota were surprised last year when grouse production was poor despite the fact the state rebounded from widespread drought in 2017. As a result, it was tough sledding for grouse hunters in the Rough Rider State last fall.
 
“Sharptail hunting was difficult last year in most parts of the state,” says Jesse Kolar, upland game supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. “Few hunters found small, localized pockets of high grouse numbers. The winter was very mild until February. When we finally got an extended, extreme cold spell that lasted from February through mid-March, birds were still in good body condition. One exception was the far southeast corner of the state, where we had significant snowfalls after our extreme cold spell.”
 
Kolar said this spring was the first time in three years that North Dakota had great nesting conditions. 
 
“The residual vegetation from 2018 was tall in most areas, and we had late snowfalls that aided in early spring ground moisture,” he says. “Although it felt like a late spring due to late snowmelt, displaying activity at the leks peaked in mid-April the same as most years. We had one or two region-wide cold snaps in early May, which likely affected the earliest grouse nests, but otherwise it was an agreeable year for early nesting conditions. Not surprisingly, in the Spring 2019 sharptail surveys, we counted roughly the same number of grouse as we had during the spring of 2018, as our preliminary results show a 6 percent statewide increase.”
 
Habitat conditions have remained strong, Kolar says, mentioning that there has been notably higher insect (chick protein) densities across the state. In addition, he says the southwest part of the state experienced a sweet clover boom that provided great cover for chicks.  
 
Kolar says NDGF staff running roadside brood routes found roughly the same brood size for sharp-tailed grouse (4.7 chicks per brood) that they observed in 2018 (5.0 chicks per brood).

“However, sharptail grouse broods are difficult to detect from roadside surveys during low populations cycles,” he notes. “From our 2019 roadside surveys, we only have observed 36 sharptail grouse broods through two-thirds of brood-survey season.”
 
With that in mind, Kolar advises hunters to temper their expectations for this fall. 
 
“Even with moderate-to-high reproduction this year, our population base was near a 10-year low going into the nesting season, so we could only expect another marginal year for grouse hunters this fall,” he says. “It is normal for sharptail populations in North Dakota to fluctuate between boom and bust periods that are mainly dictated by winter severity or summer precipitation. Normally, after our extreme lows in the population, it takes three to five years for the population to rebound. We are in Year 2 after the 2017 drought, so we have our fingers crossed that the population will continue to improve in the next couple years.”
 
Still, if hunters want to take a run at some North Dakota sharpies, Kolar suggests they should focus on the northwest region of the state, as well as along the Missouri River from Garrison to south of Bismarck. He also says that the western part of the state seemed to have the strongest increases in sharptails this spring, but it’s important to bear in mind that those increases were coming off of extreme lows in the population. 
 
If You Go
 
North Dakota’s season for sharp-tailed grouse opens Sept. 14 and closes Jan. 5. The daily limit is three birds, with a possession limit of 12. Shooting hours are from 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset. North Dakota does not have a prairie chicken season.
 

Minnesota

Minnesota essentially has two regions where prairie grouse roam in the east-central and northwest parts of the state. While it’s very predictable that these are the two areas where sharptails and a limited number of prairie chickens can be found, guessing the number of birds a hunter might see this fall is anything but predictable, says Charlotte Roy, grouse project leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
 
“Forecasting is not as easy as it used to be,” says Roy. “Changing landscapes, changing land use, disease and weather all have an impact on our grouse populations, and, as a result, everything is so different than it has been historically. What happened in the spring used to have a direct correlation to the fall, but it’s not that way anymore.”

Additionally, Roy says the Minnesota DNR does not collect data on prairie grouse nesting and brood-rearing activities, making it all the more difficult to put a number on the population each year. 
 
Roy says that rainfall amounts have varied widely by region this spring and summer, with the northwest portion of the state receiving much less rain than the east-central region. Roy believes that the above-average rainfall amounts the east-central portion of the state experienced this spring could have had an impact on nesting and brood-rearing success, which is compounded by the fact that the grouse population in that part of the state has been on the decline in recent years.
 
