Todd Burras: Pheasant hunters can expect a good season in Iowa this year

Todd Burras
Ames Tribune

Pheasant hunters in central, west-central, north-central and northwest Iowa won’t need to travel far for the chance to take advantage of the best ringneck opportunities the state will have to offer this fall.

While data collected by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in early August showed that the pheasant population remains essentially unchanged from a year ago, three of those four regions saw significant increases and when combined, offset dramatic declines in several other regions of the state.

Since 1962, DNR staff and volunteers annually drive more than 200 30-mile routes during the first two weeks of August counting pheasants, as well as bobwhite quail, gray partridge and cottontail rabbits. Results from the 2021 August Roadside Survey showed a statewide average of 20.1 pheasants counted per route.

Three of the nine regions – northwest (29.6), north-central (31.8) and west-central (31.6) – averaged at or more than 30 birds per route, the first time that has occurred since 2007. The central region, which includes Story, Boone and Hamilton counties, among others, saw a 25% increase from 20.4 to 25.5 birds per route.

Conversely, a year after seeing significant increases in pheasants counted in the eastern one-third of the state, the counts in those same regions plummeted. The southeast region experienced the steepest decline as counts dropped 64% from an average of 28.6 birds per route in 2020 to 10.3 this year.

Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist for the DNR, said the survey shows the impact that weather can have on upland game.

“In the regions where less snow fell, the counts were better; where more snow and ice fell, the counts were worse,” Bogenschutz said. “Hunters can expect a good pheasant season for most of the state again this year, with the best hunting being north of Interstate 80.”

An estimated 60,000 hunters killed nearly 300,000 roosters in Iowa during the 2020 season, which was the second-highest harvest reported in more than a decade.

“Given this year’s statewide index of 20 birds per route Iowa, pheasant hunters should harvest approximately 250,000 to 350,000 roosters again this fall,” Bogenschutz said.

Here are other findings from the state's August survey:

  • The bobwhite quail population dropped by 50% overall with the highest quail numbers coming from the southwest region, where 1.5 birds per route were counted.
  • The gray partridge population was up slightly over last year with the highest count of 4.1 birds per route coming from the central and northeast regions.
  • The cottontail rabbit population fell by about 18% from last year, from 5.4 to 4.4 rabbits per route with better counts coming from the east-central, southwest, south-central and southeast regions.

Iowa’s gray partridge season opens Oct. 9 while the pheasant and quail seasons open Oct. 30. The cottontail rabbit season opened Sept. 4. To see the full Iowa Roadside Survey report, visit

Nominees sought for Smedal award

The Story County Conservation Board and the Ames Chapter of the Izaak Walton League is seeking nominees for the 2021 Olav Smedal Conservation Award. The award was initiated in 1988 by the Ames Tribune to honor Olav Smedal, who spent 22 years as an outdoor writer and 17 years as the outdoor editor for the paper.

The award seeks to honor those who, by their actions or communications, have done the most to accurately present to the public of central Iowa excellence in the conservation of natural resources (i.e. air, water, woods, wildlife and soil), and outdoor pursuits representing the highest standards of ethics and sportsmanship.

Preference will be given to candidates who, as volunteers, exhibit excellence in providing public information, leadership and/or involvement. Those making the nominations should send a letter indicating: the nominee’s background; a description of a successful program, project or event for which the nominee was responsible; describe what measurable results were achieved; and describe what impact the program or activity had on the general public of central Iowa.

Deadline for nominations is Friday, Oct. 15. To submit a nomination, send to Olav Smedal Conservation Award Committee, c/o Mike Meetz 20267 580th Ave., Nevada, IA, 50201, or Story County Conservation, 56461 180th St., Ames, IA, 50010.

Seed harvest needs volunteers

If you’re looking for a fun reason to get outside to enjoy the fall weather and to even catch a bit of the fall butterfly migration, Story County Conservation could use your help.

Conservation staff will be collecting seed at Doolittle Prairie on two occasions later this month, and they could use some volunteers. Experience is not necessary, and staff will show volunteers where, how and what species of prairie flowers from which to collect the seeds.

The two family-friendly events are set for 4:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 21, and from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30. Doolittle Prairie is located at 14249 560th Ave., south of Story City.

Registration is required by calling 515-232-2516 or visiting

Todd Burras can be reached at