Iowa's pheasant population declines

DNR official predicts little change to upcoming hunting season

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Iowa’s pheasant population declined 13 percent in the past year, according to August roadside survey statistics released Tuesday by the Department of Natural Resources.

“I was hoping we were going to be up a little bit, but I am not surprised that we aren’t,” said DNR upland wildlife biologist Todd Bogenschutz.

Even so, he said, Iowa hunters can expect a season quite similar to last year, in which 56,000 hunters harvested an estimated 270,000 roosters — the fifth straight year of increased harvests.

Even with potentially fewer pheasants in the fields, the harvest could increase again this year if more hunters participate, Bogenschutz said.

Pheasant season begins Saturday, Oct. 29, and runs through Jan. 10.

Bogenschutz said last winter and this spring were both considered average in terms of precipitation — two key weather variables that influence the survival of hens and their success in rearing chicks.

In the past 51 years, Iowa has on eight occasions recorded average winters followed by average springs, he said.

“In three of those, pheasant numbers went up. In four of them numbers went down. And in one year there was no change,” he said.

Steve Ries of Alburnett, who raises and trains German shorthaired pointers, said the dip in the roadside count index won’t keep him out of the fields.

“Everybody you talk to says they are seeing more pheasants this year. I’m looking forward to this season more than any of the last five,” Ries said.

The survey found a statewide average of 21 pheasants per 30-mile route, with higher counts coming from counties along a diagonal from northwest to southeast. The statewide average in 2015 was 24 pheasants per route.

The northwest region, traditionally the state’s best pheasant range, recorded the highest regional index at 33.3 pheasants per 30-mile route. That was, however, a 22 percent decline from last year’s index of 42.8.

The central region had the second-highest index, 30.9 birds per route, down 15 percent from the previous year, and the north-central region had the third-highest index, 24.7 birds per route, up 3 percent from the last year’s 24.1.

The only other regional increase was recorded in northeast Iowa. Its 11.2 index represented a 52 percent increase over 2015’s 7.4.

Iowa’s quail population index is at its highest since 1989 after gains this year across south central and southwest Iowa.

In 2014, 6,500 hunters shot 10,000 quail, and 10,000 hunters shot 28,000 quail last year.

“This is the best opportunity we’ve had to hunt quail in 27 years,” Bogenschutz said. “For anyone who has ever had an interest in quail or who hasn’t hunted quail recently, this is the year to go.”

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