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Iowa Pheasant Season Ends with a Bang
by Lowell Washburn
Posted: January 11, 2005

CLEAR LAKE---Jonathan Conder is my hero. He's also the local, Channel-3 TV weatherman. I elevated him to hero status the moment I heard him predict the arrival of a major winter storm system that was likely to drop several inches snow before moving on.

Most of the people I talked to failed to see the humor. To me, it was blatantly obvious that those folks were not serious pheasant hunters. But for those of us who do pursue the wily ring-neck, Conder's forecast was cause for celebration.

The clock was rapidly ticking down on this year's pheasant season. With less than a full week to go, Iowa bird hunters needed a dramatic change in conditions.

Although statewide pheasant numbers are down from last year's decade-high counts, the 2004 season has proven to be at least average -- perhaps a bit better. The crops stayed in the field a little later than usual last fall. For hunters, the slowed harvest translated into a prolonged supply of new [highly naive] birds as cornfields slowly disappeared one by one.

But by the time the Christmas holidays rolled around, hunter numbers were tailing off dramatically in spite of the fact that plenty of birds still remained in the covers. By now the situation had become crystal clear. After enduring a solid two months of hunting pressure, local roosters knew the score. With few exceptions, they had become smarter than the humans chasing them.

In essence, rooster pheasants can be divided into two distinct categories. Those that fly and those that run. The majority of those birds that did what we think pheasants are supposed to do -- which is sit tight and then flush on cue from under the tip of your well trained dog's nose -- were likely introduced to a roasting pan during the first week or so of the hunting season.

Those birds that are still around have become different creatures indeed. Crafty beyond comprehension, these roosters have earned their graduate degrees in survival. These late season birds can be depended upon to do anything and everything that we think pheasants are not supposed to do. They sneak, run, crawl, and slither. About the only thing these birds won't do is fly. No matter. Those that do usually go airborne a couple of hundred yards out of range anyway. The frustration level is enough to make a good hunting dog bite its own tail.

Only one thing can master these crafty, late season ring-necks. That ingredient is snow and plenty of it. Beginning late last Tuesday, those snows [the very ones that Conder had promised] finally arrived in the state. By late Wednesday, it was beginning to look a lot like winter. By Thursday, pheasant hunting enthusiasts were cracking under the strain of anticipation. Those who could pull it off took half-day vacations, while others settled for a short hunt during a long noon hour.

Most hunters knew, of course, that the newly arrived snowfall would improve success. Fewer were prepared for the spectacular, five-day, no holds barred pheasant fest that concluded when this year's season ended on Monday afternoon.

Last week's storm was significant for two reasons. First of all, it dropped plenty of snow. In the areas I hunt in extreme northern Iowa, everyone got at least six or seven inches of the white stuff. Many areas of the state received even more. Even more important was that the snow was light and dry.

Like everything else trying to get around in powder snow, rooster pheasants sink right to the bottom. Those conditions are great for roosting, but when your legs are only about six inches long, sprinting through grassy covers or running down fencerows becomes a sudden impossibility. The best option now is to simply sit tight and hope hunters will pass you by. In other words, even the cagiest old birds were once again doing exactly what pheasants are supposed to do.

As so very rarely happens in the world of pheasant hunting, the ending week of this year's season was actually better than the first. With roosters dug deep beneath the covers of cattail and canary grass, point blank flushes became the norm. Also, with several inches of snow now covering the landscape there were fewer places for birds to be, which immediately resulted in the best concentrations of the season.

Whether a hunter spent the final days of this year's season following the straight lines of a brushy fencerow or meandering through a favorite stand of cattails, one theme remained constant. Everyone encountered plenty of pheasants, most managed to bag some roosters, and a lot of folks took home three bird limits.

It was a season finale that pheasant hunters often dream about, but rarely get. It was enough to make a good hunting dog wag its tail.

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