Iowa Deer Hunting Forecast for 2014

Iowa Deer Hunting Forecast for 2014

Logo.inddOctober 1, opening day for the Iowa 2014 deer season, and hunters across the the Hawkeye State have been preparing for months for their days afield. What will this year's deer season bring? More importantly, what can we learn from looking back on the 2013 season?

In "Part 1 — the 2014 Iowa Deer Outlook," we take a look at harvest reports from last year, reveal where the greatest numbers of deer exist, and help you broaden your chances of filling your deer tag.

We'll also take a look at the first reported case of chronic wasting disease in an Iowa wild deer. The case was reported in April this year by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The reported deer was harvested in December 2013 during the shotgun season in Allamakee County.

THE IOWA DEER POPULATION

As we've reported for the last several years, the goals state wildlife officials have put in place for the Iowa deer herd aim to reduce the deer population to numbers matching levels that existed in the mid 1990's.

"Iowa has fewer deer than it once had. Deer hunters have been very good about harvesting more does over the last several years," said deer project leader Tom Litchfield of the IDNR, "and this has been the major factor in the declining deer numbers."

Litchfield also pointed to localized areas where the hemorrhagic disease outbreaks in 2012 and 2013 had some additional impact. Deer numbers are now at or below levels that existed in the mid-1990s, he added, and, overall, the health of the Iowa deer herd is excellent.

2013 DEER SEASON SUMMARY

According to the IDNR, the overall deer harvest in Iowa was down by 14 percent, compared to the 2012-2013 season, and is 34 percent lower than in 2006.

"Each hunting season is unique in its own way and creates special challenges," Litchfield said. "I don't feel that weather during the 2013-14 season had any real significant effect on the deer or the deer harvest, especially when comparing various weather events that has occurred over the last several falls."

License sales were also impacted by low deer numbers with the overall number of deer licenses issued down by 5 percent from the previous year. The reduction in license sales likely is related to lower deer numbers, colder than normal weather in December and January (compared to 2012), and reduced antlerless quotas in six counties in southwest Iowa.

The number of hunters declined by 3 percent from 2012 and is 4 percent lower than the peak in 2006. The reduced kill is directly related to the factors outlined above, as well as the reduction in deer numbers statewide.

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WHERE TO GO

Even with low harvest numbers being reported for the 2013-14 hunting season, Iowa hunters were still successful in filling tags throughout the season. Statewide, 99,414 deer were harvested; 49,837 of those being does, 38,555 antlered bucks, and the balance of 11,022 shared between button bucks and shed bucks.

Planning for the 2014-15 season may take a bit more strategy and, possibly, even take you as a hunter to uncharted territories. One of the benefits Iowa has to offer is excellent hunting opportunities within a day's drive in any given direction from central Iowa.

Let's break down the top-10 counties from the previous year and look at where you might have a better opportunity of fill your tag.

Big Harvests

Last deer season, Van Buren County topped the list of the greatest number of deer killed per square mile. Van Buren County covers 487 square miles. Deer hunters here killed 5.6 deer harvested per square mile. Among these were 1,421 does, 909 antlered bucks, 348 button bucks and 47 shed bucks, for a total of 2,725 deer killed.

In contrast Grundy County, which fell to last in state-harvest statistics, only reported a total of 91 deer harvested for the entire season — just 0.18 deer harvested per square mile total. The ratio between doe and antlered bucks was about 50:50.

1410_G118_IA1.inddClayton County, which last year was at the top of the list fell to number two with a total of 4,091 deer harvested. Though the total number is much higher than that of Van Buren, Clayton County is almost twice the size at 779 square miles, with an average of 5.25 deer harvested per square mile. Of that total, 1,504 were antlered bucks, and 2,164 were does.

Allamakee County follows, where deer hunters accounted for 4.73 deer harvested per square mile and a total of 3,011 deer killed. Antlered bucks reported were 1,211, while does totaled 1,519.

Lucas County comes in fourth. Deer hunters here killed 4.73 deer per square mile and reported a total of 2,052 deer harvested. Of those, 707 were antlered bucks, and 1,087 were does.

Rounding out the top 5 is Warren County, where deer hunters killed an average of 4.27 deer per square mile, with a total of 2,445 deer harvested. Of those, 928 were antlered bucks and 1,227 does. Warren County is larger than Lucas County, contributing to the lower average per square mile.

Jackson and Madison counties come in at sixth and seventh place, respectfully. Jackson County hunters averaged 4.05 deer harvested per square mile, while Madison hunters performed a bit lower at 3.74 deer harvested per square mile. Jackson County deer hunters produced an impressive number of antlered bucks, reporting 952 bucks and 1,268 does. Madison followed, with 801 antlered bucks and 1,106 does reported.

