Iowa's 2010 Deer Outlook Part 1

Iowa's 2010 Deer Outlook Part 1

State efforts to decrease Iowa's deer population are on track, and additional trimming in the herd's numbers will support what experts believe will be another outstanding deer-hunting season ahead!

The plan of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to reduce deer numbers statewide continues right on track, following the 2009 hunting season.

Hawkeye State sportsmen tagged 136,504 deer last year, including 71,273 does. The harvest is in keeping with biologists' plans to reduce deer numbers statewide. Some areas still require additional trimming of the whitetail herd, but IDNR experts are predicting that reduction goals will be met within the next two or three years. This is good news for game managers, but what does it all mean to hunters?


"The bulk of our counties will be at goal within two years," said Tom Litchfield, an IDNR deer biologist. "Counties near Des Moines (Dallas, Madison and Warren) may take longer because we have larger refuge area issues to address there. Also, counties in the midwestern part of the state along the Missouri River will likely be the last to meet our population objectives."

Litchfield noted that efforts must be made to meet harvest objectives in areas with high human populations as well -- places where high deer numbers create problems for landowners, commuters and farmers. Iowa Department of Transportation removal of road kill carcasses peaked at around 14,000 animals in 2005 and has averaged about 12,000 annually since the mid-1990s. Some of these areas may have special deer hunts designed to reduce the whitetail population in smaller, specific target areas to help reduce some of these numbers.

Overall, the state's slowly shrinking deer herd is "healthy" going into the 2010 season, Litchfield noted, as biologists continue to work to control whitetail numbers. There is no way to accurately estimate the number of deer in the state, but IDNR officials are keeping a close eye on the herd and annual harvests so that the state's long-term quality deer hunting can be sustained. The present population should be capable of supporting a harvest of 110,000 to 130,000 whitetails annually if hunters cooperate and use the new reporting system.

"As soon as an area's deer population starts to decline," Litchfield said, "we will take action to keep things from getting out of hand. Our current management objective is a stable deer population at the approximate level that occurred in the mid- to late 1990s.


To help IDNR biologists monitor the state's deer management program, hunters are reminded that all deer taken by gun or bow must be reported.

Hunters have the option of reporting their success via the Internet (click on the "Harvest Report System" link on the IDNR's Web site —; by phone at (800) 771-4692; or by visiting their local hunting license issuing agent. Hunters must have the following information available: The nine-digit harvest registration number that appears on the Harvest Report Tag issued with each license; the sex of the deer (a "spike buck" is considered an antlered deer); and the county where the deer was harvested.

One caution for cell phone users: Poor cell service in some parts of the state has made it difficult to complete harvest reports by cell phone. Once the transportation tag has been attached to the deer, the hunter has until midnight the next day to make his report. The IDNR advises cell-phone users to wait until they are out of the woods and receive a clear, strong cell phone connection before placing the toll-free call.


The early 2009 Iowa deer harvest was about 4,000 animals behind 2008 numbers, but the remaining deer seasons were expected to shrink that gap, said IDNR experts. Hunters still had the late muzzleloader season, the non-resident holiday antlerless season and the January antlerless season in which to participate.

"The number of female deer taken is the critical measure. We expected the overall harvest to inch lower because we had fewer deer," said Willie Suchy, supervisor for the IDNR's wildlife research section.

Suchy said he has received a few inquiries about extending the shotgun season such as was done in 2007, but that scenario will likely never happen again.

"The 2007 shotgun seasons were unique, with severe winter weather impacting hunter participation on the weekends in both seasons. Harvest numbers were also well below projections. Our second shotgun season had the highest harvest ever for the last weekend of the season since reporting started four years ago," he said. "Extending the season like we did in 2007 is less likely to be needed, as deer numbers are now close to the department's goals in many counties in the state."

Proof that the IDNR's plan is working is the buck-to-doe ratio in the harvest. From 1985 through 2005, the buck harvest has always exceeded the doe harvest. In fact, during the early 1990s, the buck harvest was nearly double the antlerless harvest. Since that time, the overall deer harvest has increased by over one-third; but, starting in 2006, the doe harvest was actually higher than the buck harvest. In 2009, the doe harvest was 71,273 animals compared to 65,231 bucks, or some 6,042 more does than bucks. Management strategies designed to increase the harvest of female deer for population control have resulted in annual doe harvests that are about 90 percent greater than those of 2002, and many counties posted doe harvest increases of more than 100 percent. In, fact, according to recent figures, Iowa's antlerless deer harvest rates are among the highest in the nation.

Iowa's 2009 harvest overall was 5,750 animals fewer than in 2008, but biologists said less-than-perfect hunting conditions combined with the fact that there also were fewer whitetails available last year.

