Opening day of the 2016 deer season is the day that every deer hunter across Iowa has been waiting for. What will this year’s deer season bring? And where will opportunities be better than others to fill that all-important tag we purchase each year.
In this first edition of the 2016 Iowa Deer Forecast we’ll take a look at harvest reports from last year, find out where greater numbers of deer exist and help you broaden your chances of filling your tag. We’ll also look at harvest trends and see where the state is in its deer management goals to date.
IOWA DEER POPULATION
The overall objective for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has been to decrease the Iowa deer population to numbers that existed in the mid or late ’90s.
“In order to achieve population goals, antlerless quotas were increased from 2006 until 2013,” said Iowa Department of Natural Resources Biometrician Andrew Norton. “Since 2014, it appears the current regulations, which have been similar in the past two hunting seasons, have stabilized the deer herd.” Most areas are similar, but some regions across the state do not follow the overall statewide trend.
Iowa has a healthy deer heard that all can enjoy. There will always be challenges to managing deer in urban areas and other refuges such as state and county parks, where restricted hunting opportunity exists. However, special hunts have been successful reducing deer numbers in those areas.
“The harvest had a slight increase last year from 101,595 deer harvested in 2014-2015 to 105,319 harvested animals in 2015-2016,” Norton said. “The antlerless quota remained the same for the 2015 season.”
There was some EHD (Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease) reported, Norton advised, mostly in southern Iowa. However, it was less extensive than in past years, he noted.
The late and mild winter that Iowa experienced during the 2015-2016 deer season will be good news for hunters, as food sources were readily available and deer were not overly stressed due to weather.
“In general there were no significant changed in 2015-2016 from the previous year,” added Norton. “There were a total of 172,319 licensed hunters in 2015-16.” Of the reported total harvest of 105,319, does totaled 48,207. There were 47,398 bucks harvested and 9,714 button bucks.
WHERE TO GO
Planning for the 2016-2017 deer season may take bit more strategy as deer numbers begin to stabilize. One of the benefits of living in Iowa is that we can easily travel to opportune hunting grounds within a day’s drive. We also have special management hunts that you can take advantage of, and we’ll highlight those later.
Let’s break down the top 10 counties in Iowa for 2015-2016 and see where you might have a better opportunity to fill your tag. Allamakee County tops our list, with a total harvest of 3,633deer. Of those there were 1,858 does harvested, 259 button bucks and 1,516 antlered bucks. The total harvested report per square mile was in impressive 5.71 deer. Dropping from our top spot in the previous season to second is Clayton County, with a total of 4,381 deer harvested. Though the total number of deer is greater than that of Allamakee County, Clayton County is larger in size, covering 779 square miles, as opposed to 636 square miles for Allamakee. There were 2,149 does, 379 button bucks and 1,853 antlered bucks harvested last season. The average harvest was 5.62 deer per square mile.
Van Buren County is No. 3 in our list, and it had a total of 2,525 deer harvested. Of those 1,217 were does, 265 button bucks and 1,043 antlered deer, giving the county a 5.18 deer per square mile harvested. Following Van Buren County is Lucas County, with a total of 2,113 deer harvested. Does make up the greatest part of Lucas County’s harvest, with 1,013 animals harvested last season. Button bucks totaled 245, and the balance was antlered bucks, at 855. The total reported harvest per square mile was 4.87 deer. Warren County rounds out the top 5, with a total of 2,725 deer harvested averaging 4.76 deer per square mile. Of the total harvest 1,271 were does, 265 were button bucks, and 1,189 were antlered bucks.
Madison County followed with a total of 2,599 deer harvested. The county averages 4.61 deer harvested per square mile. Of the total harvest, 1,316 were does, 270 were button bucks and 1,103 were antlered bucks. Jackson and Marion counties are seventh and eighth in our count and had a total harvest of 2,771 and 2,188 harvested deer, respectively. Jackson County had a 4.3 deer per square mile harvested, and Marion County averaged 3.86 deer per square mile. Rounding out our top ten for the 2015-2016 season are Monroe County and Clarke County. There were a total of 1,674 deer harvested in Monroe County and 1,627 taken in Clarke County, with an average of 3.85 and 3.79 deer harvested per square mile.
The top 10 counties for the 2015-2016 season had a total of 26,236 deer harvested. The average harvest per square mile for all these counties was 4.66 deer. Of those deer harvested 12,743 were does, 2,474 were button bucks and 11,019 were antlered bucks. Based on the number of deer harvested and the higher average of deer per square mile for 2015-2016, these counties offer you better opportunities to fill your tag for the season.
