Iowa’s Pheasant Population Highest since 2008

Iowa DNRIowa’s annual August roadside pheasant count recorded the highest number of birds since 2008, with a statewide average of 17.4 birds per 30 mile route.

This is good news for Iowa’s beleaguered game bird and better news for small town businesses selling gas, food and hunting supplies.

“I thought the western third of the state would do well because it had below average snowfall, but based on the weather model, the rest of the state should have been status quo. Obviously it did much better than that,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and coordinator of the pheasant count. “The weather model is right 80 percent of the time, but not this time.”

The routes are driven at sunrise on gravel roads preferably on mornings with heavy dew and little wind. Surveyors watch for hens moving their broods to the road edges to dry off before starting to look for insects.

For purposes of the roadside count, the state is divided into nine climate regions and most regions had numerous routes with really good counts, most often near the best pheasant habitat. A map showing the distribution of the better pheasant counts is available at

“We most likely had more birds in 2012 and 2013 but they were missed on our roadside counts due to drought conditions not providing an accurate picture. Northeast Iowa is still dry and likely has more birds than the 2.7 birds per route recorded this year,” he said.

Last year, a record low 40,000 hunters pursued pheasants and based on this year’s roadside index, they could harvest more than 250,000 birds.

“We will definitely have some good hunting near the best habitat,” Bogenschutz said. “It’s not the good old days but it’s the best we’ve seen in six years. Is this enough to bring some hunters back? Success usually spreads quickly by word of mouth and that may bring others out. We’ll have to see.”

Iowa’s youth pheasant season is Oct. 18-19. Regular pheasant season is Oct. 25-Jan. 10.

Pheasant weren’t the only species to do well, quail, partridge and rabbits also showed increases.  To find the complete roadside report visit:

“Everything did well this year,” Bogenschutz said.

Pheasants respond with good habitat

Well managed habitat is critical for a recovery. The DNR used a $1.5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant to develop pheasant and quail habitat on private land.  The DNR was just awarded an additional $3 million grant to expand the program called Iowa Habitat Access Program (IHAP) that allows public hunting access to private land. Information is available online at

The DNR has also entered into a partnership with Pheasants Forever to provide more staff to help landowners with habitat and available programs.  Visit the DNR’s website and click the link for private lands biologists at the top of the page

DNR wildlife staff and Pheasant Forever chapters have identified more than 40 public wildlife areas to serve as Gamebird Restoration Areas to enhance habitat management for pheasant and quail.  Goals are to enhance habitat on public land for pheasant and quail as well as private land in township sized area around each restoration area.

The DNR has worked with the USDA to develop a new continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) targeted at pheasants and their habitat called Iowa Pheasant Recovery SAFE (CP38).  This $100 million program promotes winter and spring pheasant habitat as well as food on CRP lands, up to 50,000 acres may be enrolled.  USDA also has a program beneficial to bobwhite quail called Upland Habitat Buffers (CP33).  Information on both programs can be found at

The CRP is critical for pheasants to recover in Iowa  “Since we no longer have hay or small grain fields to raise pheasants, CRP is the only habitat we have for the birds on private lands,” said Bogenschutz.

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