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DNR: Pheasant season could be second-best in 12 years

A rooster pheasant flys away from hunters in a field southeast of Ely. (The Gazette)

Iowa pheasant hunters could reasonably expect one of the best seasons in the past dozen years, based on an annual population survey.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources found enough birds on its annual August roadside survey to project a kill of 250,000 to 350,000 roosters, or male pheasants, this season. That would be the second-highest total in the past 12 years and about the same as last year, DNR reported.

Historically, Iowa used to see more than a million pheasants bagged each year. Loss of habitat and poor weather during nesting season reduced the numbers of ringnecked pheasants, an exotic species long ago brought to Oregon from China.

Many pheasants were obtained from English game farms to be released around the United States. Iowa and South Dakota ended up with some of the larger populations.

Big business for little towns

The pheasant hunt is an important economic engine in Iowa, as hunters rent rooms and buy ammunition, gas and food. Pheasants Forever reported that in 1996, Iowa hunters took 1.3 million pheasants, with the activity boosting the economy by $80 million a year. The number of hunters fell to 60,00o by 2010, with the economic impact dropping to $24 million.

State biologists said areas that had less snow had better pheasant counts. On average, DNR staffers counted 20 birds per 30-mile route.

The northwest, north-central and west-central zones recorded more than 30 pheasants sighted per route for the first time since 2007, Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist, said in a statement.

Central Iowa saw a 25% boost in numbers. Northeast and east-central Iowa were near their averages.

“Hunters can expect a good pheasant season for most of the state again this year, with the best hunting being north of I-80,” Bogenschutz said.

An estimated 62,000 people hunted pheasants in Iowa in 2020, an increase of 10,000 and the most since 2009.

The quail population dropped in many areas.

A record enrollment in the Iowa Habitat and Access Program means nearly 40,000 private acres will be available for hunting.

Hunting seasons

Here are season dates for various species:

  • Youth pheasant season is Oct. 23-24
  • Pheasant season is Oct. 30-Jan. 10.
  • Quail season is Oct. 30-Jan. 31.
  • Rabbit season is Sept. 4-Feb. 28.
  • Partridge season is Oct. 9-Jan. 31.
Washington County Pheasant and Quail Forever held its inagural Women's Hunt on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, at the Highland Hunting in Riverside. (Submitted)