“When you have 4 inches of rain in a single day during the peak nesting season, surely that will have an impact that will last,” she says. “So, to see more birds I would send people to the northwest region, where the population has been more stable and it’s been a little drier this year. It’s important to remember that local conditions will vary, so hunters should be willing to try different spots. Some spots will have good hunting, and some will be disappointing.”
 
If You Go
 
Prairie grouse hunters should note that the sharptail season in the northwest region opens Sept. 14, while the season in the east-central region opens a bit later on Oct. 12. Both seasons close Nov. 30. The daily limit is three birds, with a possession limit of six. Shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to sunset.
 
Prairie chicken permits are obtained via lottery in Minnesota and are for residents only, and the application period closed Aug. 16. The greater prairie chicken season is open Sept. 28 through Oct. 6 in 11 permit areas that stretch across northwestern Minnesota from Thief River Falls south to Fergus Falls. The season limits are all capped at two birds, and there is a season quota of 125 prairie chicken hunters.
 

Montana

Southeast Montana — Region 7

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks divides the state into seven regions for management purposes, and Region 7 covers the southeastern quarter of the state.
 
“This winter was pretty mild up until February, and then it was quite cold and produced some large snow storms,” according to Justin Hughes, MFWP upland game bird habitat specialist in Region 7. “Overall, most birds came out of winter in OK condition, but nesting conditions for prairie grouse varied across the region.”
 
Hughes says Montana, like many other states, experienced a wet, cool spring and early summer that produced wonderful habitat conditions for nesting, but inclement and severe weather, including flash-flood and hail events, may have hindered nesting hens and young broods. At the same time, he believes chicks that did survive bad weather or that hatched from later nesting attempts were met with ideal brood-rearing conditions. 
 
“Due to the amount of moisture we have received, there is an endless amount of great brooding-rearing habitat that has kept birds distributed across the landscape,” he says. 
“Currently, our grouse habitats are in extremely good condition due to the moisture we have received this year as well as last year.”
 
Anecdotally, Hughes feels that bird and brood numbers appear to be similar to 2018, with numbers generally being below average and still trying to rebuild from extreme drought conditions in 2017.
 
“Hunters can expect bird numbers to be the same, if not lower in some areas, than what they were in 2018,” he believes. “Bird populations and late broods could still be affected by severe storms throughout August, prior to the start of upland bird season. Also, due to the moisture the region has received and the quality of habitat, birds will be spread out across the prairie.”
 
Hughes also says sage grouse populations across Region 7 are currently stable, with the best numbers being found in the northwest and southeast areas of the region.  
 
“Per usual here in Montana, be prepared to put lots of miles on yourself as well as your dog,” Hughes advises. “Come prepared with ample supplies, and be ready to spend lots of long days wandering across the prairie chasing grouse.”

Northeast Montana — Region 6
“Sharptail harvest was below average in the region last year, as well as across the state,” says Ken Plourde, MFWP upland game bird habitat specialist in Region 6, which covers the northeastern part of the state. “In the eastern half of the region, total sharptail harvest was 44 percent below the 10-year-average harvest, and it was 66 percent below the average in the western portion of the region. 
 
“Sage grouse harvest in the region was also down about 50 percent from the 10-year average,” he adds. “Lower harvest for both species was not unexpected due to the severe drought in 2017 that limited reproduction that year, and the continuing lag effects were felt in 2018 despite somewhat better habitat conditions last year.”
 
Plourde says that winter conditions in northeast Montana were generally mild for most of the season except for February, and with only one month of real winter he feels most of the region’s game birds were in good condition going into spring breeding season.
 
“Nesting conditions were generally average to good throughout the region,” he continues. “May was slightly drier than normal, but average rainfall occurred in June in the central part of the region. Eastern portions of the region received above average rainfall that month. As a result, habitat conditions were good at the end of nesting season as hatching was beginning.”
 
Plourde notes that brood-rearing conditions varied across the region, but overall he feels they were generally good. 
 
