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Iowa’s eight year high in pheasant population is likely the reason that Todd Bogenschutz’s phone mail is filled with messages from hunters looking for more information ahead of the opening of pheasant season on Oct. 31.
Bogenschutz is Iowa’s upland game biologist in charge of monitoring pheasants including coordinating the August roadside survey that gave hunters across Iowa a jolt with the 37 percent increase in number of birds counted.
Adding to the excitement is that the corn harvest is running ahead of last year and will likely be 80 percent finished by the time the season begins.
“With the crops mostly out, birds will be concentrated in areas with good cover and as long as we have good weather we’re going to have a pretty good opener,” Bogenschutz said.
Areas with higher pheasant counts can be found in a band of counties stretching from northwest to southeast, but good numbers can be found in other parts of the state with better habitat.
The highest pheasant counts were 44 birds per route in the northwest region followed by 38 birds per route in central and 27 birds per route in southeast Iowa and should offer good hunting this fall. Lower counts came in southwest, south central and northeast regions.
“If you hunted an area that had birds last year, it should have more birds this year. If it had decent birds last year, should be better this year,” Bogenschutz said. “The marginal areas will be better too. We are trending in the right direction.”
That positive trend is fueling the speculation that more hunters will be in the fields this fall.
“If hunter excitement leads to more hunters in the field, our pheasant harvest could reach 500,000 birds, and who would have thought that a few years ago,” Bogenschutz said.
Hunters are allowed three roosters per day with a possession limit of 12. Shooting hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Hunters must wear a hat, cap, vest, coat, jacket, sweatshirt, shirt or coveralls externally that is at least 50 percent solid blaze orange. The season closes Jan. 10, 2016.
Quail Population Highest in 21 Years
The quail population is its highest since 1994, according to the August roadside survey. Routes with the highest counts were in the southeast region with 4.8 birds per route, followed by 4 birds per route in southwest and just under 4 birds per route in south central Iowa.
“If you ever wanted to go quail hunting, this is the year,” said Bogenschutz.
Looking for Places to Hunt? Start Online
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources created a hunting atlas showing all areas in the state open to public hunting and included what type of wildlife would be associated with those areas, open seasons and any restrictions.
The interactive atlas is at www.iowadnr.gov/hunting. The atlas allows hunters a bird’s eye-view of the area and allows them to print maps, if they want.
Another resource is the Iowa Habitat Access Program (IHAP), where private landowners receive assistance to improve habitat on their land in exchange for opening the property for hunter access. The program has added more than 9,000 acres where hunters can access private property.
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 can leave their thoughts on the program.
Walk-in public hunting through IHAP is available between September 1 and May 31. Areas are posted with signs, are regularly patrolled by Iowa DNR conservation officers.
Programs Available to Add More Pheasant Habitat
Iowa pheasants have enjoyed a good two-year run of milder winters leading to the highest bird numbers since 2008, but that run of good luck can’t last forever. Weather and habitat are keys to bird survival and over the last eight years Iowa has lost 500,000 acres of CRP statewide.
Landowners interested in adding CRP and who live within a three mile radius of public areas 40 acres or larger can sign up for Gaining Ground program. Gaining Ground requires forbs and grass seed mixes benefiting grassland birds and food plots are allowed, but not required. There is a 90 percent cost share and signing bonus.
A likely general CRP signup is expected in December will have around 24 million acres available nationally, down from 32 million acres from previous signups, meaning landowners will likely need to higher environmental benefits scores and have better cover types to get their offers accepted.