Iowa DNR

Much of the Schrader Wildlife Area has been returned to native grasses and wildlife flowers, much like what was originally when the land was settled. The popular wildlife area features prairies in different stages of maturity, food plots for wildlife and a six acre pond. Photo courtesy of the Iowa DNR.

Vail — The Schrader Wildlife Area in Crawford County has been transformed from highly productive west central Iowa farmland into a highly productive prairie that has attracted a unique mix of wildlife, including being one of very few locations in Iowa that has bobwhite quail, pheasants and Hungarian partridge at one site.

The 180-acre public area northeast of Vail was donated to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources by Ray and Laura Schrader in 1991.

“We want to help develop the public ground in Crawford County because we don’t have that many acres,” said KR Buck, of Denison, volunteer with Crawford County Pheasants Forever and supporter of the Schrader area.

“When we invest in public land, it’s for a lifetime – it’s not going to disappear. Anyone can bring kids out here, enjoy nature, bird watch, harvest wild plums and shoot pheasants,” he said. “And you know who the landowner is – it’s open to everyone.”

The Schrader Wildlife Area attracts local hunters, as well as hunters from Council Bluffs and out of state who come here specifically for pheasants. But given its size and relative distance to other public hunting areas, it is often overlooked.

“It’s an upland hunter’s paradise that started as a blank slate, allowing us the flexibility to develop the area in a way we feel it can reach its full potential,” said Dusten Paulus, wildlife technician with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “I think if hunters just stop, they’d be back. I wish we had about 10 more areas around here like this.”

Set up for success

The Schrader Wildlife Area has prairies in different stages of maturity and development across its landscape which allows different plants to express themselves creating high quality prairie diversity. Food plots placed near pheasant nesting and brood rearing areas with adjacent winter cover give the popular game bird a place to escape when heavy snows come.

The Schrader area is thick with butterflies and dragonflies bouncing from plant to plant. A rooster pheasant let loose a steady stream of cackles northwest of the new boat ramp, intent on making his presence known.

A northern harrier lands in a tree at the southwest end of the area. That’s a good sign, said Paulus. “That bird of prey goes where the grasslands are. If it’s here, we must be doing something right,” he said.

Crawford County Pheasants Forever member and Schrader neighbor and farmer Clint Von Glan and his three sons have been working on the area installing sunflower fields, sorghum plots, and mowing and bailing hay.

“It’s been a good partnership with Pheasants Forever and the DNR. It’s a place for people to go. I know a lot of people fish the lake. My agronomist ice fishes it and does well but I’ve heard others have not,” Von Glan said. “It’s a good way to see the outdoors; have more wildlife around.”

There’s a special satisfaction that comes with seeing a project through and having its results exceed expectations.

“It’s a coordinated effort to do the right thing for the resource and it’s beginning to pay dividends,” Paulus said.

Partnerships make the project

The access lane, boat ramp and parking lot at the six acre pond, donated by the Crawford County Pheasants Forever, have been a welcomed addition by anglers and kayakers. The local Pheasants Forever chapter has also donated gravel to expand the main parking lot, helped to plant food plots, and, in partnership with the Crawford County Conservation Board, to plant trees for the winter shelter belt.

As with many successful projects, there are a number of partners who play an important role in making things happen. At Schrader, those partners include the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Crawford County chapter of Pheasants Forever, Crawford County Conservation Board, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Soil and Water Conservation District.