Midwest Iowa Outdoors® & Outside Iowa®
With Thomas Allen
(October 24th, 2011)
Its no secret that Iowa’s pheasant populations have plummeted to a concerning level, especially since the hey-days of the early to mid 90s. Harvest numbers in those days often neared or exceed the million-bird mark, but this year we will be lucky to see 150,000 to 200,000 Iowa pheasants hit the dirt.
What’s the primary cause to the massive decline? Well, it’s a combination of a few things that all stem from rising crop prices and evolving farming practices. We have seen a massive reduction in habitat, which is one of the primary reasons for falling pheasant numbers. With increasing crop prices and CRP prices maintaining, from a business standpoint it makes more sense to put the CRP back to tillable.
Since the late 90s Iowa has lost an amount of habitat that equals a strip of land 12 miles wide that stretches from Davenport to Omaha. That’s just scary to think about, and yet it seems to make sense why Iowa is no longer the number-one pheasant hunting destination. Without habitat and cover, predation increases, recruitment drops, and winter survival disappears. Some say it’s an increase in coyote or bobcat populations, some even say feral cats have an impact. While each of those factors can and do have an impact, by themselves they don’t hurt the overall population.
Another giant factor to why our pheasants are having a difficult time recovering is nearly a decade of wetter and cooler than average springs. Pheasants nest during the spring and their chicks are not able to thermo-regulate as well as adult birds. They need warm dry nesting conditions to make it to maturity where they are far more likely to survive, but again a lack of suitable nesting habitat makes it difficult to successfully hatch a brood.
Don’t stop hunting them. Ringneck pheasants are a non-native species and are polygamous. A single rooster can service many hens therefore it won’t take many male birds to maintain the populations. Science has proven it is impossible for hunters to kill all the roosters in a given system; so choosing to not hunt pheasants will not help the population improve. In fact, pheasants are very aggressive and territorial with each other; the reduced stress on winter food sources will actually help the birds make it through the winter. In short, get out and kill a few roosters when possible.
There is a lighter side of this discussion that needs to be considered. While the above information is not new and might be somewhat depressing, there is still plenty of opportunity to get out and enjoy watching the dogs work. This is an issue that is not going unnoticed and there are groups out there doing everything they can to improve our situation.
If you have a passion for upland bird hunting in Iowa, and are not already a member, you should consider supporting the Iowa Pheasants Forever Chapter, (www.iowapheasantsforever.org) They are responsible for helping educate and spread awareness about quality habitat and how to improve our current situation. There are people out there who are working tirelessly to improve Iowa’s pheasant situation, and without them the days of old will surely never occur again. IPF is working a very cool program called “Reload Iowa” and there are smaller local chapters all across the state.
Iowa pheasants and the next generation of hunters need your support to rehabilitate a struggling situation. We can have an impact one voice at a time! In the mean time, there are still ample upland hunting opportunities available and I encourage you to get out and give it a try this fall, regardless of how ugly the situation may seem. Season starts October 29th and runs through January 10th.
Good luck and don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or comments.
Live it Up!
(Thomas resides with his wife and two children in Guthrie Center, Iowa. He is a professional outdoor writer, photographer, videographer, and outdoor talk radio show host; for more information visit www.outdoorpursuitsradio.com. If you have questions or comments feel free to email Thomas at email@example.com)