“The eastern half of Region 6 continued to receive above-average moisture through July and into August,” he reports. “This resulted in excellent habitat conditions and lots of insects for broods. Conditions in the western half of the region were more average, and rainfall was below average in July. There were some severe thunderstorms at times during late June and July, and parts of the region — particularly core sage grouse habitat in south Phillips county — may have had brood success negatively affected in those select areas.”
 
Plourde says that there have been good numbers of sharptail broods spotted in northeast Montana. What’s more, he says many of those broods have been large. He specifically notes that grouse have been observed on many projects enrolled in Montana’s Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program during annual monitoring visits.
 
In addition, he says several landowners have reported similar observations of good numbers of broods around their properties. 
 
“Grouse hunters headed to northeast Montana will likely encounter slightly improved grouse populations compared with the previous two seasons,” Plourde says. “Based on weather patterns, resulting habitat conditions and field observations, sharp-tailed grouse hunters may want to stick to the eastern half of Region 6. Sage grouse hunters may want to avoid southern Phillips County, which is usually a stronghold, in favor of other areas due to the severe storms in that area during early brood-rearing season.”
 
If You Go
 
Sharptail season in Montana opens Sept. 1 and closes Jan. 1. Shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset. The daily limit is four birds, with a possession limit of 16.
 
Sage grouse have a daily bag limit of two birds, with a possession limit of four. The season is open Sept. 1-30, and it’s closed west of the Continental Divide. Shooting hours are the same as sharptail season.
 
To access millions of acres of private land, grouse hunters should check out MFWP’s interactive hunt planner map at https://myfwp.mt.gov/fwpPub/planahunt and order the Block Management Program and Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program Access guides. There are many pieces of excellent habitat in both programs, and hunters who put in the time to find those areas of prime habitat will find the birds.
 

Idaho

SAGE GROUSE
 
Hunters harvested 1,993 sage grouse across Idaho last year, says Connor White, a Sage Grouse Initiative range and wildlife conservationist. Those numbers follow a slow decline of harvest in recent years, a downward trend that isn’t showing signs of stopping in 2019.
 
“Statewide sage grouse numbers are down significantly,” White says, noting that numbers and trends based on lek counts show a 25 percent decline from last year and a 52 percent decline from a recent high in 2016.
 
Going a step further, White says that spring nesting conditions were not very good for sage grouse this year in many places, citing the late winter and cool, wet spring as the culprits.
 
“Sage hens need large, intact and diverse sage steppe habitat for successful nesting and brood rearing — generally between 15-30 percent sagebrush cover with a healthy variety of native grasses and forbs,” says Lindsey Latham, a PF farm bill biologist who dedicates her efforts to sage grouse. “Winter of 2018 and spring of 2019 saw record precipitation in southwest Idaho. Late snows and above-average spring rainfall are great conditions for the habitat, but not for the sage grouse nesting season.”

Brood-rearing conditions, however, were much more favorable throughout the summer. White and Latham both agreed that broods that made it through the spring were rewarded with a cooler-than-average summer, with plenty of grass and forbs that offer cover and food for growing chicks.
 
Heading into fall, White says habitat is looking good in critical areas but he says the sage grouse season won’t offer great hunting.
 
“Idaho has not yet set the hunting season, but will shortly,” White says. “Proposed seasons that were sent out for public comment are more restrictive than usual in several places in Idaho, and additional areas have been recommended to be closed for the 2019 season due to low numbers. Hunters should check the regulations before hunting.”
 
SHARP-TAILED GROUSE 
 
“Sharp-tailed grouse hunting in Idaho in 2018 was similar to the 10-year average, both in birds per hunter and birds per day,” according to Jef Knetter, upland game and migratory bird coordinator for Idaho Fish and Game Department. “Winter conditions during 2018-2019 likely did not negatively impact sharp-tailed grouse in Idaho.”
 
Knetter continued by saying spring nesting conditions for sharptails in eastern Idaho were similar to the long-term average, with slightly above average precipitation in May and slightly below average precipitation in June. He says nesting could have been delayed in some areas due to a delayed snowmelt.
 
