Fall is a season of anticipation. Most of the football season is still ahead and your favorite team might just do great things. Dry years tend to bring on better color in fall leaves than wet ones. This year might be spectacular. Hunting seasons are mostly ahead, too, and there is cautious optimism that at least pheasant numbers may be continuing their slow recovery from historic lows of a few years ago. Waterfowl population surveys indicate decent reproduction and a good fall flight. There’s room to hope for a pretty good duck season, at least if you’re able to hunt the east or west coast of the state, where big rivers provide a more dependable source of water for wetlands that migrating birds require. The same cannot be said for the rest of the state where many shallow wetlands have dried up. The big reservoirs are low, too, and many of the marsh-like basins at their upper ends that used to hold good water for birds are filled with silt from recent years of high water. They’re now little more than mud flats.
Those who hunt still can’t help but get excited at this time of year. Hunting isn’t what it used to be, though. Only about 5 percent of Americans still hunt. It is their license fees, the excise taxes they pay on guns and ammunition, and their financial support of organizations like Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever that provide the bulk of the nation’s funding for wildlife-related work. Note that I use the word wildlife instead of just game animals. Habitat that benefits game also serves the needs of non-game species.
Recruitment of new hunters is being emphasized by many state and federal wildlife programs, as well as by private organizations, as a means of maintaining the support base for wildlife work. Mentored hunts are becoming popular additions to the basic hunter education classes that have been mandatory in most states for many years. Traditional classroom hunter education programs are still available, but have been supplemented by online courses to keep up with the habits of the younger generation, as well as older potential hunters who may feel they don’t have time to attend a more traditional class. The online courses still require attending a “field day,” where students get hands-on training before they are certified.
The last traditional classroom hunter education program of the year for Story County is being offered by Nevada Parks and Recreation. The course will be offered on Oct. 17, 19, 24, and 26, from 6:30 to 9 each evening at Gates Hall. Persons wishing to attend the course must sign up through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ website. The course needs at least 10 students to be offered, and signup so far has been slow. Students must attend all four sessions and pass a 50-question test to be certified. No makeup sessions will be possible.
A young hunter without a hunting license can accompany a licensed adult hunter until their 16th birthday; they’re allowed to take their own limit of game. They must still purchase a tag to hunt deer or turkeys. They can even purchase a special “apprentice hunting license” for an additional two years after their 16th birthday to allow them to hunt with a licensed adult. In the end, though, all hunters eventually must pass a certified hunter education course before they can purchase their first hunting license. Hunting may not be what it used to be as a popular national pastime, but it’s still a wonderful and exciting way to enjoy the great outdoors. This old hunter still feels anticipation and excitement building as the weather cools.
Steve Lekwa is a former director of Story County Conservation.