By Tom Carpenter
WEATHER AND CONDITIONS
“As far as Iowa’s gamebirds go, this year was a tough one to forecast,” reports Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist and Farm Bill coordinator with Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
“Ten to 20 inches of snow across the northern third of Iowa to start April,” he says. “Then April was the coldest in state history, dating back to the late 1890's. But May turned around and was one of the warmest in state history. It was also the driest April/May Iowa has seen since 2000. June data is not part of our weather models, but June was the 10th warmest in state history but also the 10th wettest. Flooding on the Des Moines River was within 4 feet of the floods of 1993.”
What does it all mean? “The warm dry stuff was good, the cold wet not so much,” Bogenschutz says. “Punching the weather data into our model it predicted stable to increased counts statewide, up to 39%. So given the rollercoaster weather I was pretty pleased with our bird counts.”
HATCH AND BROODS
“Pheasants increased significantly in all Iowa’s survey regions except the Northwest, North-Central and East-Central regions, and even in these regions the trends were stable to up slightly,” says Bogenschutz. “Dew conditions during the survey this year were very good, so some of the increase we are seeing this year is probably due to improved counting conditions this year compared to last year when much of the state was in drought.”
“Pheasant counts in every region except the Northwest were above their respective 10-year averages, and counts in the Central region and the Southeast were close to the 50-year average,” he says. “That's pretty dang impressive compared to where Iowa was in 2011.”
“Compared to the last 10 years, this fall has the possibility of being the best for pheasants over the last decade,” Bogenschutz says. “Crops are maturing quickly across the southern two-thirds of Iowa and barring a wet fall, crop harvest should be well advanced by Iowa's pheasant opener on Oct 27th."
HABITAT AND PROGRAMS
“Overall habitat conditions are unchanged from last year,” says Bogenschutz. “CRP is what is keeping pheasants in Iowa. Iowa averaged 3.68 million acres of habitat from 1995-2000. In 2017 Iowa had 2.92M acres of habitat. CRP has more or less held stable at 1.79 million acres thru that time, so that is outstanding given the cuts that have been made to CRP, but we still continue to see conversion of other grassy habitats (hay and small grains).”
“CRP has also changed in Iowa,” he adds. “In the late 1990's most CRP was in larger blocks in whole-field general signups. Today almost 70% of Iowa's CRP is smaller contracts in the Continuous CRP program. In Iowa 90% of our CRP contracts are less than 50 acres in size.”
“Our public lands and our walk-in program, Iowa Habitat and Access Program (IHAP)
, are very popular with resident and nonresident hunters.
“Pheasant hunting should be much better than last year in most regions and similar to last year in the Northwest, North-Central and East-Central regions,” says Bogenschutz. “Numbers are on par with the best we've had in the last decade, it should be a very good fall. The best survey numbers came from the northwestern, north-central and southeastern regions of Iowa.”
“For non-resident hunters wishing to hunt on private land I generally recommend avoiding the opening two weeks of the season if you don't have any land lined up, just because landowners hold land for family and friends early in the season,” advises Bogenschutz. “Access is likely better midweek versus on the weekends, and the same can be said of our public lands - fewer hunters midweek vs weekends.”
“Pheasants can be found in every county in Iowa,” he adds. “The best areas contain an abundance of undisturbed grass for nesting with winter cover (cattails/switchgrass) nearby, and crop fields interspersed among these cover types. Best conditions for pheasant hunting with dogs are days with good moisture and calm winds.”
Bogenschutz reminds hunters that they are required to wear blaze orange, and that non-toxic shot is required on some WMAs. See the regulations book at http://www.iowadnr.gov/Portals/idnr/uploads/Hunting/huntingregs.pdf
“Looking at past hunter surveys, about 60 to 70 percent of Iowa's rooster harvest occurs before December 1,” says Bogenschutz. “I have a lot of non-resident hunters come to Iowa late (December and January) which is fine, but just understand that a lot of roosters have already been harvested by then. Harvest per day is on average 20% lower at the end of the season verses the beginning of the season.”