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Results of Iowa’s 2021 pheasant population survey shows the impact that weather can have on the popular game birds. In the regions where less snow fell, the counts were better; where more snow and ice fell, the counts were worse.
Overall, the annual August roadside survey found Iowa’s statewide pheasant population to be essentially unchanged from 2020 at 20 birds per 30-mile route.
Within the survey, results showed three of the nine regions – northwest, north-central, west central – averaged at or more than 30 birds per route, which is the first time that has occurred since 2007, and the central region saw a 25 percent increase. The northeast and east central regions were about at their 10-year survey averages. The full report is available at www.iowadnr.gov/pheasantsurvey.
“Hunters can expect a good pheasant season for most of the state again this year, with the best hunting being north of I-80,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Based on the results of the August roadside survey, Iowa hunters can expect to harvest 250,000 to 350,000 roosters again this year, which would match the second highest bird harvest in the past 12 years.
“Bird harvest relies heavily on the number of hunters in the field and last year, we saw an increase of 10,000 pheasant hunters over 2019 and that was reflected in our increased harvest,” Bogenschutz said. An estimated 62,000 hunters participated in 2020, the most since 2009.
“The birds are there, so the harvest totals will depend on how many hunters return,” he said.
While the pheasant count varied by region, the quail count was more consistent; unfortunately, it was consistently lower.
Last winter’s snow and ice across southern Iowa’s quail range led to the drop in the quail population.
“We’re at the northern fringe of the bobwhite quail range and when we have a winter with lots of snow and ice, the quail population is impacted,” Bogenschutz said. “Quail are still out there, but hunters are going to have to look for them.”
The higher counts came from southwest Iowa. Hunters should focus areas where there is a good mix of shrubs, ag fields and weedy cover.
Iowa’s partridge showed an upward trend in north central and northwest Iowa, but overall, the survey found the population to be essentially unchanged from 2020. Iowa’s rabbit population declined from 2020 but is still abundant with better counts coming from east central, southwest, south central and southeast regions.
The annual August roadside survey has been collecting data on Iowa’s upland game populations since 1962.
Hunters have the opportunity to hunt these species on additional acres of private land enrolled into the popular Iowa Habitat and Access Program (IHAP).
Enrollment in the program is at an all-time high of nearly 40,000 acres. The IHAP allows hunters access to the portion of the property covered by the agreement, from Sept. 1 to May 31. Conservation officers will provide assistance and enforcement, if needed.
Hunters who frequent land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program should be aware that the land was opened to haying as part of the drought protocol.