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Small Game Outlook


2017-2018 Small Game Season

By Karen Bordeau, Small Game Project Leader


Small Game MapThe small game hunting season is a great way to get out and enjoy New Hampshire’s field and forests.  Ruffed grouse, woodcock, snowshoe hare and squirrel are exciting to hunt.


Ruffed Grouse are the number one game bird in New Hampshire; the 2016-2017 NH Small Game Survey showed that 64% of the hunting hours dedicated to small game went to hunting ruffed grouse.  In the spring of 2017, a total of 41 grouse drumming routes were completed and route data are summarized on the basis of five small game management regions.  Grouse were most abundant in the Northern, Central and White Mountains regions of New Hampshire.  The number of drumming events heard per stop in 2017 increased in the North and Southwest regions, decreased in the White Mountain and Central regions and remained the same in the Southeast region. 


For the past 13 years, New Hampshire has run six to eight select drumming survey routes in the North Country.  These routes track changes in grouse abundance on our premier grouse range.  In 2017, the survey results show an average of 0.88 drumming events per stop.  This is an increase from the reported 0.68 drumming events per stop in 2016.  The North Country continues to have the most abundant grouse habitat in the state.  Early reports indicate that we should have an average production.  The wet weather will likely have an effect on the grouse production and early reports indicate an average brood size of 3.92 grouse chicks.  Read the 2016/2017 Small Game Summary Report PDF Document to see the long-term trends for grouse observations rates and breeding surveys for grouse (drumming) and woodcock (singing ground).


Woodcock are the second most popular small game species for hunters and accounted for 22% of all hunting hours last year.  Woodcock singing grounds surveys were conducted during the spring of 2017.  These surveys provide an index to the overall abundance of resident singing males, which is used to make inferences about the breeding population.  Woodcock density patterns varied throughout the state.  The number of woodcock heard per stop increased in the White Mountain and Southwest management regions this year, decreased in the Central and Southeast regions and remained the same in the North region.  Spring was early this year with reports of woodcock showing up in March were common.  The snowstorm of March 14 probably had an impact on woodcock that arrived early.


Snowshoe hare hunting season is long and offers hunting opportunity into March.  The opportunities to hunt and view snowshoe hare are good in most of the state, but they are most abundant in the northern three counties where spruce-fir stands with dense understories are mixed with hardwoods.  A research project is underway to provide insight on the influence of stand and landscape composition on snowshoe hare density and population fluctuation with a particular emphasis on high elevation and lowland habitat.  We will share the results when they are available.


Squirrel is another traditional small game animal.   The gray squirrel is probably the most over-looked small game animal.  They can be found in mature oak and beech stands where they forage for acorns and beech nuts.


The squirrel season opens September 1 and is an excellent way to introduce a youngster or newcomer to hunting.


Cottontail rabbit range remains fragmented and limited in New Hampshire.  Certain areas are closed to the taking of cottontails to protect our remnant New England cottontail population.  Be sure to note the closed areas for the taking of cottontails webpage.


Have a safe and enjoyable fall hunting season.