What's the Fall Bird Outlook?
By V. Paul Reynolds

October can be the month of months, when it comes to spending time in the Maine woods. Frosty mornings, crisp clear skies, a warming afternoon sun and a backdrop of bright fall colors are October's trademark, and part of the attraction for the fall bird gunner. For the sportsmen who is blessed with a well-trained bird dog, an October afternoon in good bird cover can be the next thing to heaven on earth.

What's the word on the game bird prospects this fall?

Brad Allen, IF&W's game bird biologist and avid gundog man, in his own right, recently shared his predictions for this fall's bird prospects:

Grouse: Prediction: remains good up north but fair again in the rest of the state. Reports from the field indicate good numbers of broods but again small brood sizes. Perhaps the mother grouse had trouble shielding her entire brood from all the spring rains and only those closest to her winged ďumbrellasĒ survived. Iím going to predict only fair grouse hunting over much of the state. With what I expect were good numbers of adult grouse going into the spring nesting period, and a fair hatch, Iíll predict good grouse hunting again in the North Maine Woods."

Brad also notes that last fall's bird harvest indicated that both woodcock and grouse hunting was off, with hunters reporting less than average numbers. Last fall's turkey harvest was also down compared with previous years.

The state bird biologist is also predicting a below average fall for flight birds when it comes to woodcock. He also noted that last fall's goose harvest was 2.5 times higher than the previous year's take. He is calling this fall's goose outlook as fair. "Turkey season should be fair to good," says Brad.

Of course, the wild card in all of this game-bird forecasting is the North Woods partridge situation, which continues to amaze a lot of seasoned upland hunters. It has been, as Brad points out, "a notable exception" when it comes to predicting fall grouse numbers.

"Why are the grouse fairing so well up north and not so well in other parts of the state?" I asked him.

"Habitat," says Brad. "Not so fragmented."

Al Cowperthwaite, who may not be a biologist but gets around the North Woods as much as anybody, is very upbeat about fall grouse numbers:

"So as of this writing, I can report that grouse have been showing up very well this summer in most regions and all of the rain did not appear to have much impact on nesting as chicks are showing too. We expect another banner year for grouse hunters this fall. The last three years have been exceptional and we have been taking calls from hunters from other states that are interested in coming to Maine to hunt grouse this year."

Maine's grouse season opens October 1st and runs until December 31st. The daily bag limit is four and the possession limit is eight birds. The daily limit on woodcock is three. And don't forget, if you are hunting in a legal moose hunting zone, you must wear at least one piece of hunter orange (vest or hat).

Woodcock season is Oct.1 thru Nov. 14. Daily bag limit is three birds. Possession limit is nine.

Don't underestimate the challenge of a fall turkey hunt, either. You can take one bird of either sex. Check out your zone in the lawbook. In most hunt areas, it's bow and arrow only, although shotguns may be used in wildlife management districts (WMDs) 15,16,17 and 20-26. That season in those WMDs runs Oct. 19 - Oct. 25. Of course, in the fall it's tougher to find the big birds because the mating season is over. If you can locate the flock and disperse them, your chances of a shot are better.

Enjoy October.

Correction: I reported incorrectly a few weeks ago that licensed junior deer hunters could take a first-time doe at any time during the regular season. That is not the case. The law change was proposed but rejected the last minute by the legislature.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program "Maine Outdoors" heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com . He has two books "A Maine Deer Hunter's Logbook" and his latest, "Backtrack."


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