The state of small game: why hares, ptarmigan & grouse are looking good

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Snowshoe hares are approaching their population peaks and grouse and ptarmigan are expected to have average to better-than-average years across much of the road system.

Rick Merizon, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's small game biologist, says snowshoe hares in the Interior are approaching their population peak this winter.

In Southcentral Alaska, the peak is expected to be a year away, while down in the Kenai, it's expected to be around two years from now.

Merizon says it's typical for the peak population in the hare's ten-year cycle to move from north to south.

Meanwhile, Merizon says small game hunters across the road system can expect to have a good to an above average year for grouse and ptarmigan.

Merizon explains ruffed grouse are around the peak of their 8-year population cycle that is heavily dependent on "the weather window post-hatch."

Snow or cold driving rain immediately after grouse and ptarmigan hatch will decimate their populations, says Merizon.

When asked whether bag limits could be raised due to high numbers of small game, Merizon said the limits are already liberal and season dates and bag limits are addressed before the Alaska Board of Game.

Advantages of hunting small game
Although a moose or caribou might be a more inviting trophy, Merizon says hunting small game can be a good introduction for new hunters.

The game doesn't require high-powered rifles or a seven to ten day hunt like caribou or moose.

Merizon says a hunt for small game only takes two to three hours and it's a particularly great opportunity for young hunters and families to go and make memories together.

When asked for tips hunting small game, Merizon says there are seven species of ptarmigan and grouse that have different characteristics and different habitats.

It's vital then for hunters to spend time observing the species to be more successful.