“Early brood-rearing conditions were wet, but not too cold, so there should be benefits to both forb and insect production,” he reports. “Later in the brood-rearing period has been fairly dry, but not overly hot. In some areas, there were rain events well into July.”
 
Knetter says there are fewer CRP acres, in general, than 10-20 years ago, but he says the SAFE program has helped offset that loss and improve the quality of habitat on reenrolled acres. With that in mind, Knetter thinks hunters should focus on CRP and CRP-SAFE acres east of I-15 in the Southeast and Upper Snake regions. He says a large portion of native sharptail habitat in the Sand Creek area burned last summer, so grouse hunters should be aware the habitat in that area is still recovering.
 
“Overall, hunters should expect average sharp-tailed grouse hunting opportunities in 2019, similar to the 10-year average,” he says. “In CRP landscapes, hunters should look for CRP-SAFE plantings or fields with higher bunchgrass and forb content, which provide benefits during the breeding season.”
 
In addition to the sharptails, Knetter says hunters should not overlook the mixed-bag possibilities the Idaho landscape provides.
 
“A travelling wingshooter could easily couple their trip with gray partridge and forest grouse hunting,” Knetter says. “Gray partridge are often found in the same habitats as sharp-tailed grouse, and both ruffed and dusky (blue) grouse can be found in forested habitats adjacent to grasslands and range habitat where hunters will find sharp-tailed grouse.”
 
If You Go
 
As a reminder, check the Idaho Fish and Game Department’s website at idfg.idaho.gov for sage grouse regulations.
 
Idaho’s sharptail season is restricted to Area 1 in the eastern portion of the state. The season is open Oct. 1-31, with a daily limit of two birds, with six in possession.
 

Wyoming

SAGE GROUSE
 
“Statewide, we’re expecting sage grouse numbers on strutting grounds to be down again in 2019, following declines in 2017 and 2018,” says Leslie Schreiber, sage grouse/sagebrush biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “We had a longer-than-average winter with repeating blizzards covering the southern third of the state last April and May. These blizzards likely affected nests and any early hatching chicks.” 
 
However, Schreiber says chicks that survived had plenty of cover and food to carry them through the summer. 
 
“I’ve been getting anecdotal reports of fairly robust renesting, with young chicks observed in July.” Schreiber says. “The overall prediction is for somewhat below-average sage grouse hunting this fall.”
 
With that in mind, Schreiber says hunters should avoid Hunt Area 4 in northeastern Wyoming because of low bird densities and lack of public access. 
 
“The best sage grouse hunting can be found in the uninterrupted sagebrush seas in Hunt Area 1 near the towns of Jeffrey City, South Pass, Farson and Pinedale,” Schreiber advises.
 
SHARPTAILS
 
Things are looking up for Wyoming sharptails, says Martin Hicks, wildlife biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Elevations below 6,000 feet in the eastern half of the state had a mild winter, setting the stage for a productive spring.
 
“Generally speaking, we had some of the best spring and summer conditions this area has experienced in the past 20 years,” Hicks says. “Conditions are excellent going into the fall compared to past years, but our CRP stands are still in poor condition. However, one thing that did occur was an explosion of sweet clover that helped improve brood-rearing conditions.
 
Eastern Wyoming is wide-open country, but Hicks pointed hunters toward areas open for sharp-tailed grouse hunting in Platte and Goshen counties, but thinks Laramie County will provide grouse hunters with the best hunting opportunities. 
 
If You Go
 
Wyoming will have two sage grouse seasons this year. The 10-day season in Hunt Area 1 is open Sept. 21-30. The three-day sage grouse season in Hunt Area 4 is open Sept. 21-23. Both seasons have a daily limit of two birds with a possession limit of four.
 
Wyoming’s sharptail season opens Sept. 1 and closes Dec. 31. The season is open in the portion of the state easy of the Continental Divide. The daily limit is three sharpies, with a possession limit of nine.

Andrew Johnson is a longtime friend and supporter of Pheasants Forever, and a frequent contributor to our upland habitat and hunting content.