Thousands of hunters in blaze orange will take to the fields when Iowa’s pheasant season opens Oct. 27. And with the second highest pheasant population in a decade, hunters can afford to be optimistic.
“We have good pheasant hunting across the state where we have good habitat,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Based on the results from the August roadside survey, hunters can expect to harvest 250,000 to 300,000 roosters this fall. Last year, an estimated 55,000 hunters harvested 221,000 roosters. That’s 2,000 fewer hunters than in 2016.
“We have the birds to support a harvest of 400,000 but we need more hunters to reach it,” Bogenschutz said. “We have a similar pheasant population estimate as 2007 when we shot 600,000 roosters but the difference between 2007 and today is 30,000 pheasant hunters. Until more hunters return, we won’t see our harvest match what the population can support.”
Participation bottomed out in 2013 and while today’s hunter numbers have improved, it’s a far cry from the 200,000 pheasant hunters less than two decades ago.
“I’ve talked to hunters who hunted Iowa on their way home from South Dakota last year and said they had better hunting in Iowa. The opportunity is here,” Bogenschutz said.
Hunters have options when it comes to pursuing pheasants. Much of Iowa’s public land is managed to benefit pheasants, plus, landowners in Iowa are friendly to hunting if hunters are willing to knock on some doors, Bogenschutz said. “And we have our Iowa Habitat and Access Program partnership between the two where we work with participating landowners to provide public hunting access to private CRP land,” he said.
Iowa’s youth only pheasant season is set aside for hunters age 15 and younger. The two days season is Oct. 20-21. The regular season opens Oct. 27 and this year, early success will likely be impacted by the crop harvest that has been delayed by up to three weeks in certain areas because of the wet fall.
Iowa Pheasant Season
Iowa’s pheasant season is Oct. 27-Jan. 10, 2019, shooting hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The daily bag limit is three rooster pheasants with a possession limit of 12. Hunters must have a valid hunting license and habitat fee.
Hunters are required to wear at least one article of external clothing with at least 50 percent of its surface area solid blaze orange: hat, cap, vest, coat, jacket, sweatshirt, shirt or coveralls. The same blaze orange rule applies while hunting quail, gray partridge and ruffed grouse.
Places to Hunt
The Iowa DNR’s online hunting atlas lists nearly 700,000 acres of public hunting land, including more than 25,000 acres of land enrolled in the popular Iowa Habitat and Access Program (IHAP) allowing hunter access to private land.
Each area on the atlas includes a link to a map with property boundaries, the size of the area, habitat type, species of wildlife likely found, if nontoxic shot is required and more. The map is available as a downloadable pdf that can be printed or saved to a smartphone.
To view the atlas, go to www.iowadnr.gov/hunting and click on Places to Hunt and Shoot in the left column.
Think safety before opening day
Hunters heading to the field for the opening weekend of pheasant season are encouraged to review safe hunting practices before they head out.
Megan Wisecup, hunter education administrator with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said hunters should get reacquainted with the techniques used to hunt pheasants – be sure to walk in a straight line and know where members of the hunting party are at all times, especially in low visibility areas like terraces, tall switch grass and standing corn.
“Go through the zones of fire with each member of the hunting party, talk about avoiding target fixation and swinging on game,” Wisecup said. “Wear plenty of blaze orange especially on the upper one third of your body. We are encouraging hunters to wear more blaze orange than the minimum required. The goal is to be seen by other hunters.
“The top pheasant hunting incidents all are related to not being seen. The shooter swings on a rooster, the victim is out of sight of the shooter or the rooster flew between the shooter and the victim.”
Wisecup said safety also extends to the canine companions.
“Avoid low shots to prevent injuring your hunting dog,” she said.
“The hunting plan and safety practices are all part of a responsible hunt. The goal at the end of the day is for everyone to return home safely.”
Tips for a Safe Hunt
- Iowa law requires hunters to wear at least one of the following articles of visible, external apparel with at least 50 percent of its surface area solid blaze orange: hat, cap, vest, coat, jacket, sweatshirt, shirt or coveralls.
- Hunters should stay in communication with each other and to stay in a straight line while pushing a field.
- Discuss the hunting plan that spells out how the hunt will take place, each person’s role in the hunt and where each person will be at all times.
- Know exactly where standers will be located, especially when hunting standing corn or tall switch grass to avoid having the standers get shot by the pushers as they near the end of the field and the birds begin to flush.
- Make sure to unload the gun when crossing a fence or other obstacle to avoid it accidentally discharging.
- Properly identify the target and what is beyond it especially if hunting in fields that still have standing corn.
- If hunting with a dog, never lay a loaded gun against a fence. Hunting dogs are usually excited to be in the field and could knock the gun over causing it to discharge.
- Hunters bringing dogs into Iowa must have in their possession a health certificate verifying rabies and other vaccinations of their dogs.
- Share the hunt. Take someone new along to help keep Iowa’s great hunting tradition alive.