Pheasants are few, but still hanging on

PHEASANTS are big business, if there are enough birds to make the hunters come to the area where the birds live. Iowa has been especially hit hard over the past several years. Dedicated bird hunters took their trucks, guns, bird dogs and money to other places like South Dakota. What was once an honored fall hunting tradition eagerly looked forward to by many outdoorsmen and women has slowly shrunk to a whisper during the last few decades.

Tonight’s PF banquet is your turn to step up to the plate. Attend the banquet. Contribute to a great cause. See old friends and have a good time. Spread the word that sportsmen care and care deeply. They are willing to put some serious cash on the line to demonstrate their dedication to the outdoors.

Add drought conditions, too much rain in the spring and too much snow in the winter, then mix in year after year of these type of weather scenarios and the stage is set. The stage for this performance is lacking players and lacking an audience. Maybe. Pheasants Forever chapter members across America are not sitting down and doing nothing. There is work to be done. There are habitat projects to plant, tend to and maintain. There are long range plans to create habitat where none was before. And there will always be the desire to do the right thing by sportsmen and ladies that treasure the outdoor experiences of the hunt.

Wildlife is resilient if given a chance. Milder less rainy spring weather is a huge factor. So too would winters of less than 30 inches of snow. Farm policy programs are important if they can entice and hold onto the remaining 2.8 million acres of cover in hay fields, small grains and conservation reserve program lands. Add to this at least 4 or 5 years of optimal mild weather for pheasants and their population numbers should respond accordingly.

Iowa upland game surveys completed last August show the majority of the state as poor for the outlook on pheasants. Small pockets of slightly elevated numbers remain in northwest Iowa and east central. But the fact remains that the way land is farmed today compared to the typical agricultural practices of 1950, 1960 and each decade since have radically changed from many small fields per farm to an almost complete solid stand of corn or beans today. Cropland habitat of 1950 versus today reflects those changes. No weedy fence rows equals no insects, thus no protein food sources, and no long lasting cover.

Our neighboring state South Dakota has seen their pheasant numbers go down somewhat also. They are planning a big summit-like meeting in early December to bring all the stake holders together to talk about solutions. They want to halt the decline in pheasants and halt the erosion to the income generated by hunter coming to SD. Governor Dauggard called for the meeting to be held in Huron, SD.

Pheasant hunting in South Dakota is recognized as a top draw for sportsmen. The state’s Department of Tourism estimates pheasant hunting generates $223 million in retail economic impact annually and an additional $111 million in salaries on 4,500 jobs directly linked to the pheasant hunting tradition and related tourism. While weather systems are the one factor beyond human control, habitat on the land is within control of people. A focus on what can be done will be the objective of the Pheasant Summit meeting.

Pheasants Forever, including its quail conservation division, Quail Forever, is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to upland habitat conservation. PF and QF have more than 135,000 members and 745 chapters across the United States and Canada. Chapters are empowered to determine how 100 percent of their locally raised conservation funds are spent. They are the only national conservation organization that operates through this type of grassroots structure. You can be a part of the solution. Thank you in advance for your forethought and effort.

Today marks the beginning of a short Iowa youth pheasant season, Oct. 19 and 20. Youth ages 15 or less while accompanied by a licensed adult, age 18 or older, who is not hunting, can be mentored this weekend in attempts to flush a rooster. The youth is not required to have a hunting license, habitat fee or have taken the hunter safety course. Upon turning 16, that all changes. The adult world and adult responsibilities take over after that. Daily shooting hours are 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. A daily limit is one rooster with a possession limit of two on Sunday.

Rooster pheasants are what is hunted. Hen pheasants are not hunted. It is the hen that needs the protection of laws, adequate habitat to rest, nest and feed within for herself and her spring brood of chicks. Thus the biological fact is that hen survival is key to rebounding potential for pheasants in the future.

Also this weekend, South Zone DUCK SEASON opens. A new law allows waterfowlers to have a possession limit of three times the daily limit. Scaup limit is now two per day. Canvasback limit is two per day. Weekly reports on waterfowl migration status are made each Friday. Check it out on the DNR website migration survey page. Waterfowl numbers are very good. What is lacking in many parts of the midwest due to recent drought are stepping stones of water filled wetlands for the birds to stop at and feed during their southward migration travels. Federal wetland hunting areas are open according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

How many DEER will Iowa have in stock just prior to the opening of this fall’s seasons? Answer: About 435,000. All hunters in Iowa by the end of deer hunts in late January 2014, will likely take out over 140,000 animals. This is in line with projections by DNR biologist Tom Litchfield and his staff of managers. That number of deer killed is considered “strong”, similar to the 2012-13 season of one year ago. Seventeen of Iowa’s counties have above goal deer numbers. Those sites are in Woodbury, Monona, Harrison counties in western Iowa, south central counties of Polk, Warren, Jasper, Madison, Marion, Clarke, Lucas, Monroe, Decatur, Taylor, Wayne and Appanoose, and three northeast counties of Bremer, Winneshiek and Allamakee. The remaining 82 counties, the bulk of the state, are at goal levels. There are science derived trend lines to prove that the ongoing and careful management of deer allowed to be taken by hunters in the correct doe to buck ratio is working. Hunters are a key component in the management of deer.

“Goal” is not the potential carrying capacity level of the land for deer. The land could actually support a lot more deer if allowed to over populate. Instead, goal levels as presently set for those 82 counties is more akin to the ‘social carrying capacity,’ an arbitrary figure that strives for a balance of enough deer for hunters but not too many deer as may be viewed by other non hunting stakeholders.

As of mid-week, Iowa deer hunters have taken just under 7,000 animals, 4,183 of which were doe deer and 2,231 bucks. The balance is made up of button bucks and just as few shed antlered bucks. Marshall County hunters have taken 43 deer so far throughout the county.

Some parts of Iowa, notably our eastern and southeast parts, have another disease problem specific to deer. It is called EHD, or Epizootic Hemorrhagic Virus Serotype 2 (EHDV2). It is caused by the bite of an insect called a midge that seems to thrive during drought cycles. The insect likes exposed mud flats. If a deer is bitten by this bug, it gets sick quick and dies quick. So far Iowa has documented 634 cases of EHD deer deaths in southern and eastern Iowa. Across the Mississippi River in Illinois, over 400 cases have been reported in Jo Daviess County. Nebraska has had similar de-population episodes for their deer in some locations. If local hunters come across a recently dead deer with no apparent reason for its death, or a deer that is still alive but very sick, do contact biologist Tom Litchfield of the DNR to report it. Cool weather and rain will end the midge problem for another year.

It is the season for deer to be moving around a lot more. That means it is also time for motorists to be extra aware of deer movements. Deer are labeled by biologists as a crepuscular animal … meaning they are more active in early morning hours and early evening times. Cars and trucks will hit and kill many deer in Iowa, as also happens in other states. What is the likelihood of it happening to you? Well according to national statistics, about 4.3 percent less this year than last year. The national average odds were 1 in 167 last year. For the following 12 months of this year, the ratio is 1 in 174. State specific odds tell of high accident states for Virginia: 1 in 41. Montana is 1 in 65. Iowa is third with 1 in 73. South Dakota is 1 in 75. Pennsylvania is 1 in 77. Moving to Hawaii is an option as their car/deer collision rate is 1 in 6,787. This scribe will not move to Hawaii just to avoid a potential deer accident with my vehicle. It is just one reason I do have a Ranch Hand super tough front bumper on my truck, an added level of insurance in case a deer decides to tangle with me.

Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.