Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Iowa’s small game hunting seasons are just around the corner. Cottontail rabbits, fox squirrels and gray squirrels become legal game September 4th. Pheasant hunting begins with a two-day youth hunt on October 23 & 24th followed by the regular season which runs from October 30 through January 10, 2022.
The best indicator of what this year’s seasons will bring come from data collected during the DNR’s annual roadside game surveys. Beginning in early August, wildlife biologists survey statewide upland game populations by tabulating the number of pheasants, gray partridge, bobwhite quail, cottontail rabbits and other small game species sighted while driving 218 designated, 30-mile roadside routes. Traveling the same backroad trails since 1962, the synchronized routes are run on mornings when calm winds and heavy dew bring rabbits and gamebirds unto rural roadsides to dry off.
Although the results of this year’s surveys won’t be posted for a couple of weeks yet, early indications suggest that Iowa small game enthusiasts could enjoy a banner season during 2021. Pheasant populations will draw the most attention, of course. For ring-neck hunters, good news is in the offing. Last year’s relatively mild winter ended with good survival and plenty of hen pheasants occupying the spring landscape. The April, May, June nesting season was unusually dry; a condition that generally favors ground nesting wildlife.
As summer wanes, the results of this year’s nesting effort have become increasingly evident. Wildlife biologists, rural mail carriers, farmers, and other early risers are beginning to see pheasants and lots of them. Last year, Iowa ring-neck populations enjoyed an 18 percent increase over 2019, leading to a 2020 harvest of 300,000 roosters — the highest in a decade. We’ll hopefully see more of the same during 2021.