Iowa grows corn. Corn grows Iowa. And, when it stands unbroken to the horizon in endless amber waves of unpicked stalks on opening day, corn hides pheasants.
That was the headline on Oct. 26 when I and three long-standing hunting buddies greeted the 2019 season in Buchanan County.
On the Monday preceding the opener, just 15 percent of the state’s 13.2 million acres of corn for grain had been harvested. That represented the slowest harvest since 2009, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported just 12 percent of the state’s corn harvested on that same date.
Standing corn — 10-foot-tall stalks, spaced three inches apart in 30-inch rows — is virtually unhuntable, and pheasants under pressure from predators flock to it.
When (as is the case this year) it surrounds nearly every patch of huntable cover — Conservation Reserve Program grasslands, roadside ditches, creek buffers, field terraces and grass waterways — it is advantage pheasants.
That being the case, on the eve of the opener I asked my longest-standing hunting partner, Arthur Clark of Quasqueton, how many pheasants our party of four would have to harvest to yield a satisfactory opening day.
Arthur said four, and as it turned out Arthur was satisfied.
In preseason scouting, we had identified a few patches of cover that were not completely surrounded by standing corn and secured permission to hunt them.
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These included our best prospect, a 35-acre bloc of CRP grassland with picked corn on two sides, a wooded creek on one side and an unpicked cornfield on the fourth side.
Into the sparkling frosty grass at 8 a.m. we went — I, Arthur, Terry Franck and Bobby Moses, all of Quasqueton — behind Arthur’s German shorthaired pointer Gunny and Terry’s Lab Rocky.
The morning’s first two roosters were fortunate to encounter a rusty crew of ineffectual shooters. The third flushed behind Arthur, who whirled and felled him in a shower of feathers that presumably marked the spot for an easy retrieve. But it took Rocky, sniffling among the bulrushes surrounding a nearby pond, a bit to complete the recovery.
Since that field was our best hope for the day, we crisscrossed it repeatedly, finally leaving at 10:30 a.m. with three roosters in our bag.
Before retiring at 3:30 p.m., we hunted in four more smaller plots of cover. In two of them, we flushed hens but no roosters. In one of them, we flushed nothing. And in an unlikely patch of Reed canary grass next to a field of unpicked corn, Gunny pointed a rooster, the fourth in our bag, which prompted Arthur to declare his satisfaction with an opening day hunt in a sea of standing corn.
I, too, might have been satisfied had I not had to call upon my extensive repertoire of missed-shot excuses.
But the day’s first rooster flushed on my flank, where only I had a chance to shoot him. I went with cold hands causing fumbled attempt to depress the safety.