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Iowa Pheasant Opener Review
by Joe Wilkinson
Posted: November 9, 2004 On the Iowa DNR Site

Some hunters got birds. Some hunters got blown over.

Many wind-whipped pheasant hunters called it quits early on opening day, with sustained 30 mile an hour blasts common across all of Iowa. That had pheasants sitting tight, or rocketing out of shotgun range when they did flush. Sunday was a little more hospitable, with some of the hunters back out in the field.

"The groups I checked might have no birds, or maybe one on Saturday," relays Department of Natural Resources conservation officer Erika Anderson, who patrolled Johnson County in eastern Iowa over the weekend. "Sunday, though, I don't know where the hunters went. I did see some roosters; also a couple rabbits, even a partridge." A similar outlook comes from neighboring Cedar and Muscatine Counties. "I talked with 30 hunters and saw (only) four dead birds," reports officer Shawn Meier.

Those assessments seem fairly typical from officers and biologists working the opener. With an ocean of standing corn still out there and with a subdued pheasant outlook this year, hunters weren't expecting a 'hunt for the ages.' In areas with decent habitat, though, those who persevered got some birds.

"Success was mixed," agrees Rod Slings, who checked hunters in Jasper and Polk counties in central Iowa. "I talked with a group of eight hunters with 12 birds by about 11 in the morning. The wind made it difficult. Some roosters got up ahead of the group and sailed away. Others sat tight with dogs working right past them; then got up behind everybody." Slings points to all the corn standing (Only 62 percent was reported harvested by Monday of last week) and foresees better hunting in the weeks ahead, as that early season crop cover is transformed to stubble.

In Iowa and Keokuk counties, law enforcement supervisor Craig Jackson went against the grain somewhat, saying hunters there did surprisingly well, even with the wind. "There were fewer hunters on Sunday, but they were still getting some birds," offers Jackson.

Slings, who heads the DNR's recreation safety programs, was cautiously optimistic about another weekend fact. "There were no accidents reported. That's a first since I've been around." While the wind and standing corn might have reduced some activity, he assigns some of the credit to Iowa's new 'blaze orange' requirement. Upland bird hunters must now wear at least one item of external clothing which is at least 50 percent blaze orange, to improve their visibility. Comments over opening weekend were all positive, from hunters in the field. "Compliance was very good," stresses Slings. "I had one guy (whose hat was questionable). The rest of his party had a vest on him in no time."

He says the first two weeks of the pheasant season are when most hunting incidents are investigated. "We understand the number of hunters was down slightly, but not having any accidents during the opening weekend is great news," says Slings. Last year, the DNR investigated 15 pheasant hunting injuries. Two years ago, with the bird forecast similar to this season, there were five.

"I saw no violations of the new regulation," notes DNR wildlife biologist Tim Thompson, checking hunters around the Hawkeye Wildlife Area near the Johnson/Iowa County line. "I did see a lot of young roosters; maybe three-fourths of them. That's a pretty normal ratio of adults to young birds taken." He, too, heard hunters say they were practically stepping on hunkered-down birds before they would take off in the heavy winds. "Hunters had some birds. No (three rooster) limits, but they had some," says Thompson.

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