Opening day of the 2018 deer season looms! It starts with bow season, but whether you’re a bow hunter or not, this is the day every deer hunter across Iowa waits for each year. What will this year’s deer season bring? And where will deer hunting be best to fill that all-important tag hunters purchase each year?
IOWA DEER POPULATION
Deer populations across Iowa, as a whole, have stabilized. What has been an imbalance in the doe-to-buck ratio — frankly, an over-abundance of does — was first addressed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources beginning with the 2013-14 hunting season when quotas were placed on antlerless licenses at county-by-county levels.
“Our statewide population goal is to sustain an annual harvest of 100,000 to 120,000 deer, and we have been hovering around 100,000 deer harvested annually,” says wildlife technician Tyler Harms of the IDNR. “The goal was to return deer population levels to those that existed in the mid- to late 1990s. This goal has been achieved on a statewide basis. Achieving our statewide population goal allows us to focus management more regionally or locally in response to population concerns, such as declining population trends or disease concerns.”
POPULATION TREND SURVEYS
Four records are currently used to monitor trends in Iowa deer populations: 1) spotlight surveys conducted by the IDNR in March and April; 2) the number of deer killed on Iowa’s rural highways throughout the year, coupled with annual highway use estimates; 3) the number of deer-related accidents reported to the Iowa Department of Transportation; and 4) the bowhunter observation survey, coordinated by the Iowa DNR and conducted by volunteers from October through November.
All of these studies correlate well with the reported antlered harvest and appear to provide reliable long-term trend indices. However, none of these surveys can be considered absolutely reliable indicators of annual changes in the population because of the high variability in the survey conditions, deer behavior, habitat conditions and weather.
Bowhunter observation data, which was initiated during the 2004 season, has replaced the aerial deer survey as a trend index. This survey represents more than 100,000 hours of observation distributed throughout the state and is conducted voluntarily by a randomly selected group of Iowa archers. The tactics (stand-hunting) typically used during this season make it easy for hunters to gather observational data.
2017 DEER SEASON SUMMARY
Iowa deer hunters enjoy some of the very best whitetail deer hunting in North America. Opportunities lie in every direction for hunters to fill deer tags every season, traveling little more than two hours north, south, east or west from home.
The IDNR reports the 2017 state deer harvest was up about 4 percent over 2016, while license sales remained essentially unchanged. “The greatest increase in harvest,” Harms says, “occurred during both shotgun seasons, when hunters experienced unseasonably warm weather that allowed for more time in the field.”
Clayton County once again topped the county-by-county harvest totals, with 4,478 deer killed by local hunters — an average of 2.42 bucks harvested per square mile. Clayton County has been the top spot for deer hunters over the past five consecutive years, flanked by other northeast Iowa counties where deer harvest is high, largely because deer habitat is abundant in that part of the state. Just north, Allamakee County deer hunters killed 3,315 deer, or 2.22 bucks harvested per square mile.
Madison, Van Buren and Warren counties wrap up the top-5 deer harvest by county, with a combined harvest of 8,410 deer harvested. While Madison County had a great number of deer harvested, of these three, Van Buren County had a better average of 2.31 bucks harvested per square mile in 2017 than the other two.
Jackson, Winneshiek, Wayne, Marion and Dubuque counties join the top 10 counties in the 2017 deer harvest totals, combining for 11,277 deer harvested. Those five counties had an average of 1.59 bucks harvested per square mile.
Overall, 105,573 deer were harvested by Iowa deer hunters in 2017, with an almost equal number of antlered deer versus antlerless deer in the kill total. This is another great indicator that deer populations in Iowa are stabilizing. While some areas may show a decrease due to depredation or disease, great deer-hunting opportunities abound.
EFFECTS OF DISEASE
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a neurological disease affecting primarily deer and elk. It is caused by an abnormal protein, called a prion that attacks the brains of infected animals, causing them to lose weight, display abnormal behavior and lose bodily functions. Signs include excessive salivation, thirst and urination; loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, listlessness and drooping ears and head. The only reliable test for CWD requires testing of lymph nodes or brain material.
The first confirmed case of CWD in Iowa was reported in Allamakee County in April 2014. It was found in a deer harvested during the first shotgun season in early December 2013. Since then, IDNR wildlife biologists have confirmed CWD exists in the deer herds of three Iowa counties. While these cases are confined to a small portion of the state, the IDNR continues to monitor population trends in those counties to aid them in devising management strategies for slowing the spreading of the disease.
Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) is a viral disease that’s usually fatal and stands as the most common disease among white-tailed deer. It has killed deer by the thousands, spread by biting midges. Warm, dry weather favors the buildup of the midge populations and increases the likelihood for EHD outbreaks. Drought causes the deer to concentrate on remaining water sources where the midge population is prolific.
These outbreaks tend to be cyclical in nature and, as noted, likely to increase during drier seasons. Over the last several years, Iowa summers, and even the opening day of the deer season, seem to have grown warmer and drier, conditions that lead to the increased likelihood that an EHD outbreak will occur. In Iowa, significant EHD outbreaks occurred in 1988, 1998 and 2012, when the largest ever outbreak was documented with some 3,000 cases.
Since then there have been a few scattered reports of EHD between 2014 and 2016, with little impact on the health and welfare of the deer herd.
In May 2018, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Commission approved changes to the deer-hunting season for 2018-19:
The number of non-resident, any-deer and antlerless licenses will be decreased by 50 percent in hunting zones 1, 2, and 10 — a combined decrease of 280 licenses that have been re-allocated to non-resident hunting Zone 9. This change is being implemented as yet another step to stabilize a declining deer population in northwest Iowa.
The number of county-specific antlerless licenses available for residents will increase in seven counties — Appanoose, Butler, Clayton, Fayette, Madison, Wayne and Winneshiek — and decrease in one county, Bremer, resulting in a net total increase of 1,550 county-specific, resident antlerless licenses.
The January antlerless season will be re-established, beginning on January 11 and ending on the third Sunday in January, in the following four counties: Appanoose, Allamakee, Clayton and Wayne. This season is coupled with increased antlerless quotas in these counties in efforts to slow the spread of CWD.
“These are substantive changes for the upcoming deer season,” Harms notes. “Each of these steps is aimed at continuing to stabilize the Iowa deer herd.”
Think You’ve Got A Record-Book Buck?
You’ve shot your buck, and now you wonder if it might be record-book worthy. What do you do?The Boone and Crockett Club and the Pope and Young Club are the two most prominent record-keeping authorities. B&C maintains big game records for animals taken by all hunting methods. P&Y is the archery-specific counterpart to B&C.
Each club has detailed procedures for record-book whitetail entries — found on their respective websites. Both require that the skull plate be completely intact and unaltered, and that antlers be unrepaired and unmodified. So, ensure neither are damaged while caring for your trophy.Both also require a “drying” period of at least 60 days at room temperature after harvest. Before this, clean the skull plate — again, ensuring no damage is done.
You can “green score” your buck before drying to see if it meets record-book status, but your next step after drying is contacting an official scorer. Both clubs have an online tool for locating scorers.Each club has different minimum score requirements. B&C requires typical whitetails to have a final score of 160 inches for its Award book. For non-typical, it’s 185. P&Y minimums are 125 and 155 inches for typical and non-typical, respectively.
After official scoring, you’ll do additional entry paperwork and documentation according to the organization. These must be followed to the letter.
If you’re looking to add your name to one of these books, check out the upcoming December/January issue, which has an article with tips on where to hunt some of the most productive big buck areas in the state.