“We don’t have the final harvest count yet, but all preliminary and anecdotal evidence from last fall’s pheasant season was good,” reports Todd Bogenschutz, Upland Game Biologist/Farmbill Coordinator with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “Harvest, and hunter numbers, should be slightly up. 2015 was the best in 7 or 8 years, and I think 2016 will come in a little better.”
“And then, generally, we did pretty well last winter,” Bogenschutz continues. “Snowfall was normal or below normal for most of the state – up to a foot less. That was good for both pheasant and quail survival. The northwest and north-central parts of the state received more snow – about the normal level. Overall we came into nesting season in good shape, with decent numbers of birds on the ground.”
That brings us to nesting. Says Bogenshutz: “I typically start by looking at nesting in April and May. But we came into a March that was like April this year, from some brood reports I have seen and heard. Then May got cool and rainy, but June came back sunny and warm. That’s when a lot of the hatch is occurring anyway, and that should bode well. There was good anecdotal evidence of a decent pheasant hatch.”
But post-winter bird counts were still decent in that harder-hit northwest/north-central zone, so with a good hatch, bird numbers could be strong there too.
“We will know more about the hatch after August roadside count,” says Bogenschutz. That will tell more of the tale of what to expect for Hawkeye ringneck hunting this fall. Pheasants Forever is going to make trip down to go on a count survey route in August, so stay tuned for that report.
Where to hunt pheasants in Iowa? “Generally the best pheasant country is a band venturing from the northwest corner, and somewhat the north-central, diagonally across the state southeastwards to Sigourney,” describes Bogenschutz. “Pheasant populations are lower in the northeast, southwest and south-central,” but there are pockets with birds.
As for habitat, “The farm bill is key in Iowa,” says Bogenschutz. “That’s what drives our grassland. Not many farmers do small grains such as oats anymore. There is little hay ground. We were at 2 million acres of CRP, it went down to 1.5 million, and now it is back up at about 1.7 million. That’s more fortunate than places like North Dakota and Montana. Coupled with mild winters as of late, bird numbers are good."
Tom Carpenter is Pheasants Forever's Digital Content Manager.