Aspen stands provide good hunting for grouse and woodcock

As autumn approaches and Michigan hunters prepare for the upcoming hunting seasons, knowing about the habitat requirements of specific wildlife species may help hunters in selecting sites to hunt for greater success in the field.

As the fall hunting seasons approach, many Michigan hunters like to prepare themselves by checking their hunting equipment and looking for productive areas to hunt. For hunters interested in ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus)  or American woodcock (Scolopax minor) game birds,aspen or popple forest stands can provide good habitat for these species. One of the keys to maintaining adequate populations of these upland game birds depends upon the quality of the aspen forest habitat.

By nature, ruffed grouse, or “partridge” as they are sometimes called, are non-migratory and usually spend their entire lifespan within a small area – likely within a few miles from where they were hatched. In addition ruffed grouse need a range of age or size classes of aspen forest from sapling stands for brood cover to mature male trees for winter food to flourish. In the best managed habitats, a pair of ruffed grouse can be found every 8-10 acres of aspen forest.

American woodcock, on the other hand, are migratory birds that feed mainly on insects and earthworms found in leaf litter under a forest or brushy canopy. Woodcock make fairly heavy use of both aspen and tag alder sites but prefer aspen stands overall.

For landowners who hunt in their own woodlands, understanding these habitat requirements can be helpful. Not only will it increase the success of the hunt, but more importantly, can enable landowners to manage their aspen forest to provide the needed habitat conditions.

One of the best tools available to provide the necessary habitat for both ruffed grouse and woodcock is tree harvesting. Ideally, clear-cutting small blocks of timber around 10 acres in size and dispersing these cuts over a larger area is the best approach (some people refer to it as a “checkerboard pattern” of planned harvests). However, the size of the privately-owned tract, the condition of the aspen stand and the economics of harvesting will ultimately dictate the best approach.

Harvesting trees can be accomplished by putting up blocks of aspen forest for a commercial timber sale. To get fair market value for the timber sold and to accomplish the wildlife objectives that that a landowner desires, it’s important that the timber sale be carried out properly. Help is available from professional foresters, wildlife biologists and other natural resource professionals to assist a private landowner in a managing his or her property for these upland game bird species.

For more information on ruffed grouse management or American woodcock management, an excellent publication is available on-line published by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan United Conservation Clubs: “Managing Michigan’s Wildlife: A Landowners Guide.” It contains a wealth of information on a large variety of Michigan wildlife species, habitat and cover types, habitat management and more.

Michigan State University (MSU) Extension also publishes an excellent resource on aspen forests called “Aspen Management in Michigan” (E1552) and can be purchased from the MSU Extension bookstore.

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