It’s time to oil your shotgun and grab some shells — four upland game hunts are about to begin.
Pockets of cottontail rabbits should provide good hunting in Utah this fall. In some areas of the state, biologists with the Division of Wildlife Resources are seeing more rabbits than they’ve seen in several years.
As the hunts draw closer, numbers of cottontail rabbits, forest grouse and mourning doves are up in many areas of the state.
The cottontail rabbit, forest grouse, dove and snowshoe hare hunts start Sept. 1.
Jason Robinson, upland game coordinator for the DWR, said many upland game populations, including cottontail rabbits, go through population cycles. Cottontail rabbits bottomed out in Utah about two years ago, but their numbers have been climbing since.
“We’ve received some really encouraging cottontail rabbit reports, especially from the eastern and southern parts of the state,” Robinson said.
However, he said rabbits can’t be found everywhere. Overall, populations are still fairly low. To find rabbits, he said hunters should focus on the bottoms of draws that have tall shrubs, or in rocky outcroppings where rabbits have their burrows. Early morning is the best time of day to locate them, he said.
To find the best pockets of habitat, Robinson recommended scouting a location close to home that you can visit multiple times.
DWR biologists in south-central and southwestern Utah are reporting good numbers of cottontail rabbits in most of the counties in that part of the state. Biologists in Duchesne and Uintah counties in northeastern Utah, and biologists in counties in southeastern Utah, are also seeing more cottontails this year. Some areas in the west desert are also holding more rabbits than they were last year.
Two forest grouse species — dusky and ruffed — live in Utah. This year, forest grouse populations appear to be up slightly in some areas of the state.
“Even though it’s been extremely dry this year,” Robinson said, “the higher elevation areas where the grouse live have received more water than the lower elevations have. And last winter was milder than normal, which helped more forest grouse survive.”
While Northern Utah has the most forest grouse habitat and typically holds the most birds, some of the most promising forest grouse reports have come from biologists and officers in the south-central and southwestern parts of the state.
To find forest grouse, Robinson recommends hunting in forested areas that have a mix of aspen and conifer with plenty of shrubs.
“Ruffed grouse are often found in aspen stands,” he said, “while dusky grouse are often found on ridges that have spruce and fir trees on them. For both species, focus your efforts at about 7,000 to 9,500 feet in elevation, and look for shrubs with berries.”
Robinson says forest grouse are underutilized by hunters. “There’s lots of public land filled with aspen and pine trees to hunt them on,” he says. “The scenery is beautiful, they’re a fun bird to hunt and they taste great.”
The hot, dry summer has also kept plenty of mourning doves in Utah. To find doves, Robinson recommends finding a water source or an area that has sunflowers or other weedy vegetation. If you find an area that has water and the right type of vegetation, you may have found an area that will draw doves like a magnet.
He said the number of snowshoe hares in the state is similar to last year or down slightly. Fortunately, the snowshoe hare hunt runs until March 15.
To find snowshoe hares, try hunting forested areas that are between 8,000 and 9,000 feet in elevation. Areas that have lots of spruce and fir trees provide great habitat for the hares.