North Dakota is home to nearly 40 percent of the nation’s Waterfowl Production Areas, many of which offer good pheasant hunting opportunities. Photo by Anthony Hauck / Pheasants Forever
For my last pheasant hunt of the year, I loaded up the dog and headed to northwest Iowa. Lured by thousands of acres of publicly accessible land, the hunting was to be at areas where I’d previously never set foot. Heck, I’d never even bagged an Iowa ringneck. Despite this lack of on-the-ground scouting and no more local insight than what I saw on the online public lands map, I was optimistic: There were Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs).
I do about two-thirds of my pheasant hunting on public lands and of that, half is accounted walking the grasses and cattail sloughs of Waterfowl Production Areas. Because they’re funded with Duck Stamps, its natural these areas are named as they are, but if you’re a pheasant hunter, don’t let it throw you off the pheasant trail. Some WPAs, with excellent grass stands, double as premiere pheasant producing areas. And many, with wetlands and thick cattail stands, become places of refuge for pheasants in the face of winter.
As snow, cold temperatures and biting winds set in, it’s no big secret that hunting cattails becomes the name of the game. Some hunters detest this while others relish it (I fall in the latter category). Once you find cattails, the X factor becomes the proximity of a food source. The first two small wetlands I pushed on my Iowa trip were unsuccessful, and in evaluating my hunt immediately afterwards, the surrounding food sources seemed rather limited.
At the next WPA, I found more food resources but also many more hunter tracks leaving the entrance lot, which almost deterred me from hunting there, but as I drove around the section, I noticed a small wetland nestled amongst the rolling hills. A quick glance through the binoculars showed no sign of hunters working this far into the property. That’s where I headed, and that’s where three pheasants were holed up, including one rooster that ended up in my game bag.
There are more than 26,000 WPAs in the U.S. – most of them located in the Dakotas, Montana, Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin – and they’re all open to public hunting. Just remember to use nontoxic shot, and do your part by buying a Duck Stamp…or two.
Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.