Officially, Brad Allen is a wildlife biologist. Come this time of year, though, he admits that he sometimes sounds like a meteorologist.
“I hate to be a weatherman to predict game bird biologists, but [the weather] is so important,” said Allen, the bird group leader for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Today’s weather doesn’t matter much. Yesterday’s is equally unimportant.
But the conditions that existed back in May and June, when woodcock and ruffed grouse were nesting? Those weather patterns are vitally important when Allen sits down to predict how successful hunters may be this fall.
Wet conditions that occur when birds are sitting on nests can make those birds more susceptible to attack from predators that take advantage of their olfactory gifts to find their prey. Wet weather that coincides with the time that grouse chicks are on the ground can eventually chill them and make them hypothermic.
But wet weather can be a boon for another game bird species after the young have hatched.
“Wet is good for baby woodcock, because a baby woodcock has got to eat earthworms,” Allen said.
Upland bird hunting begins on Wednesday, while duck hunting season also kicks off in the coming week. A fall turkey season will follow.
Here’s what Allen expects:
An average grouse year
When it comes to ruffed grouse — “partridge” to many Mainers — Allen said hunters who target the top areas will do best.
“The North Maine Woods has the best habitat in the state because there’s so many million acres of early successional forest up there,” Allen said. “That’s always best.”
Allen said Washington and Hancock counties also have prime grouse habitat.
“Then you’ve got central Maine, from Fryeburg to Dover-Foxcroft, and near the Penobscot River,” Allen said. “There’s some really good habitat in the transition zone between the big woods and people or agriculture.”
Grouse will be harder to find the farther south you venture, he said.
“I think grouse numbers in southern Maine will probably be the worst of the three ecological areas, but hunting pressure is low. If you could find a good place to hunt in southern Maine, it could be pretty good,” he said.
Based in part on survey work that the DIF&W and the University of Maine have done on grouse this summer, Allen said he expects an average season statewide.
Woodcock numbers consistent
“[Spring] data came back in unchanged from the previous year, so it’s more of the same,” Allen said. “If you’ve liked the woodcock numbers that you’ve seen over the past few years, you’ll be happy.”
Allen explained that woodcock are not affected very much by cold, wet conditions that occur after they hatch.
Hypothermia is not a concern at all, Allen said.
“Woodcock only have four young, and the mother woodcock is pretty big,” Allen said. “They’re pretty good at keeping the young warm.”
Turkey flock is fair
Mention turkey hunting to many Mainers, and they’ll quickly identify May as the month that the camouflage-clad crowd heads into the woods.
But there also is a fall season, which runs from Oct. 2 until Oct. 31 in many Wildlife Management Districts. Allen said a change that the DIF&W instituted last year has paid dividends for hunters.
“Last year we had a pretty big bump in the harvest because we opened up a lot more area to shotgun hunting,” said Allen, who estimated the fall harvest of wild turkeys doubled to about 1,800.
Allen did say that fall turkey hunters face some challenges. In the spring, the birds are mating, and male turkeys can be called within range. That’s not the case in the fall.
“It’s so different,” he said. “They’re difficult to hunt in the fall.”
On Thursday morning, Allen said he had 15 turkeys on his front lawn. And those who choose to take part in the fall season may have some success.
“They’ve had three years of mediocre to fair production,” Allen said.
Duck opportunity awaits
Duck-hunting season starts on Monday in the northern zone and on Wednesday in the Bangor area. Allen said hunters might not get the kind of weather they’re accustomed to.
“On Monday, it’s going to be in the 70s,” Allen said. “If you’re a Louisiana duck hunter you’re used to hunting in the 70s. But I’m not. I guess I’ll take my bug spray with me on opening day and dress light.”
Duck hunters can hunt, off and on, until early January, and Allen predicted they’d see a lot of birds.
“We’ve got a good fall flight predicted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, coming out of Canada,” Allen said. “[And we have had] fair local production again. It should be a good season.”