Pheasant trials and tribulations

T-R PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG Highly variable fall weather adds to the challenge of hunting the elusive and hardy game bird, the rooster pheasant. A bit of snow for our first touch of winter weather certainly adds to a hunter's need to dress warmly while pursuing ring-necked pheasants. State public hunting areas in central Iowa that will see good numbers of hunters include the Iowa River Corridor east of Chelsea, portions of Otter Creek Marsh, Hendrickson Marsh's uplands, the Colo Bogs site east of State Center. County Conservation public lands with at least a few birds hunters should not overlook are the Arney Bend Wildlife, Marietta Sand Prairie, and the Iowa River Wildlife Area grasslands and re-constructed prairie uplands. The pheasant and quail season in Iowa opened yesterday. Three rooster pheasants per hunter per day is the legal limit.

RING-NECKED PHEASANTS are highly sought after by hunters young and old. For new young hunters, accompanying a dad, mom, big brother or sister, uncle or aunt, it is a special time to be allowed to participate in a long standing tradition of pursuing wild game. The sights of large grassy fields, bird dogs working back and forth in front of a line of hunters, and cold winds in everyone’s faces adds to the memory bank of another great outdoor experience.

If and when a tightly sitting cock pheasant explodes from cover, the sudden and startling effect of its rapid wing beats pushing against the air in its attempts to add distance between itself and the hunter is a strong reinforcement to the memories of everyone. And especially if the bird takes a tumble to the ground after a series of shotgun reports echo across the hills, a young hunter will be all smiles if this is his or her first pheasant. A well trained dog knows what the downed bird means. It is time to seek out and fetch the ring-neck back to the hunter’s side. Well done Fido as he drops the bird into the hand of the hunter. Now the task is to do it all over again, walk the extra miles it will take to bust another bird from its hiding place.

Across Iowa this fall, an estimated 50,000 blaze orange clad hunters will spread out across the landscape looking for pheasants in tall prairie grasses, waterways, fence rows, brushy areas next to food plots and even cattail surrounding wetlands and marshes. The first two weekends typically get the most hunting pressure. Then as holiday times approach, new spikes in hunting pressure will take hold. Dedicated bird hunters also watch the weather and pick their times when Mother Nature is not in too foul of a mood so that hunters can enjoy the day.

Pheasant numbers are pretty close to the same as last year. The trend over the last two decades had been for a slowly declining population count as verified by biologists and game warden roadside surveys. Of course present day pheasant numbers pale in comparison to what many old time hunters may remember from the “good old days” when every farm unit was smaller, had more fences and weedy fence rows, smaller crop fields of small grains, grasslands and pastures.

Times have changed indeed. Just one change helps explain a decline in hunter numbers is the way people live, where they live, and the amount of time they have available to pursue game birds. Reduced pheasant numbers is part of the equation so some hunters will just not put in the effort anymore. A much reduced Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands planted to grasses in return for long term contracts and payments to landowners has fallen by the wayside also in much of the Midwest. Without long term grassy habitats for hen pheasants to live in and nest, population decline pressures continue.

Not all is gloom and doom however. The hardy pheasant can rise to the occasion if conservationists, hunters, and landowners work together to provide special places for game and non-game animals to call home. Organizations like PHEASANTS FOREVER are active participants with all the above to put habitat on the ground where it counts. You can assist in this regard in a number of ways. First, buy a hunting license even if you do not hunt. The money raised by license fees is critical to sustained long term conservation efforts. Second, do join organizations like PF to add support to their efforts. Money raised by PF chapters is available locally to assist in any worthwhile habitat program. As a reminder, Nov. 4 is the 2017 Tama and Marshall County PF banquet to be held at the Marshall County Central Iowa Fair Grounds. Ticket can be obtained from Steve Armstrong at 641-751-1668, or John Fox at 641-751-4487.

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From a national survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I’ll quote from the Deputy Director Greg Sheehan regarding what the last five years of data collection has to say about the status of wildlife and wild places in America. Here is in part what he has to say.

“From the earliest days of our nation, the love of nature and a connection with the outdoors, have always been an integral part of our identity as Americans. Which is why it is not surprising that even as our society continues to change and diversify in the 21st Century, those values endure.

Our passion for wildlife and wild places, and the lengths to which we go to pursue that passion, are reflected in the preliminary findings of the 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.

As is has since it was first conducted in 1955 — and every five years since — this detailed and rigorous survey is based on interviews with thousands of Americans from all walks of life. The preliminary findings should hearten everyone who cares about the health of our wildlife, natural landscapes and people.

In 2016, more than 101 million Americans — a staggering 40 percent of the U.S. population — participated in some form of fishing, hunting or other wildlife-associated recreation such as bird watching or outdoor photography. And in so doing, we spent and estimated $156.3 billion on equipment, travel, licenses and fees. These expenditures represent 1 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product — creating and supporting thousands of jobs and communities across the nation. More than 35.8 million people went fishing during 2016. Hunters numbered 11.5 million. Wildlife watcher numbers are huge at 86 million. That means that 14 percent of Americans 16 years of age or older fished, 5 percent hunted and 35 percent participated in wildlife watching.

These findings are not just good news for the nation’s economy. Revenues from sale of licenses and tags, as well as excise taxes paid by hunters, anglers and shooters continue to support vital wildlife and habitat conservation efforts in every state and U.S. territory. And on a personal level, a growing body of scientific research suggest we are healthier, happier and better off in myriad ways when we spend time in nature”.

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Did you know that a conservation minded cartoonist from Iowa is partly responsible for efforts that helped save America’s wildlife? Yes indeed, it is true. His name was Jay Norwood Darling (1876-1962). He liked to go by the nickname “Ding”. His cartoons grew attention to political and conservation issues across the nation. His works were published in the Des Moines Register and the New York Tribune between 1917 and 1949. He knew how to make a complex issue take on easy to understand concepts by drawings depicting land use issues and how wildlife can or could not adapt. He won Pulitzer Prizes twice for Editorial Cartooning in 1924 and again in 1943.

­J. N. “Ding” Darling was instrumental in getting the first Migratory Bird Stamp Act passed by Congress in 1934. The Act required anyone over the age of 16 who wanted to hunt waterfowl to purchase a federal duck stamp in addition to the already required state license. The first federal duck stamp cost $1. Revenue from these stamp sales went directly into the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, not into the federal treasury. In the beginning year of the Act, a minimum of 90 percent of this revenue had to be used for the purchase, development and maintenance of refuges for waterfowl (Today the law requires a minimum is 98 percent).

Eighty-three years later, the federal duck stamp has been one of the most successful conservation programs the world has ever known. It has allowed and caused to happen the acquisition of 5.7 million acres of wildlife habitat. It is a program by which users pay for the privileges they hold so dearly. Hunters are the majority of these user payers to ensure long term habitat and wildlife research for all kinds of migratory birds, hunted or not.

Thank you Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling for your insight, wisdom and courage to pursue a need that needed to be met. You did well.

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“The world is not interested in the storms you encountered, but whether you brought in the ship.”

— Anonymous


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 P.O. Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.