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Iowa expects slow pheasant opener

October 27, 2009 at 12:42 PM


Iowa pheasant facts

Season: Oct. 31 – Jan. 10, 2010
Shooting hours: 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Daily Bag Limit: 3 rooster pheasants
Possession Limit: 12 rooster pheasants

The forecast is pretty well known. This weekend across Iowa, we find out where the pheasants are…or aren’t.

Iowa’s premier game bird still draws a crowd. Even last year, with preseason counts at near record lows, 86,000 hunters were in the field. They took an estimated 383,000 ringneck pheasants. Pre-season counts were basically about the same this summer; down in the northern third of Iowa and up a bit in the lower two-thirds.

“When all is said and done this season, we should harvest about 300,000-350,000 birds,” estimates Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist for the Department of Natural Resources.

On opening weekend, of course, standing crops play into the plans, too. That was obvious in last weekend’s Youth Season…when steady, soaking rains kept combines out of the field for much of the week. By early this week, the corn and soybean harvests were three weeks behind schedule.

With all the standing crops in the field, hunters should wear more than the minimum amount of blaze orange.  The law requires at least one visible external piece of apparel with at least 50 percent solid blaze orange in color: hat, cap, vest, coat jacket, sweatshirt, shirt or coveralls.

“The goal is to be seen,” said Megan Wisecup, recreation safety program supervisor for the DNR.  “Wear as much blaze orange as possible.  Visibility of hunting party members is critical for hunter safety, especially while in dense vegetation.”

Hunters staying within their proper zone of fire is also a major safety issue while pheasant hunting.  “Swinging on game is one of the main causes of pheasant hunting incidents in Iowa,” Wisecup said.  “It is important to know where everyone is during the hunt.  At the end of the day, we all want a safe, successful hunt.”

Still, when hunters can set foot into their favorite grassy field, creek bed or corn stubble, it’s to enjoy the day; work their dogs and spend time with friends and family outdoors.

They also spend money while they’re at it. Figures from the latest U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service outdoor recreation survey support that. “Pheasant hunting, quail hunting, have always been a big part of the state’s history…and economy,” assesses Bogenschutz. “(In a year) the economic impact in Iowa was over $220 million. And that generated about $9 million more in state and local taxes.”

While just getting out is Priority One for most hunters, it helps to see pheasants within shooting range.  Weather—ranging from snow and ice to summer floods—has been the short term villain behind our lower bird counts. Over the long term, though, shrinking habitat rates as the top concern. In 1990, Iowa had 8,500 square miles of suitable pheasant habitat. In just 15 years, that had shrunk to 5,800 square miles. Just this October 1, another 130,000 acres came out of the Conservation Reserve Program.

That’s why the outlook for pheasants and quail is shifting from field edges to Capitol hearing rooms. A special task force is tackling various strategies to improve upland game numbers. Their recommendations are due on lawmakers’ desks in January 10.

“A couple things the committee has discussed include a statewide CREP (conservation reserve enhancement program),” relays Bogenschutz.  “That might allow the state to put in some money…the USDA to add some and let the state focus on a special concern… pheasant and quail habitat in this instance.”  That could allow special incentives for landowners to either improve year-round habitat or hunting on their land.


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