Todd Burras: Iowa pheasant harvest increased in 2020

Todd Burras
Ames Tribune

Upland hunters in Iowa killed nearly 300,000 rooster pheasants last season, a total that was up slightly from 2019 (284,000 roosters) and the second-highest statewide harvest in more than a decade. At the same time, the number of upland hunters in Iowa also increased.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resource’s annual harvest and participation estimates are based on the results of a random survey of licensed hunters following each hunting season.

“The 2020 roadside survey showed our pheasant population was 18 percent higher than in 2019, so an increased harvest was expected,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife biologist for the DNR, in a news release earlier this week. “Part of the increased harvest was due to the increase in pheasant hunters — 10,000 more hunters compared to 2019 — which was the highest since 2009. COVID was likely a major factor in that increase.”

Hunters in the central Iowa region, which includes Story, Hamilton and Boone counties, killed more than 20,000 roosters, according to the survey.

Bobwhite quail hunters didn’t fare as well as ringneck hunters. The quail harvest declined to an estimated 17,500 quail last year, which was down 16 percent from 2019. Bogenschutz said the harvest decrease was also expected based on the DNR’s annual August Roadside Survey that found the population was 11 percent lower in 2020 than in 2019.

The survey estimated hunters killed more than 75,200 cottontail rabbits, 76,600 squirrels and 81,700 mourning doves.

Bogenschutz anticipates ringneck hunters will see similar numbers of birds this coming fall. Based on the annual pheasant nesting forecast, the ringneck population should be similar to or slightly higher than last year. The forecast is based on a model using 1961 to 1990 winter and spring weather data to predict hen pheasant survival. Much of the state was as at or above normal snowfall totals this past winter, which likely reduced hen pheasant survival. However, the spring was significantly dryer than normal which tends to improve the nesting success of hens as well as chick survival.

The weather model offers a prediction of the fall’s population, but the August Roadside Survey is the best gauge of what upland populations will be this fall. Between Aug. 1-15, DNR staff and volunteers drive more than 6,500 miles of routes on gravel roads at dawn on mornings with heavy dew. Hen pheasants will move their broods to the edge of the gravel road to dry off before they begin feeding, which makes them easier to count.

The survey has been conducted over the same routes since 1962. In addition to pheasants and bobwhite quail, the survey collects data on gray partridge, cottontail rabbits and jackrabbits. The survey results will be posted at www.iowadnr.gov/pheasantsurvey by Sept. 10.

Iowa’s gray partridge season opens Oct. 9 with the pheasant and quail seasons beginning Oct. 30. The state’s youth pheasant season is Oct. 23-24.

Todd Burras can be reached at outdoorstoddburras@gmail.com.