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Tens of thousands of hunters in blaze orange will take to the fields when Iowa’s pheasant season opens Oct. 31. And with pheasant populations on par with the best counts in the past decade, including six of the nine survey regions averaging more than 20 pheasants per route - the most since 2007, hunters can afford to be optimistic.
“Given how things are lining up for the opener, the weather is the only thing that could throw a wrench in it,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Success during last year’s opener was impacted by a delayed harvest where about 90 percent of the corn and 40 percent of the soybeans were still in the field. This year is the exact opposite with an estimated 65 percent of the corn and 90 percent of the soybeans have already been picked.
The advanced harvest and uptick in the bird numbers is creating interest from pheasant hunters beyond the state’s border. Bogenschutz along with other Iowa DNR wildlife staff have been getting a number of calls from nonresident hunters interested in hunting Iowa after the good news from the August pheasant survey.
“It definitely has people asking about our counts, investigating where the better areas are,” he said.
Iowa’s annual August roadside survey found a statewide average of 20 birds per 30-mile route, an increase over 2019’s 17 birds per route. Hunting will be at least as good as last year when 52,000 pheasant hunters harvested an estimated 284,000 roosters.
“If hunter numbers continue their upward trend, we could see the harvest be closer to 2008’s when we had about 86,000 pheasant hunters harvest 400,000 roosters,” he said. “In 2008, we had 17 birds per route, so we’re three birds higher average this year. If we could put the hunters in the field, we could see a bump in the harvest. The population is there to support that.”
One piece of advice he said, is that hunters in west central, central and parts of southwest Iowa impacted by the drought should scout the CRP fields they plan to hunt because the habitat could be gone. An emergency declaration from the U.S. Department of Agriculture opened CRP fields in the drought-stricken area to haying 100 percent of fields.
Iowa Pheasant Season
Iowa’s pheasant season is Oct. 31-Jan. 10, 2021, shooting hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The daily bag limit is three rooster pheasants with a possession limit of 12. Hunters must have a valid hunting license and habitat fee.
Hunters are required to wear at least one article of external clothing with at least 50 percent of its surface area solid blaze orange: hat, cap, vest, coat, jacket, sweatshirt, shirt or coveralls. The same blaze orange rule applies while hunting quail, gray partridge and ruffed grouse.
August Roadside Survey
Iowa has conducted in one form or another, an annual pheasant survey since 1930s, that was standardized in 1962 to the version conducted today. The survey is used to track pheasant populations and correlated to other datasets on habitat, land use and weather.
“This is how we know how weather impacts pheasants and how land use has changed and that change has impacted pheasant populations,” Bogenschutz said. “The data collected helps with our hunting regulation framework. It’s how we know that closing pheasant season doesn’t impact the population.”
Hunters want the data on how this year compares to last year an where the better bird counts are, he said.
The August roadside survey covers more than 6,500 miles of routes driven on gravel roads at dawn on mornings with heavy dew. Hen pheasants will move their broods to the edge of the gravel road to dry off before they begin feeding, which makes them easier to count. The statewide survey takes place between Aug. 1-15.
The August roadside survey has been conducted over the same routes since 1962. In addition to pheasants and quail, the survey collects data on partridge, cottontails and jackrabbits.
Iowa’s youth enjoy special pheasant season Oct. 24-25
Iowa’s young hunters will get to experience the first cackle and flush of the year during the youth only pheasant season Oct. 24-25.
The residents-only youth season gives Iowans age 15 and younger the opportunity to hunt for rooster pheasants without purchasing a license, habitat fee or taking hunter education. Youths must hunt under direct supervision of an adult age 18 or older that has a valid hunting license and habitat fee.
Special youth only seasons allows young hunters an opportunity for success without pressure or competition from other hunters. Only the youth are allowed shoot pheasants and they may bag one rooster per day.
Online Hunting Atlas offers places to go
Iowa hunters have been using the interactive Iowa hunting atlas to find new places to go hunting. The hunting atlas features more than 680,000 acres of public hunting land that is owned by the state, county or federal governments. It’s available online at www.iowadnr.gov/hunting.
This tool allows hunters to see which zone the public area is in, type of shot allowed, wildlife likely to be found, get an overhead look at the terrain and a downloadable or printable map. The mobile version of the atlas will show hunter location on the area if granted permission.
The atlas view from above allows hunters to zoom in on an area, see how to get there, the lay of the land and where one parcel of public hunting land is in relation to others and print off maps.
Information is updated as public hunting lands are acquired.
The hunting atlas also includes private land enrolled in the Iowa Habitat and Access Program (IHAP) where private landowners receive assistance to improve habitat on their land in exchange for opening the property for hunter access.
Site maps are available at www.iowadnr.gov/ihap showing boundaries, which species would be most likely attracted to the habitat and the location of a comment box where hunters are encouraged to leave their feedback on the program.
Walk-in public hunting through IHAP is available between September 1 and May 31.