Des Moines, Iowa — Iowa pheasant hunters should see more of what they came for, as they step into the field this fall. More pheasants.
A strong rebound in August roadside counts of Iowa’s most popular game bird has buoyed expectations, heading toward the October 25 opener.
“It’s not the ‘good old days,’ but hunters will see noticeable improvement,” says DNR pheasant biologist Todd Bogenschutz. “We have the best pheasant numbers since 2008. People are telling me that more birds are flushing; that they are hearing more crowing and cackling out there.”
Counts this summer averaged 17.4 pheasants per 30 mile survey route, up 151 percent from last year’s 6.9…an all-time low. Of the nine regions monitored, eight had increases ranging from 102-290 percent. Only northeast Iowa showed no change.
Bogenschutz says drought conditions across the past two summers probably kept pheasants in the fields on August mornings, rather than pushing up to road edges, to escape heavy dew. That may have kept many from being tallied on the 200 gravel road routes surveyed. Hunters harvested 10,000 more pheasants in 2013, despite the record low counts.
So, where do you find them, on a fall morning?
“The best habitat will hold birds; good winter cover, good nesting cover, too. Hunters should be happy hunting those areas, over just decent nesting cover,” predicts Bogenschutz. “Hunt around the best habitat, and you will be pleasantly surprised. Talk to the farmers where you will be hunting. Ask what they have seen while harvesting the crops.”
With a better bird outlook, the numbers of hunters should climb, too. Last year, only 41,000 pheasant hunters were in the fields.
“If word gets out of the early season success expected, we could see 60,000 hunters this fall,” predicts Bogenschutz. “We could have a harvest of 200,000 to 300,000 birds.”
Early in the season, standing crops are going to be a factor.
“Harvest is running a little behind. The season is starting a couple days earlier, too,” reminds Bogenschutz. “That could be a challenge for hunters, until the corn is out. Our counts were up; hens with broods were way up. There will be a lot of young roosters, who aren’t wise to the ways of the wild, yet.”
Hunting hours for Iowa’s pheasant seasons are 8 a.m. until 4:30 each day. The daily limit is three rooster pheasants. The season closes on January 10.