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State officials covered more than 6,000 miles of county roads counting upland game during the first two weeks of August and after all the species were counted, data compiled and numbers crunched, what can Iowa pheasant hunters expect to find this fall?
A repeat of last year.
“The good news is pheasant hunters had their best season in five years last year and they should expect to have pretty good hunting again this year,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) who coordinates the August roadside survey.
The survey found an average of 21 pheasants per 30 mile route statewide, with higher counts coming from counties crossing the state diagonally from northwest to southeast. The statewide average in 2015 was 24 pheasants per route.
“To put it in perspective, our population is similar to 2007 when we harvested 630,000 roosters. Last year we harvested 270,000 roosters. The difference is, we had twice the hunters in 07,” Bogenschutz said. “If we had 100,000 hunters last year we would have doubled the harvest. The birds are here, we need hunters to return.”
Population patterns tracked the weather. Parts of northwest Iowa had declines due to heavy snowfall which likely reducing pheasant survival. Parts of southwest Iowa had declines due to heavy spring rains likely reducing nesting success. Other regions had more favorable weather and saw similar or slightly higher numbers.
“Hunters can expect bird numbers similar to last year statewide, where the right habitat exists,” Bogenschutz said. “We need hunters to come back if we are going to see the harvest increase. If nothing else, they should come back for the quail.”
Iowa’s quail population index has been increasing recently and is now at its highest since 1989 after experiencing increases again across south central and southwest Iowa this year.
“To put it in perspective, in 1989, we had 80,000 hunters harvest 400,000 quail. With today’s modern agriculture and landscapes, this is likely the best quail numbers we can hope for,” Bogenschutz said.
In 2014, 6,500 hunters shot 10,000 quail. In 2015, 10,000 hunters shot 28,000 quail.
“This is the best opportunity we’ve had to hunt quail in 27 years,” he said. “For anyone who has ever had an interest in quail or who hasn’t hunted quail recently, this is the year to go.”
Surveyors also record the numbers of cottontail rabbits and Hungarian partridge.
Rabbit numbers were down some from their record level of the past two years but remain above their ten year average, with better numbers in southern and eastern Iowa. Partridge were unchanged with their best numbers in northern Iowa, he said.
The August roadside survey is available at www.iowadnr.gov/pheasantsurvey
Pheasant Oct. 29-Jan. 10, 2017.
Quail Oct. 29-Jan. 31, 2017.
Rabbit Sept. 3-Feb. 28, 2017.
Partridge Oct. 8-Jan. 31, 2017.