Iowa Pheasant Harvest Hits All Time Low


Mar 11, 2001
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Pheasant Harvest Sags

Iowa DNR


By Joe Wilkinson
DNR Information Specialist

Iowa’s 2001 pheasant season met low expectations…and then some.

Whacked hard by a severe winter, a wet spring and overall loss of habitat, pheasant numbers were down heading into the fall season. A record low harvest resulted.

"We harvested 470,000 roosters last fall. That’s down 53 percent from the year before (and) an all time low in 40 years of hunter surveys," reports Todd Bogenschutz, upland game biologist for the Department of Natural Resources. The previous low was 724,000, in 1984. Bogenschutz had forecast a gloomy 2001 harvest of 600,000 heading into the late fall/early winter period, a significant drop from the 1,001,000 taken the year before

Heavy snow cover and bitter temperatures during the previous winter led to a heavy drop in gamebird populations. That was reinforced when 2001 August roadside counts, the primary hunting forecast tool, dropped by 59 percent. Bogenschutz says hunters obviously paid attention to the gloomy outlook. "Our resident hunters really stayed home last year. They dropped 27 percent, which is surprising," he admits.

Like a lot of you, I reduced my 2001 pheasant-chasing. I spent more time in a bow stand, but managed just two long ‘half days’ chasing birds, plus a quick 45-minute walk with the dog down a couple fence rows, ‘just in case’. I saw one or two birds in one Cedar County foray. On the other, near Williamsburg, four of us saw a couple dozen birds on three different areas. I thought it was a great day. Our ‘guide’ for the hunt, Todd Werner, felt otherwise. "We used to chase more birds out of there on a regular basis," recalls Werner, who grew up in the area and now lives near Solon. "A lot of mornings, four or five of us would each have half our limits after just that last drive."

Iowa pheasant hunters spent an average of seven days in the field in 2001, harvesting four birds. Nonresidents, who tend to hunt longer on the days they are here, spent an average of five days in the field, taking home five birds for their trouble. "Usually, nonresidents will go elsewhere, or take a year off, but our resident hunters stick around. Last year, they didn’t," underscores Bogenschutz.

Nonresident hunter numbers, coincidentally, dropped the same 27 percent. Many of those hunters spent their hunting vacations, and their vacation money, in South Dakota. With a harvest of 1.3 million birds, South Dakota claimed the top spot in the pheasant sweepstakes for the third year in a row over Iowa.

There is a bright spot in the rather dismal outcome. This year should be better. The definitive test, of course, will be August’s roadside surveys. Until numbers from those 200-plus roadside counts are crunched, Bogenschutz leans toward a formula that factors in winter weather with spring temperatures and precipitation in the critical April-May pheasant nesting period. One of the mildest winters on record proved a good start to the year. A cool, wet spring tempered that enthusiasm.

Overall, though, Bogenschutz sees an improved outlook, when compared to the ‘bottom of the barrel’ scenario we just experienced. "Statewide, we are going to see our pheasant population increase. I think there will be regional trend, though," he cautions. "The southern and eastern parts of the state have been wet. I think folks in those areas are not going to see large increases in bird populations. To the north and west, it has actually been somewhat dry, so populations should come up this fall."

Ill-timed rains can flood nests or even drown young chicks. Cooler temperatures cause stress from exposure. Bogenschutz says rainfall measured two inches above normal in east central Iowa during that hatching period. In southeast Iowa, the rain gauge was four inches higher than normal. At the other end of the state, though, things dried out. The north-central region was two inches below normal. Northwest Iowa was nearly an inch low.

"North central, northwest and west central Iowa look pretty good right now," offers Bogenschutz. "Still, the roadside counts will be our best indicator."



Iowa DNR


BOONE – The news is out and it is not good. The estimated Iowa pheasant harvest in 2001 is a new record low – and by a long way. Pheasant hunters harvested an estimated 470,116 roosters – a 53 percent decline from 2000 when hunters harvested more than 1 million roosters. The previous low was 724,000 roosters harvested in 1984.

The 2001 pheasant season followed the third snowiest winter on record, then a cool wet spring. Combine the weather factors with a dramatic loss in land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, and it is a recipe for disaster.

"Prior to last season, I estimated we would harvest 600,000 to 650,000 birds," said Todd Bogenschutz, upland biologist for the DNR. "My estimates are based on past comparisons of August roadside survey counts to harvest. The 2001 roadside counts were 59 percent lower than 2000, so a lower harvest was expected, but not this low."

The lower than expected harvest was due in part to 27 percent fewer pheasant hunters. With such as poor forecast, people simply didn’t hunt, he said. Iowa’s popularity with nonresident pheasant hunters also declined for the fifth straight year. Iowa had 23,781 nonresident pheasant hunters, down from 50,350 in 1997.

"I expected nonresident hunters would stay away from Iowa last year, but I did not expect our residents to sit at home," Bogenschutz said.

The low harvest numbers were not restricted to pheasants. Quail numbers were down 77 percent from 2000. Hunters harvested an estimated 32,226 quail in 2001, down from an estimated 140,828 in 2000. There is also a new all time record low partridge harvest estimate for 2001. Bogenschutz estimates 5,814 partridge were harvested, down from 19,258 in 2000.

There is also a new all time record low harvest of 196,483 cottontail rabbits, a 40 percent decline from 2000.

The DNR uses a random survey of small game hunters following the small game season to determine the size and distribution of Iowa’s small game harvest. Low populations of game and low hunter turn out combined for some of the lowest harvest numbers since the hunter survey began in 1963.



Iowa DNR


BOONE – This past winter and spring offer some optimism for this year’s pheasant hatch, says Todd Bogenschutz, DNR upland wildlife biologist. Iowa’s pheasant population typically shows increases following mild winters (Dec.-March) with springs (April-May) that are dryer and warmer than normal. This past year was a particularly mild winter with cumulative mean snowfall 47 percent below the 30-year average, said Bogenschutz. Statewide April-May precipitation averaged 7.7 inches or 0.6 inches above normal, while the mean temperature was 53.4 degrees or 2 degrees below normal.

"The winter was excellent because we had a good carryover of existing brood stock with the lack of snow," Bogenschutz said. "But the spring was cooler and wetter than we like to see for nesting. Thus we have a plus for winter and a negative for spring." Based on these data Bogenschutz predicts the statewide pheasant count should increase this fall, but there could be a regional trend in the counts.

"The data shows northern and western Iowa have been drier than normal this spring, while eastern and southern Iowa have been wetter than normal. Given these patterns we expect counts in the northwest part of the state will show increases from last year, while counts in the southeast part of the state may show no change from last year’s poor numbers," he said.

Bogenschutz noted that Iowa’s pheasant population is still recovering from the horrific winter and monsoon spring of 2000-01. Iowa’s pheasant population dipped to an all time low in 2001 with the bad weather and loss of upland habitat and it will take several years of favorable weather to rebuilt numbers where sufficient habitat exists, he said. "So far, this past year is a good start to rebuilding our population, especially in northwestern Iowa," Bogenschutz said.

These predictions based on weather data are incorrect 2 or 3 times a decade and the DNR's August roadside survey is the best gauge of what our upland populations will be this fall. The DNR posts it's August roadside numbers on the DNR webpage every September.

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