Pheasant outlook good for Nebraska, Iowa

Hunters will find pheasants across the state when the season opens on Saturday.

The key is locating the right habitat.

“In Nebraska, Conservation Reserve Program fields are pretty tough to beat — they provide tall, undisturbed cover used by pheasants throughout the year and will offer some of the best hunting opportunities,” says John Laux, upland habitat and access program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

He said hunters should also target weedy draws, dense cover around wetlands and wheat and milo stubble.

According to the July Rural Mail Carrier Survey, pheasant numbers this fall should be as good — or better — than typical over the last five years in the Panhandle, Southwest and Sandhills regions. Hunters should find the best opportunities in the Southwest and Panhandle regions, where there are good bird numbers and abundant public access.

“These regions traditionally support more pheasants because they provide more habitat in the form of undisturbed grassland and small grains (specifically winter wheat and sorghum),” he said.

But hunters should not overlook other areas. There’s opportunities in the east although suitable habitat is generally more isolated.

If hunters can find large CRP fields in relatively open (treeless) landscapes, they’ll still find some good bird numbers.

Hunters seeking new places to hunt are encouraged to refer to the 2018-19 Public Access Atlas, which displays nearly a million acres of publicly accessible lands throughout the state. In addition to state and federal lands, hunters will have access to more than 317,000 acres of private land enrolled in the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Open Fields and Waters Program.

For those pursuing upland birds in the Southwest or Panhandle regions, the Stubble Access Guide displays an additional 29,000 acres of tall wheat and milo stubble fields open to public hunting access. Both publications are available at OutdoorNebraska.gov/PublicAccessAtlas.

Many areas of the state experienced unseasonably cold weather in late spring, which often leads to a delayed nesting season. However, habitat conditions improved significantly following the abundant rainfall in the summer and early fall.

“There is a lot of cover out there this year which is a good thing for both birds and hunters,’’ Laux said. “With abundant cover and food resources, I anticipate high brood survival among those produced this year.”

Quail and partridge seasons also open Saturday.

Quail numbers are highest in their core range in the southeast and west along the southern border with Kansas.

In recent years, quail populations have expanded into other areas of the state following several consecutive mild winters.

“Quail hunting has been fantastic over the past three seasons and more and more hunters are starting to take notice,” Laux said.

Bobwhite quail are considered an “edge species” and often occur where grasslands converge with other habitat types. Quail hunters should target weedy areas along the edges of crop fields and drainages containing woody cover in the form of shrubs or downed trees.

Around the state, fall crop harvest is in full swing. Rain slowed things a bit but the harvest appears to be right on schedule.

“This is always an exciting time of the year and upland hunters should have some great opportunities in many regions of the state this fall,” Laux said.

Lots of pheasants in Iowa

Thousands of hunters will take to the fields when Iowa’s pheasant season opens Saturday. And with the second-highest pheasant population in a decade, hunters can 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.

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