DEER MANAGEMENT ZONES
As you vie your options to filling a tag for this season, participating in a deer management zone hunt may be a good choice.
Typically, deer herds in these areas are larger and in need of 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 the deer taken are 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 and most of these hunts are very successful in removing deer in problem areas.
Let’s take a brief look at the top five special management zones for the 2015-2016 season. The Polk-Dallas County deer management zone (DMZ), archery only, had 614 licenses sold. The doe harvest there was 263 animals. There were also 40 button bucks harvested in that zone last season. The Iowa Army Ammunition Plant, or IAAP DMZ as it is commonly referred to, is second in management hunts for 2015-2016. There were a total of 367 licenses sold and a doe harvest of 156 deer. There were also 54 button bucks harvested in that area.
The Johnson County DMZ follows, with 475 licenses being sold and a total harvest of 162 deer, including button bucks and shed bucks. The City of Dubuque DMZ had a harvest of 99 deer in total, and there were 183 licenses sold for that special hunt. Topping out the top five DMZs is the City of Council Bluffs, with 94 does harvested and 171 licenses sold.
In all there were 1,820 deer harvested out of the 50 deer management zone hunts for the 2015-2016 deer season. As we’ve already noted, these harvested deer do not count against the regular season license or bag limit, providing you with an increased opportunity to harvest a doe. A full list of the DMZs can be found at the Iowa DNR’s website.Each zone listed in the downloadable document will have contact information as well as the number of licenses that are available.
“Most of the DMZ hunts are antlerless only,” added Norton. “But a few have incentive tags where a hunter can earn a buck tag.”
Many of these have a special season and are archery only. However there are a few that include muzzleloader or firearm. There are also zone maps that you can download that will highlight zone boundaries and locations.
MENTORED DEER HUNTS
Two of the deer management hunts are mentored deer hunts. These are unique opportunities for first time hunters to be introduced to whitetail deer hunting. One of which I’ve been a part of for two years is the Warren County Mentored Deer Hunt hosted by the Warren County Conservation Board and sponsored by Ahquabi Chapter of Whitetails Unlimited.
“The first Warren County Mentor Hunt was held Nov. 13-15, 2009,” said Warren County Naturalist Logan Roberts. “That year we had six participants in the program.”
Each mentor hunt is preceded by an informational day where The Iowa Department of Natural Resources provides education in deer biology and history as well as laws pertaining to hunting here in Iowa. Part of the introductory day is a field portion. There are three stations set up for the afternoon, including tree stand safety, tracking and the shotgun range.
“We’ve had several different formats for having the information day followed by the days we hunt,” continued Roberts. “The first year the information portion of the weekend took place Friday evening and Saturday morning. We then hunted Saturday afternoon and then all day on Sunday.”
In the following years they had the informational portion of the program broken down into three small sessions, followed by hunting on Saturday and Sunday.
“I think it’s amazing that even if a participant doesn’t harvest a deer they can learn so much in just two weekends,” noted Roberts. “They can see natural things they’ve never seen before, observe animals they’ve never encountered before and experience shooting for the first time.”
There are without a doubt a great number of opportunities for hunters across the state to get out and fill their tags this season. Deer numbers are stabilizing, which challenges hunters when it comes to preparation. With goals at or reaching the mid-to-late 1990s numbers we still had an increase of 4 percent in the 2015-2016 season.
There are certainly plenty of deer in Iowa, and opportunities abound. You just might need to put in an extra effort in some cases. Iowa’s hunters are to be commended for their efforts to manage deer. You hold the key to having a good quality deer herd, and the number and quality of the animals is directly dependent on the choices you make in the field. We are all stewards of the wildlife in Iowa. Take time to report your harvest, as not doing so will negatively impact future hunting opportunities and management decisions.
As we spend time in the field enjoying the natural resources that we have in this state, let’s remember to pass on the torch and share our passions with first time hunters. Inviting a friend from work or your community who is interested but unsure how to get started will benefit hunting by making sure that the hunting heritage is understood, shared and continues to be passed on.
In the second part of our 2016 Iowa Deer Forecast next month we’ll take a look at some of the trophies that were harvested during the last deer season and will highlight areas where you might find some of these big bucks. We’ll also take a peek at where Iowa is with its CWD monitoring and share any updated information with hunters. Until then…Good Hunting! ■