A dry winter with below-normal snowfall is improving the odds for better pheasant hunting again this season. Iowa Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist, Todd Bogenschutz, says the snowfall numbers are a good predictor of how well wild birds handle the winter.
“Anytime that we are kind of upwards of over 30 inches of snow or beyond, it’s generally not a good winter for pheasant or quail. We kind of had a lot of those winters from ’07 to 2011, which really depressed our pheasant numbers,” Bogenschutz says. “Here in the last couple years things have been a little bit better. This past winter we came in at about 21 inches.”
Bogenschutz says many pheasant hunters reported seeing more birds last fall after five years of winters with heavy snow and cool wet springs that hurt the numbers. The fall sightings combined with the winter numbers add up to potentially good news. “We’re thinking right now — at least I am cautiously optimistic — that we carried a good number of the hens we have out there through the winter in pretty good shape,” Bogenschutz says.
The more hens that survive the winter, the more chance they’ll raise new birds this spring. “I think the stage could be set for maybe another increase this year because we got all those hens through the winter, they’re out there, they can nest,” Bogenschutz explains. “Now we just need some good weather through nesting season — and we’ll see what the roadside counts bring.”
Bogenschutz is referring to the annual August roadside counts that give an estimate on the number of pheasants. Bogenschutz says landowners can help to ensure the positive trend continues by planting shelterbelts and food plots for the birds. “We just don’t have a lot of that type of winter cover out there on the landscape, so we’re trying to encourage landowners, you know if you are worried about pheasants or see them struggling, do you have an opportunity to do a food plot?,” Bogenschutz says.
He says they also provide information about the shelterbelts, which provide cover and food for pheasants. Cost share assistance or seed for food plot establishment is available from most county Pheasants Forever chapters or local co-ops. For information on how to establish or design shelterbelts or food plots that benefit wildlife, contact your local wildlife biologist or go online at: www.iowadnr.gov/privatelands.
(Story by Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City)