Delayed harvest lowers pheasant numbers, but outlook is good for long haul

There was no question Matt Dollison and Brian Gross were going to walk until they hit their limit — or they reached the end of shooting hours.

They weren’t expecting it to take seven hours to bag five pheasant roosters and one quail last weekend as upland bird hunting seasons opened in Iowa.

“We walked way more than most people would,” Dollison said.

Dollison is a Nishnabotna wildlife unit biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Gross is district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Fremont and Mills Counties. They hunted public land in southwest Iowa with Dollison’s dog Dezi.

Numbers weren’t what they expected.

They flushed 13 pheasants in seven hours. Last year, Dollison said, they would have flushed 40 to 50 in that same area.

“I would say we saw less than half the birds we saw on this property last year, pheasant-wise,” Dollison said. “A lot of crop was still in where it wasn’t last year. I’m hoping that was the big difference.”

Several conservation officers had the same story. Most of the hunters they spoke to had one or two roosters and no one they checked had hit their limit of three birds apiece.

Dollison said the area where they hunted had lots of rain in September and early October, which delayed harvest.

A rainy April and May also could have hurt nesting. Pheasants rely more on that first nesting attempt than quail, which are more persistent re-nesters.

Dollison also didn’t see as many hunters.

“There were definitely way less people out than last year,” he said. “That could lead to the later season being better for die-hard hunters.”

The weather was ideal for duck and deer hunting, and Dollison said that could have hurt participation. Iowa State also had a big game with TCU.

Dave Tierney, the conservation officer in Harrison and Shelby counties, told Dollison that he saw quite a few more hunters than last year, mostly because of about 5,000 acres of new public hunting areas that have been enrolled in the DNR’s Iowa Habitat Access Program in western Harrison County. None had bagged a pheasant.

Harvest is progressing, so a few weeks could make a huge difference in the pheasant outlook.

That would be great for Dollison, who hunts often.

“That’s what I live for,” he said.

Pheasant numbers lower

Pheasant hunter success on the opening weekend in Nebraska was slightly lower than last year.

Good quail numbers were reported in the southern half of the state but few hunters were targeting bobwhites.

Nebraska Game and Parks Commission staff and conservation officers made contact with 1,445 hunters, who harvested 523 pheasants and 143 quail. An additional 615 hunters were encountered on pheasant- release sites on 14 wildlife management areas, and they bagged 298 pheasants.

John Laux, Game and Parks’ upland habitat and access program manager, said it’s too early to draw conclusions on what the slightly lower hunter success means.

“Lower success could suggest we had limited production this year, but we really won’t know until the rest of the crops are out,” he said.

A delayed crop harvest, due to rain in late September and early October, left an abundance of cover. Laux said that provides excellent escape cover for pheasants and enhances their ability to elude hunters.

“It allows the birds to spread out on the landscape and is nearly impossible to hunt,” he said. “This clearly had an impact on hunter success this past weekend.”

Pheasant hunting opportunities and hunter success are expected to improve significantly once harvest is complete.

An opening-weekend report by region:

Southwest: Cool temperatures and light winds provided favorable conditions on opening day but hunting activity declined on Sunday as temperatures reached the upper 70s. Contact was made with 795 hunters, with 305 pheasants, 95 quail and six prairie-chickens harvested. Conservation officers contacted an additional 200 hunters on pheasant-release sites at Pressey, Sherman Reservoir, and Cornhusker WMAs, where 93 pheasants were bagged. Hunters reported seeing good numbers of quail but very few hunters were specifically targeting bobwhites.

Southeast: Outside of the pheasant-release sites, hunting pressure and success were relatively low. Most hunting activity occurred on WMAs and private lands enrolled in the Open Fields and Waters Program. Hunters reported good numbers of quail but relatively few were bagged. Contact was made with 325 hunters who harvested 87 pheasants and 40 quail. Conservation officers contacted an additional 257 hunters on eight pheasant-release sites, who harvested 155 pheasants.

Northeast: Hunting pressure and success were relatively low. Field reports indicate that soybean harvest is near completion but an estimated 50 to 80 percent of corn was still standing. Contact was made with 125 hunters who harvested 39 pheasants, eight quail and two prairie-chickens. Conservation officers contacted an additional 158 hunters on pheasant-release sites (Oak Valley, George Syas, and Wilkinson WMAs) who harvested 50 pheasants. Outside of the release sites, hunting activity on other public lands was low to moderate.

Northwest: Most hunters reported seeing good numbers but very little progress had been made on corn harvest in the Panhandle. Some unharvested sorghum and sunflower fields also remained standing. Throughout the region, conservation officers contacted 200 hunters, who harvested 92 pheasants.

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