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Todd Burras: Sun should shine on Iowa ringneck hunters

Todd Burras
Iowa Outdoors

If you’re a pheasant hunter, Saturday has the potential makings of a hallmark opener.

First, the weather looks nearly perfect. After a series of record-setting snowfalls and cold temperatures for this early in the fall, expect more much moderate conditions this weekend. Temperatures in the 50s are usually comfortable for hunters on foot and equally important for their four-legged companions. Excessive heat can be dangerous for hard-working hunting dogs so this weekend’s forecast should be welcomed by all.

Second, unlike many openers, including last year’s when about 90 percent of the corn was still standing in the fields, a vast majority of crops around the state this year have already been harvested. Fewer stands of corn mean fewer places for wily roosters to skulk around in and escape to. Pheasants pushed into smaller and more accessible coverts can increase a hunters’ odds of getting a closer and cleaner shot at flushed roosters.

Third, and most importantly, there appears to be a good number of birds to be found around the state. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ annual August Roadside Survey found a statewide average of 20 pheasants per 30-mile route, which was an increase over last year’s 17 birds per route. In fact this year, six of the state’s nine zones recorded 20 birds or more per route for the first time since 2007.

Last year, some 52,000 hunters killed an estimated 284,000 roosters. This year’s season runs from Saturday through Jan. 10, 2021.

“If hunter numbers continue their upward trend, we could see the harvest be closer to 2008’s when we had about 86,000 pheasant hunters harvest 400,000 roosters,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland biologist for the DNR. “In 2008, we had 17 birds per route, so we’re three birds higher average this year. If we could put the hunters in the field, we could see a bump in the harvest. The population is there to support that.”

Hunting dog Lilly Ann leads the way as a group of pheasant hunters head to the fields at Jack Bensink's farm near Pleasantville in 2007. The group was part of a clinic for young hunters being put on by Warren County Pheasants Forever and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Related: Iowa DNR: 2020 Ringneck pheasant numbers 'some of the best the state has seen in a decade'

Good luck hunters. Enjoy being outdoors. Follow the rules. And, most of all, be safe.

For those in central Iowa and even around the Midwest acquainted with Dave Duit, the Nevada man is simply known as The Purple Martin Guy.

So when I saw his name show up in my email inbox late last week, I assumed, of course, it had something to do with purple martins.

But Duit, who teaches at Ames High School, had a short account to share with me about an interaction he’d just had with a different sort of wildlife.

“It is a cold, foggy, damp morning and I was heading out in my car to work when I saw something that appeared to be a piece of tree bark in the middle of the road,” Duit wrote. “I was driving slow enough to notice that it was moving. I had not had my morning coffee, but I still knew that bark doesn’t walk. Lol.”

Being curious, Duit pulled over, got out of his car and investigated. The “walking bark” turned out to be an Eastern tiger salamander, the largest (seven to 13 inches in length) and most numerous of five species of salamanders to occur within the state.

“With my little knowledge outside of purple martins and birds when it comes to wildlife, I only knew that this was an uncommon species and the populations have been in decline,” Duit wrote. “It appeared to be heading toward the other side of the road and would never be able to get up and over the street curb and eventually see its own death. I had to save this creature as I have done with many other species like ducks, turtles, etc. ... I picked it up with my bare hand, not even aware if that action might hurt the salamander.”

Duit has a 12-acre pond near his house so into the car he and the salamander went.

“I simply held him in my hand and was able to steer with my other hand back to my house to release him near my pond, where he would have a better chance to find a hibernation location in the mud on the edge of my pond.”

Thanks, Dave, for the story and lending a helping hand to one of Iowa’s coolest amphibians.

Conservation, Collaboration, Connectivity, and Cooperation. Those are the tenants of the Tedesco Environmental Learning Corridor in south Ames, and they will be the focus of Big Bluestem Audubon’s first program of the season at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19.

The program will be a virtual meeting via Zoom and feature Story County Conservation Director Mike Cox and former Ames mayor and Story County Conservation Board member Ted Tedesco, for whom the park is named.

For more information, contact Doug Harr at dnharr@gmail.com.

Todd Burras can be reached at outdoorstoddburras@gmail.com