Photo by www.gnaoutdoors.com
“There’s plenty of good pheasant hunting near our urban areas,” says Iowa Department of Natural Resources Upland Game Technician Mark McInroy.
“Generally speaking, you’ll find the better pheasant hunting in areas across the northern two-thirds of the state, with the best areas being in north-central and northwestern Iowa,” he says. “These areas are large and include a lot of hunting opportunities. Calling ahead to the area office for suggestions or downloading a map of the area is a good idea.”
To be sure, public hunting areas near our more populated areas can be hit pretty hard. But there’s still a lot of great hunting if you know where to look.
BRUSHY CREEK STATE RECREATION AREA
Fort Dodge bird hunters are going to find a pheasant paradise at Brushy Creek with plenty of opportunities.
“If I were going to hunt Brushy Creek this fall, I’d concentrate on the northwest and western portions of the area,” says Natural Resources Technician Steve Espeland.
“There are large blocks of native grass interspersed with crop fields, along with a few shelterbelts that can be productive.”
Solo hunters can find birds, but a close-working dog is an asset. If your hunting party is large enough, posting blockers at the ends of the fields is a good idea. Some fields are long and linear, and birds can easily run out of the fields before shooters get within range.
Farmers leave crops standing to create wildlife food plots. After a heavy snow, these plots will be pheasant magnets. The food plots are deliberately located next to good cover, and any birds that have been hunted hard in the early part of the season will be back when the temperatures start to drop.
The Brushy Creek Wildlife Area is located in Webster County. Hunters can access the area east of Lehigh on D46. Call the Saylorville Unit at (515) 432-2235 for more information.
DEWEY’S PASTURE WETLANDS COMPLEX
“A lot of birds are shot on the complex because there’s such a wide variety of habitat,” says Wildlife Biologist Bryan Hellyer.
“Most of the acreage is contiguous and covered with prairie marshes, shallow lakes, native prairie and cool-season grasses and food plots — all the things pheasants like to use and get in around. The birds really like the cattails later on in the season.”
The main area of the complex has two 500-acre segments that are ideal pheasant habitat and can be readily worked by a lot of hunters, Hellyer says. These large prairie tracts lie on the north and south sides of Mud Lake.
The creation of edges between varying types of habitat is central in the management of Dewey’s Pasture, says Hellyer. Ringnecks like the breaks in grasses, cattails and marshes and do well when the habitat types are interspersed. The birds will come up to an edge and have to decide whether to flush or run — a moment’s hesitation that might give the shooter the advantage.
The area covers 7,315 acres in the Spencer area and is located 6 miles north of Ruthven on N18 in Clay and Palo Alto counties. For more information, contact the Ruthven Unit at (712) 262-4177.
SPRING RUN WETLANDS COMPLEX
“I’d tell pheasant hunters to concentrate on the east and central sections of Spring Run and to concentrate around any of the food plots,” says Chris LaRue, the area’s wildlife management biologist.
“These spots can be productive, as can hunting deep within the larger tracts of land that haven’t had a lot of hunting pressure. The birds always seem to find areas of refuge where there isn’t a lot of pressure and disturbance.”
During heavy pressure, pheasants will readily use the marshy sections of the property. Be ready to check those areas that are swampy or in the clumps of cover away from the rolling grasses, stands of cattails and other nontraditional cover. Nobody’s told the pheasants they’re not supposed to be using it!
The Spring Run Wetlands Complex covers 3,160 acres in the Spencer area.
The area lies in Dickinson County, three miles east of Spirit Lake on Highway 9 and over two miles south on 280th Avenue.
Call the Big Sioux Unit at (712) 336-1485.
UNION HILLS WMA
“This area is a mosaic of wetlands and tall-grass prairie,” says Wildlife Biologist Doug Janke.
“October hunting will find the birds in the uplands, and they’ll quickly become more wild since the area is hunted fairly hard. In November, the birds will move into the cattail marshes and denser grasses.”
According to Janke, a good dog is an important asset when hunting this area. There are hundreds of acres of grassland and a lot of up-and-down walking. Single hunters or those in a group will find a lot of room to stretch out on.
This Clear Lake-area WMA covers 1,989 acres of prairie grass seedings, and the walking can be tough. Every year, the switch grass and willow thickets near marshy areas produce lots of rooster action.
As the weather gets colder, ringnecks will be hunkered down in piles of grass, food plots, crop fields or fencerows.
Union Hills WMA lies in Cerro Gordo County four miles north of Thornton on highway 107, then two miles west on B55.
For more information contact the Big Marsh Unit at (515) 532-2765.
CHICHAQUA RIVER BOTTOMS WMA
Des Moines-area ringneck hunters consistently take roosters from this 6,431-acre wildlife unit that lies just a short drive away. The pheasant numbers never fall below acceptable levels, and even though the hunting pressure can be heavy, the shooting can be phenomenal.
The habitat and access are excellent, says McInroy. The area has large tracts of habitat that make it one of the state’s best pheasant-hunting destinations. A lot of DNR work has gone into the area, and it’s become a top-notch bird area as a result.
When hunting the switch grass on Chichaqua River Bottoms, a close-working dog or a large group of drivers is go
od to have. Roosters will double back in the thick grass and without a dog, there’s a good chance of not even seeing them.
Target the prairie grasses and grain food plots. As it gets colder, the birds will concentrate in the heaviest cover they can find near food plots.
The Chichaqua River Bottoms WMA is in Polk and Jasper counties.
Contact the Red Rock Management unit at (515) 961-0716 for more information.
SWEET MARSH WMA
“I’ve hunted the Sweet Marsh Area myself and it’s a great place to hunt,” says McInroy.
Waterloo’s pheasant hunters have great hunting right in their backyard. Sweet Marsh WMA is primarily a waterfowl habitat, according to Wildlife Biologist Doug Chafa. A lot of it is marshy and bordered by the Wapsi River and Plum Creek.
“On the east side of the property are cattails, brush and some wet areas that the pheasants can get into and not a lot of hunters go,” says Chafa.
According to him, the grassland acreage is getting larger. Well over a hundred acres are being planted in a mixture of shorter grasses, and patches of tall grass and brush are being established. It won’t help shooters this season, but in a year or two, it should be overrun with birds.
Sweet Marsh WMA covers 2,267 acres of grass, marshland and woody cover in Bremer County. For more information, contact the Sweet Marsh Unit at (563) 425-4257.
BIG MARSH WMA
“On Big Marsh, blocking opportunities don’t really exist,” Janke says.
“The west end includes several hundred acres of prairie grass that’s pretty much flat and dry when October arrives, aside from a few ditches. Large groups or just lone hunters can all be accommodated by the area’s terrain.”
The main section of the area off Highway 14 has more broken cover with small fields, shrub patches and a fair amount of wet ground with an inch or two of standing water.
According to Janke, hunters working in small groups generally take the most birds. The largest numbers of pheasants are likely to move into this area later on in the season.
Big Marsh WMA has a nice blend of upland grasses, marshland and timber cover that gives roosters an opportunity to pick their habitat preference. It’s also within easy driving distance of Waterloo and Cedar Falls.
The Big Marsh WMA covers 4,380 acres near Waterloo. It’s located 6 miles north of Parkersburg on Highway 14 in Butler County.
Call the Big Marsh Unit at (515) 532-2765 for additional information.