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12
Pheasant hunters bag fewer birds this season

The drop could hurt the $53 million sport, but it's too soon to tell what impact it will have, officials say.

By JULI PROBASCO-SOWERS
REGISTER STAFF WRITER

Hunters bagged nearly a third fewer pheasants in the 2004 season than in the previous season, a drop that officials said wasn't entirely unexpected given bad weather and fewer birds overall, but one that still could chip away at Iowa's $53 million sport.

The reaction from hunters to the spotty success rate, coupled with the pheasant population counts that typically are released in August, will be the strongest indicators for the coming season.

Iowa's pheasant hunting season began Oct. 30 and ended Monday. According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey, the state's pheasant hunters spend an average of $370 per trip on food, lodging, transportation and equipment. For the season just ended, officials estimate Iowa saw 2,000 fewer pheasant hunters than in 2003 - a decrease that could translate into nearly $1 million less spent in Iowa.

Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said about 800,000 pheasants were killed this season, down from nearly 1.1 million shot in Iowa the previous season. Pheasant numbers were down because last year's cool, wet spring washed away nests and caused chicks to succumb to hypothermia.

"We saw a fair number of birds, but not near at the potential we would have had if we had not had the cold, wet, rainy weather that hit during the production period" last spring, said Jim Wooley, a Pheasants Forever biologist and pheasant hunter from Chariton. "I think we hatched a lot of birds that didn't make it very far out into the grass before they keeled over from exposure."

Bogenschutz said that while the number of hunters probably was around 140,000, down from about 142,000 the previous pheasant season, some may decide not to pheasant hunt next season if they weren't satisfied this year.

Dale Garner, the department's wildlife bureau chief, said next fall's hunter turnout also will be determined heavily by the pheasant population. Population estimates are made after roadside pheasant surveys are done each August. That number is hard to predict now because the pheasant population will depend on how well the birds do over the winter and spring.

Right now, the forecast isn't encouraging.

"This deeper snow cover with the addition of ice makes things difficult, not only for pheasants, but for other wildlife, too," Wooley said.

Snow and ice make it difficult for pheasants to find cover in taller grass and to dig down to food. This also makes the birds more vulnerable to predators, Bogenschutz said.

"I walked some heavy switchgrass, and the birds couldn't even get into it for cover. It has already had an impact," he said of the weather. "It sure would be nice to see a thaw down and get some of those browns and blacks into the landscape again. We'll just have to see how long this lasts and what's to come."

Once the birds make it through the winter, nesting and hatching, as well as the survival of pheasant chicks, depend on a fairly dry to normal spring in terms of rain and mild weather, said Bogenschutz.

Still, some hunters were pleased with this year's season.

"It was much better this year. I don't know if it was just a local situation, but I saw many more birds this year than the year before," Mark Roberts of De Witt said.

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