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Spring rains put damper on ringneck production. (09/10/04)
Iowa pheasants won't be in as great abundance as they were a year ago when upland bird hunters head into the fields later this fall. But that doesn't mean the state won't continue to provide some good hunting opportunities.
"I think spotty is the optimal word for this year," said Todd Bogenschutz, upland game biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. "There are places where people are going to have a good time. In others, there are going to be a lot of miles turned over where they're not going to see much."
When the DNR conducted its annual roadside surveys last month, statewide counts dropped 34 percent from a year ago. In 2003, there were an average of 46.6 birds per 30-mile route; in 2004, there were 30.8.
"If you look at the state as a whole, this year is probably comparable to 2002," Bogenschutz said.
Hunters harvested approximately 730,000 ringnecks in 2002. Last year, they shot 1.1 million.
"It wasn't a great year in 2002, but generally the hunters we talked to were pretty happy with what they saw," Bogenschutz said. "This isn't going to be a great year, either. But it still could be pretty good."
But for untimely heavy rains in May, it could have been a great year.
"It was shaping up to be just a fantastic year," Bogenschutz said. "I was wondering, how high can things go? How many birds might we see this fall?"
Spring rains, however, came at the peak of the nesting season and washed away many nests in ditches and waterways.
"While there was some re-nesting that took place, I didn't see anything in the surveys to indicate that we missed a lot of chicks in the counting process," Bogenschutz said.
The north-central and central zones of Iowa saw the biggest drop offs. While surveys in central Iowa, including Boone and Story Counties, yielded 36.1 birds per route (down from 62.3 in 2003), surveys in north central Iowa produced 34.4 birds per route (down from 67.3 in 2003).
Northwest Iowa saw a 33-percent drop from last year but still had the most birds per route this year at 56.6.
"We're still above the 40-year average," Bogenschutz said. "I've found through the years that hunters are generally happy at 40 birds per route. When you get below 40, they start to grumble a bit."
If hunter numbers don't drop off this fall, Bogenschutz said he expects this year's harvest could reach as high as 900,000 birds but more likely will be in the 800,000 range.
Iowa pheasants weren't the only ones to suffer through poor nesting conditions this spring. Several other states around the Midwest also saw a decline in pheasant populations from a year ago. Minnesota, which enjoyed one of its best seasons in 40 years last year when hunters harvested 511,000 roosters, dropped 47 percent this fall. Surveys conducted in South Dakota, the nation's top ringneck producer, saw 9 percent fewer birds. Nebraska, meanwhile, saw a 28-percent increase.
Pheasant hunting annually generates an average of $70 million worth business in Iowa. Last year, there were about 140,000 pheasant hunters in Iowa, 33,000 of which came from out of state.


Quail up, partridge down
The August roadside survey also tracks the population of bobwhite quail, gray partridge, cottontail rabbits and white-tailed jackrabbits.
Bobwhite quail numbers improved 6.3 percent over the 2003 count, but populations remain well below the long-term average.
Gray partridge counts dropped 22.5 percent, averaging two birds per route.
The cottontail rabbit population dropped 7.2 percent over 2003.
The 2004 statewide jackrabbit index was unchanged from a year ago. Jackrabbit numbers have declined over time with the loss of their preferred habitats - small grains, pasture and hayfields - in the northwest, north central, west central and central regions.
¨ ¨ ¨
The 2004 roadside count is available on the DNR's Web site at

2004 pheasant forecast among nation's top-producing ringneck states based on
roadside survey counts.
Change from 2003
Iowa -34 percent
Illinois +11 percent
Minnesota -47 perecent
Nebraska +28 percent
South Dakota -9 percent

Note: North Dakota and Kansas did not have available roadside survey totals.

Source: Pheasants Forever


A law passed by the Iowa Legislature this year requires upland gamebird hunters to wear at least one of the following articles of visible, external apparel, of which at least 50 percent of the surface area is solid blaze orange in color: hat, cap, vest, coat, jacket, sweatshirt, shirt or coveralls.
Hunters who violate the law are subject to an $82 fine.
"The DNR didn't contend the legislation because it's basically a common-sense safety issue," said Todd Bogenschutz, upland game biologist for the DNR. "It shouldn't be a big problem. The majority of hunters wear blaze orange to start with."

Outdoors writer Todd Burras
can be reached at 232-2161, Ext. 347, or

©Ames Tribune 2004

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