Taylor county reports in at eighth place, where deer hunters combined to kill 1,992 deer for an average of 3.64 harvested deer per square mile. Of those, 689 were antlered bucks, and 1,038 were does.

Wayne County is ninth in our list followed by Monroe County at 10th. Wayne County deer hunters averaged a total of 3.62 harvested deer per square mile, with 704 antlered bucks and 1,009 does. Monroe County deer hunters produced a total harvest of 1,536 deer, averaging 3.53 harvested deer per square mile. Of those, there were 556 antlered bucks and 798 does reported.

There you have it — the top-10 counties for deer hunting in Iowa, which combined for a total of 24,424 deer harvested. Of those, 8,961 were antlered bucks, 12,637 does, 2,565 button bucks and 261 shed bucks. The top-10 counties cover 5,611 square miles, where hunters combined efforts produced 4.32 deer per square mile, including 1.57 antlered bucks harvested per square mile.

Based on the number of deer harvested and the higher average of deer per square mile produced in  2013-14, these counties offer you better opportunities to fill your tag this season. Take a look at the accompanying map and you'll be able to establish where there might be a better chance for yourself, depending on where you live.

Deer hunting on public lands is limited in Iowa, but where public lands exist, deer hunters can get in some very good deer hunting, indeed. The counties with the higher reported harvest rates show the strongest deer number on public land, overall.

One component to consider, whether you live in a county that's listed in the top 10 or not, is deer habitat.

"In the long run, hunters will find more deer in better deer habitat, no matter what county you live in," Litchfield pointed out. "The difference in harvest densities among counties is closely tied to the amount of suitable deer habitat contained within each county."

Overall, Iowa deer hunters did well in 2013-14 for the number of deer available. And they've done a great job in reporting their hunting success.

"It's important that hunters report the animals they harvest," Litchfield recommended. "Not doing so can negatively impact future hunting opportunities and management decisions." Make the call. Report your deer harvest.

HUNTING IOWA'S DEER MANAGEMENT ZONES

As you consider your options for filling a tag for this season, participating in a deer-management zone hunt can be a good choice. Deer herds in these areas typically are large and in need of active management to prevent negative impact on commodity crops, as well as natural vegetation. Without these hunts these areas become deer refuges with high densities of deer that can cause problems on neighboring properties.

All deer taken on DMZ hunts must be antlerless, and deer tagged do not count against a hunter's regular license or bag limit. These are great opportunities to help manage the deer population. Most of these hunts are very successful in removing deer in problem areas.

For more information on deer management zone hunts, visit the Iowa DNR website at www.iowadnr.gov and follow the links to "Deer Management Hunts."

CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE 

In April this year the IDNR confirmed chronic wasting disease (CWD) was detected for the first time in wild Iowa deer. The infected deer was reported harvested in Allamakee County during the first shotgun season in December of 2013. IDNR officials are currently working to obtain as much information as possible about the infected deer to implement its CWD response plan.

CWD is caused by a malformed protein, called a prion. The disease is spread by direct and indirect contact as the prions are shed in the bodily fluids of infected animals and can remain infective for years in the environment. CWD has a variable incubation time before the infected deer will begin to shed prion and display signs of the disease. Prion causes microscopic holes to form in the animal's brain resulting in death.  As the disease progresses, the deer will decrease its intake of food, leading to weight loss.

Infected deer also exhibit behavioral changes, excessive thirst, drooling and unresponsiveness. It takes more than a year for an animal to die once infected with CWD. Due to the slow progression and symptoms of this disease, deer will be in poor body condition during the final stages of CWD. A deer herd infected with CWD will experience  animals dying from it yearlong. The disease outbreak does not end, the percentage of infected deer in the population builds through time (decades), and there is no known immunity to CWD.

"We have been testing for CWD in Iowa's deer herd for more than a decade and are optimistic, given the extensive data we have collected, that we have caught this early," said IDNR director Chuck Gipp. "The next step will be to focus our monitoring efforts in the area where the animal was harvested and work closely with local landowners and hunters to gather more information."

In "Part 2 — the 2014 Iowa Deer Forecast," published next month in Iowa Game & Fish magazine, we'll take a closer look at the plans the IDNR is putting in place to monitor CWD in the state — and specifically within the area where this case was reported — while also covering the best opportunities Iowa deer hunters have for taking a trophy buck.

THE 2014-15 DEER SEASON 

Deer hunting this year offers Iowa deer hunters some challenges and opportunities. Conservation efforts have made Iowa one of the most sought-after states to hunt for white-tailed deer. This last season was no exception. Deer-management goals are being met, and deer populations are stabilizing.

In next month's issue, we'll take a look at some of the big deer that were taken last year. Take time to study the map we included in Part 1. You'll find in some counties the deer harvested per square mile is less than two, but hunters in an adjoining county may have harvested two to four deer per square mile. It never hurts to hunt near where the hunting is best.

Good hunting!

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