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Small Game Outlook


By Karen Bordeau, Small Game Project Leader


One of the state’s most popular native game birds, ruffed grouse have been a favorite target for generations of New Hampshire bird hunters. Ruffed grouse were the most sought-after small game species in New Hampshire, accounting for 62% of hunter-hours in 2019. Although most abundant in northern forests, good numbers exist throughout the state.


Hunter observation rates in 2019 calculated from the Small Game Hunter Survey indicate that grouse are most abundant in northern New Hampshire where hunters observed 1.19 grouse per hour hunted.  Early April 2020 started off fairly warm and dry, but during the survey period (April 15 to May 10) the morning temperature hovered around 32 degrees statewide with some snow in parts of the state. The cold temperatures may have delayed grouse drumming activity. The number of grouse drumming events heard per stop decreased in the North and Southwest regions, increased in the White Mountain and Central regions and remained the same in the Southeast region in the state. These values routinely rise and fall and the long-term trends for grouse drumming surveys for each region and statewide can be viewed in the Small Game Summary Report PDF Document. The report looks at long-term trends for grouse observation rates and breeding surveys for both grouse (drumming) and woodcock (singing-ground).


Grouse hunters help track population recruitment by participating in the grouse wing and tail survey.  Upland bird hunters submitted 135 ruffed grouse wing and tails, showing a recruitment ratio of 3.2 juveniles per adult female and grouse hunters flushed 1.31 grouse per-hour hunted in 2019. Regional biologist are seeing good numbers of grouse chicks in the northern part of the state this summer. The season opens October 1 and runs through December 31. Ruffed grouse hunters are encouraged to participate in the Wing and Tail Survey and the Small Game Hunter Survey by contacting the NH Fish and Game Department, Wildlife Division Small Game Project at, or (603) 271-2461.


Woodcock are the other popular small game species and accounted for 28% of hunter effort in 2019, providing hunters (and their dogs) many days afield. As part of the annual monitoring of woodcock populations, counts of displaying male woodcock along routes are used to assess the regional population trends.  Woodcock density patterns varied throughout the state in 2019; increased in the North and Central, remained the same in the Southwest and decreased in the White Mountain and Southeast regions of the state. Long-term regional and statewide trends are depicted in the Small Game Summary Report. The weather during the nesting season seemed favorable and we expect a good numbers of woodcock this fall.


Snowshoe hare hunting season is long and offers hunting opportunity into March. Hares are most abundant in the northern three counties where spruce-fir stands with dense understories are mixed with hardwoods. Gray squirrel is another traditional small game animal that is probably over-looked. 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 runs through January 31 in all Wildlife Management Units.


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 taking of cottontails webpage. Cottontails season opens October 1 and runs through January 31 in Wildlife Management Units H2, K, L, M (except for closed areas).


Have a safe and enjoyable fall hunting season.