posted on November 01, 2004 00:00
Steve Lekwa's weekly outdoors column for Oct. 29, 2004.
Iowa often claims national top production honors in corn and sometimes in soybeans. We're always in the running for top honors for another major "crop," too, and that's rooster pheasants. Heavy rains that pounded the state in late May will probably keep us from beating South Dakota this year for the pheasant title, but we're still liable to be a close No. 2.
Pheasant season is by far the biggest opening day for Iowa hunters, at least in terms of total numbers of hunters who will pursue them and the amount of money they'll pump into the state's economy in that pursuit.
Hunters, don't forget
An important new rule applies to pheasant hunting this year. Every upland game hunter (pheasants, quail, rabbits, etc.) must now wear at least one article of clothing that's at least 50 percent solid blaze orange. It can be a hat, vest, coat, gloves, etc. I think they could have made the new law better by requiring more orange. The more blaze orange a hunter or any other outdoor recreationist wears, the less likely they are to be mistaken for game or go unnoticed by some other hunter. Those are the main two reasons some hunters get shot by other hunters. A good part of being a safe hunter is being a seen hunter. Another good part of hunting safety is keeping other hunters in sight. Please clearly identify your target and what's beyond it before firing.
Although the late spring storms hit pheasants at just the wrong time when hens were about to hatch their first clutch of eggs, wild turkeys used the warm, dry early spring to get off some good hatches around the state. It's likely that some of the little turkeys died in the big storms, but they had a good production year.
Many pheasant hens that survived the storms, but lost their nests, made additional nesting attempts. The numbers of young they produced in those later efforts will be smaller, and the birds will be younger going into hunting season. Some of those young roosters won't have their full color yet and may look like hens for a few more weeks.
Burgeoning deer population
The big storms didn't do much to hurt deer production, though. Most Iowa does had their usual twin fawns, and a few probably raised triplets. Expanding suburban populations of people have reduced hunting pressure in some prime deer habitat. Hunting mortality is about the only manageable population control for deer. Food is seldom limited for them, and predators large enough to prey on deer are very rare in Iowa in spite of ongoing rumors about cougars. The result is ever-expanding deer populations.
The higher the deer population, the higher the incidence of deer-caused auto accidents and the more damage they can do to crops and native vegetation. Some forested areas of Iowa with very high deer populations have no green leaves within 5 feet of the ground. That means no wild flowers, no bushes, no young trees and lots of bare soil left open to the forces of erosion. It also means less habitat for other forest wildlife.
Hunters can help by deliberately taking does instead of a big, tough-eating trophy buck. A buck removes only one deer from the population. A doe takes the equivalent of three.
Steve Lekwa is the director of Story County Conservation. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org