Iowa Public Land Pheasant Hunting
Iowa is historically one of the greatest pheasant hunting states in the country. Unfortunately, the past ten years haven’t been kind to Hawkeye state pheasant hunters. Conservation Reserve Program(CRP) acreage is way down. High corn prices has forced farmers to till as much as possible. As upland habitat has diminished, pheasant hunting and harvest totals have nosedived. Statewide bird surveys are down over 50% from what they were in 2000. Over one million roosters were taken by Iowa hunters in 2000. In 2010, that number was less than 250,000.
Still, the news isn’t all bad. A lot of traveling pheasant hunters who once traveled to Iowa are now going to Kansas, Nebraska, or the Dakotas. Many hunters have put down the shotgun for the bow. As Iowa whitetails continue to capture headlines, fewer hunters are focusing on ringnecks. Over 165,000 hunters chased pheasants in 2000. Ten years later the number dropped to just 60,000. That means much better opportunities for public land hunters. Here are some of best places for public land hunters to find quality pheasant hunting in Iowa.
Northwest Iowa is probably home to it’s best pheasant hunting. Dickinson County is the premiere county to hunt. There are nearly 20 public hunting areas in the county, most have excellent pheasant hunting. Santee Prairie and Hales Slough are superb hunts after the sloughs freeze up. Both places are thick and tough hunts early in the year.
Dewey’s Pasture Wildlife Management Area
This Clay County WMA is right down the road from Dickinson County in Clay County. The entire property is over 5,000 acres with over 2,000 acres of solid pheasant cover with prairie grass, food plots, and marsh. The varying habitat creates edges that birds gravitate toward. Dewey’s Pasture is a well known pheasant hotspot so don’t show up on opening day expecting to have the place to yourself.
Union Hills Wildlife Management Area
In North Central Iowa, Union Hills Wildlife Management Area is over 2,000 acres of diverse upland and wetland habitat. Pheasants can be found in the upland areas early in the season. After birds get some pressure they will head for the cattails.
If you’re looking for a consistent producer, Chichaqua River Bottoms Wildlife Management Area in Polk & Jasper Counties is a great choice. The Iowa River Corridor is another top destination. Both places have quality habitat with river bottoms, prairie, and food plots. This diversity gives over-winter survival and nesting success a big boost. There are several access points at both of these properties making it easier to hunt your favorite spots. But that makes it easier for everyone else too. Birds are well educated so a dog is almost a requirement.
Many of Iowa’s public hunting areas are small properties, some under 50 acres. Your best bet may be to avoid the above areas all together. They are excellent places to hunt pheasants but very well known. The Iowa DNR posts all of their public hunting areas on their website. Choose a few in Northwest and Central Iowa and check them out. Take some notes on your observations and successes and you may just find yourself an under-the-radar public land honey hole.