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Fall pheasants, fish, deer and more

By Joe Wilkinson
Iowa DNR

DES MOINES– If you hunt or fish, admit it. The next couple weeks keep us on the brink. What to hunt? How about fishing? If there’s a season for it, it’s probably open now. Okay, paddlefish are out. As always, check for yourself. I might be missing some obscure species or local restriction. My point is; just about any game critter with fin, fur or feathers looks pretty good right now.
A friend emailed me over the weekend that his opening day pheasant plans blew out the window with 25 mile an hour winds. So, he lugged some duck decoys to the marsh and had his limit in an hour. He then sat and watched the fall display for a couple hours more. That sort of flexibility makes the turn from October into November fun.
Just make sure you have the right shells, tackle, clothes and gear. Lead shot in your possession will get you a ticket, if you switch from upland game to waterfowl. That required blaze orange for pheasant hunting will stick out like a neon sign in the deer stand. Leave it and your firearm in the truck.

A look at some of your options in the next weeks?
Pheasant season got off to a windy start Saturday; with expectations for a harvest at or close to the record low. Still, it is the season for tens of thousands of Iowa hunters. Turnout was spotty around the state. I drove to Marshalltown and back Saturday for a meeting. I didn’t see blaze orange all the way over… or back.
A co-worker riding with an officer in Hancock and Wright counties mentioned all sorts of hunters; nonresidents as well as locals. Another report from Carroll County, on Sunday; indicated a lot of pheasant chasers out, too. In Johnson County, there was some shooting on the Hawkeye area; but not many pheasants taken.
A general rule of thumb– in a time when high crop prices have pinched off cover and cold, wet weather has curtailed pheasant reproduction– is to hunt larger areas of grassy habitat; particularly public land.
Deer; in a rut. The next couple weeks are busy ones for deer… and the people who try to outsmart them, when the whitetails are not thinking of day to day survival. Bucks are ramping up breeding efforts. It’s just that the does are not ready. That means a lot of deer movement… in and out of the woods.
Your best bet is still to be aware of doe feeding and bedding areas. Set up nearby… but be ready for deer moving through with only a few seconds of leave rustling to alert you. I’ve never had a lot of luck with scents or noisemakers, other than some simple cover scents and a single grunt. Other hunters swear by attractants, rattling, tending scrapes and multiple grunts. Maybe that’s why many of them do better than me?

Overall, deer numbers are down from 15 years ago; an edict from state lawmakers. County-specific antlerless tags did the job and just about all areas of Iowa are back to the targeted mid-1990s level.
Fall fishing is varied. Stream fishing for walleyes is pretty good. Water levels are low, so walleyes concentrate in the deeper pools. Crappies on area lakes are slow to fair. Meanwhile, walleye anglers are doing pretty well, on early evenings when wind blows shad and other baitfish into shore with walleyes following.
Iowa’s hunting atlas (go to www.iowadnr.gov) gets you close to the game species or area you prefer, and on public land. Find the hunting atlas page, and in a couple clicks, you will be on areas that fit your request. While 97 percent of Iowa is in private hands, there are about 600,000 well-managed public acres. One overlooked area nearby, is the Iowa River corridor; upstream in the Amana to Marengo vicinity. Otter Creek wildlife area, in Tama County, has several areas in the main property or new parcels a few miles away, good for upland birds.
Of course, most of the musings above are food for thought… not well thought out hunting strategy. It makes little sense to outfit yourself for duck hunting, then change your mind on the way to the marsh and run your trap line. However, they underscore the choices, we have; and the wide array of fish and wildlife in Iowa. Is it safe to assume you make your choice before you leave home?
The window closes soon enough. Dove season ends Nov. 9. The approaching cold shuts down most open water fishing. Various deer, duck, turkey, geese and crow (crow?) seasons close, open or close again as November blows into December.
Get out there. Go hunting. Go fishing. Just go.
Hunter education leads to safety in the field
Don’t put off finding that hunter education class until it is too late. Though there are a couple online options that may let you operate at your own pace, traditional courses require advance registration– and some planning– to fit in the 10 hours of instruction, usually over two or three days. And you cannot purchase an Iowa hunting license, without proof of Hunter ed.
Head to www.iowadnr.gov/Hunting/HunterSafetyEducation and, within a couple clicks, you can find the option best for you. If you have taken Hunter Ed, but cannot find your certificate… you can purchase a duplicate, by looking around on the same link.