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Fall Hunting & Fishing: Pheasant survey shows big uptick in bird numbers

Fall Hunting & Fishing: Pheasant survey shows big uptick in bird numbers
Pheasant hunters harvested nearly 284,000 roosters in Iowa during the 2019 season, which was the second highest harvest in the last decade. In 2018, hunters harvested an estimated 320,000 roosters. (Metro Image Library)
By James Grob, jgrob@charlescitypress.com

Good news for pheasant hunters in Iowa — the Iowa pheasant survey results show numbers up significantly, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR said that according to their annual pheasant survey, Iowa averaged 20.2 birds per 30-mile route, up significantly from 2019, with six of the nine survey regions averaging more than 20 pheasants per route, the most since 2007. Hunters can take a closer, more in-depth look at the survey results on the DNR website.

Fall Hunting & Fishing: Pheasant survey shows big uptick in bird numbers
(Iowa DNR photo)

“Pheasant hunters should expect significantly better pheasant numbers in 2020,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “Pheasant hunting this fall could be some of the best the state has seen in a decade.”

Iowa’s pheasant and quail seasons open Oct. 31 and run through Jan. 10 of next year. Partridge season opens Oct. 10 and runs through the end of January, while cottontail rabbit season opened Sept. 5 and will run through the end of February.

Bogenschutz credits the 2020 winter with its mild temperatures and little snowfall that led to higher hen survival and coupled with a dry spring to more successful nesting and an increase in the population. The southeast region led the way with a 163 percent increase, followed by the northeast region with a 115 percent increase and east central region with a 55 percent increase.

While those numbers are very good, the statewide numbers would have likely been better if not for the drought conditions impacting much of the state, according to Bogenschutz.

“In the western and central regions where we counted fewer birds, we struggled to get good survey conditions so the results are not likely representative of actual numbers,” Bogenschutz said. “Pheasant populations in these regions appear higher than last year, according to casual staff reports, even though the survey says the population is essentially unchanged.

“Given this year’s statewide index of 20 birds per route Iowa, pheasant hunters should harvest approximately 250,000 to 350,000 roosters this fall,” he said.

Iowa’s quail population was essentially unchanged from 2019 with the highest quail numbers coming from southwest Iowa. While the counts were unchanged, it is still double the number of quail counted from a decade ago. Hunters can expect to harvest more than 20,000 quail this year.

Iowa’s partridge population was up slightly over last year with higher counts coming from northcentral Iowa. Iowa’s rabbit population was nearly identical to 2019 with better populations across southern and east central Iowa. “Cottontail hunters can expect excellent hunting across most of the state this fall,” Bogenschutz said.

To help encourage new hunters, the Iowa DNR is offering a “Learn to Hunt” program, with a virtual pheasant hunting workshop. The course is geared for participants 16 and older and split into two sessions. Those under 16 must have an adult register and participate in the course as well.

The virtual workshop is free and teaches skills needed to hunt, field dress and cook pheasant to individuals who have little to no pheasant hunting experience. It consists of two separate online knowledge and skills building sessions with instructors that possess the experience to teach skills necessary to become efficient upland hunters.

Course one will be held Oct. 6, and cover pheasant habitat and biology, hunting regulations and equipment. Course two will be held Oct. 13, and cover hunting strategies, safety in the field, cleaning and cooking. Participants can sign up for either or both courses at the DNR website. Space online will be limited so register right way to ensure a spot.

“For those interested in the nostalgia of pheasant hunting as a means of sourcing their own protein or red meat, this program provides the opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge it takes to do it all yourself,” said Jamie Cook, program coordinator with the Iowa DNR.

Participants will learn basic strategies for hunting pheasant such as proper equipment, where to hunt, safe shooting practices, and how to field dress, clean and cook waterfowl.

The program is provided through a partnership with Pheasants Forever and the Iowa DNR. It is part of a national effort to recruit, retain and reactivate hunters due to the overall decline in hunting and outdoor recreation.

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