CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At first glance, this year wouldn't appear to be a good one for West Virginia's grouse and woodcock hunters.
Field surveys earlier this year seemed to indicate population declines for both species. But Keith Krantz, a biologist with the state Division of Natural Resources, said the surveys' statistics are a little misleading.
"Our drumming-count survey showed a decline of 42.6 percent on the 'treatment' area of the Spruce Knob Grouse Management Unit, and a 25.8 percent decline on the 'non-treatment' area," Krantz explained.
"Those percentages look really bad, but the treatment area numbers were still 12.6 percent above the 10-year average, and the non-treatment area numbers were 64 percent above average."
The unit's treatment area is a tract that had been timbered by clear-cutting, which created just the sort of fast-growing young forest that grouse prefer. The non-treatment area was left uncut.
Krantz called 2012 "a really good grouse year." While this year doesn't promise to be as good as last year, Krantz urged hunters to look at the bright side.
"We're still above the 10-year average, so that's a little bit of good news," he said.
News from the recently released 2013 DNR Mast Survey also bodes well for grouse and grouse hunters.
"This has been a wonderful soft-mast year," Krantz said. "Grouse shouldn't have much trouble finding food this fall."
Hawthorn and autumn olive, two of the species' most preferred foods, are quite abundant. Krantz said high-country hunters should focus their efforts on hawthorn savannas, while hunters in the state's southwestern counties should focus on abandoned strip mines and other areas where autumn olive has been planted.
"It's also a good year for grapes, Virginia creeper and viburnums," he added. "Grouse will be in the grape tangles, and will hang around any Virginia creeper vines that bore fruit."
Krantz doesn't expect this year's acorn shortage to affect grouse nearly as much as hunters might expect, mainly because beech is so abundant.
"Grouse will be gobbling the beech up, and that will help to offset the oak mast shortage," he explained.
The grouse season is West Virginia's longest. This year's 21-week hunt will begin on Oct. 12, while leaves are still on the trees, and will end in the dead of winter on Feb. 28. The bag limit for grouse is four birds a day.