Litchfield said preliminary numbers indicate there is potential for reductions in the number of antlerless deer licenses available in about 20 counties in east-central, northeast and southeast Iowa. He also said the traditional November antlerless deer season will likely be discontinued within two years.

Surveys in north-central and northwest Iowa show that deer are readily available in areas with good

habitat, but habitat is declining as CRP lands, fence rows and woodlots continue to disappear, meaning there is less suitable cover for deer in certain areas.

The Hawkeye State is divided into 20 wildlife management units (WMUs). A separate analysis is conducted for each unit. The analyses conducted after the 2007 season revealed in eight WMUs (38 counties) that deer populations were at or near desired goals. In nine of the WMUs (46 counties), deer populations were trending downward but were still above goal levels. In the remaining three WMUs (15 counties), deer population growth was slowed, but a greater harvest was needed to cause a population decline.

Iowa offers hunters multiple seasons within which to pursue deer. This variety in season options helps spread the hunting pressure out, providing more hunters more access to more land and allows hunters multiple chances to harvest deer. The majority of the kill occurs in December, after the whitetail's breeding season, when bucks are less vulnerable to being over-hunted. The timing of this harvest is one of the main reasons Iowa maintains a high-quality deer herd while still having the ability to take many antlerless deer.

Local experts advise Iowa hunters to focus their efforts on small patches of cover, tree-lined river bottoms, fence lines and hedgerows. Deer will hide in these small stands of cover during the day and head into the surrounding crop fields at night. Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

The reported harvest in 2008 was slightly lower than the reported harvest in 2007; however, the number of does reported in the harvest stayed almost the same. There were 3,700 fewer bucks reported killed in 2008. This means that does made up a larger percentage -- 53 percent -- of the harvest in 2008. This is the highest proportion recorded with the current reporting system. Nearly two-thirds of all deer reported taken by hunters in 2008 were antlerless deer. In addition, one out of every five deer licenses issued in 2008 was sold to a landowner at a reduced price.

One issue that generates a lot of passionate discussion is the number of non-resident hunters that are allowed to hunt in Iowa. This likely has to do with the fact that up until 1989 non-residents were not allowed to hunt deer in the Hawkeye State. The Legislature finally allowed 1,200 non-resident licenses in 1989, but not all of the licenses sold. The quota was increased in 1995 and 1999.

Antlerless licenses were made available for non-residents in 1999 and were required for obtaining an either-sex license in 2005. In 2008 there were 11,470 applications for 6,000 non-resident either-sex deer licenses.

Non-resident either-sex licenses are issued for 10 zones. These are the same 10 zones that were open for residents in 1989 when non-residents were first allowed into the state. Iowa code specifies that 35 percent of the non-resident either-sex licenses are to be issued for the archery season.

In 2008, only 20 percent of the resident either-sex licenses were issued for the archery season. All of the quotas were filled in the initial drawing. There were no leftover either-sex licenses available in any zone.


Hunters who are looking to harvest a deer can enjoy pursuing Iowa's premier big game through the end of January:

'¢'‚The residents-only Youth Season is from Sept. 18 to Oct. 3.

'¢'‚The special Disabled season is also from Sept. 18 to Oct. 3.

'¢'‚The Archery, Early Split season is from Oct. 1 to Dec. 3.

'¢'‚The Archery, Late Split season is from Dec. 20 through Jan. 10, 2011.

'¢'‚The Early Residents Only Muzzleloader season is from Oct. 16-24.

'¢'‚The Late Muzzleloader season is from Dec. 20 through Jan. 10, 2011.

'¢'‚The annual Shotgun Season 1 runs Dec. 4-8.

'¢'‚The Shotgun Season 2 is open Dec. 11-19.

'¢'‚The November Residents Only Antlerless season is from Nov 26-28.

'¢'‚The January Antlerless season runs from Jan. 11-30, 2011.

'¢'‚The Non-resident Holiday Season runs from Dec. 24 through Jan. 2, 2011.


Hawkeye State deer hunting is quite different from that of most other states. Hunters used to thick cover, large wooded tracts and brushy habitat are often confused and discouraged by Iowa's small woodlots, tree-lined creek bottoms and vast crop fields. Many hunters new to Iowa have a hard time fathoming that so many deer can disappear into so little cover, but they do it (successfully) season after season.

Hunters who try to use big-woods tactics here usually go home empty-handed. It takes some pre-season scouting and a thorough knowledge of Farm-Belt habitat to successfully hunt Iowa's big, corn-fed whitetails.

Local experts advise hunters to focus their efforts on small patches of cover, tree-lined river bottoms, fence lines and hedgerows. Also, it's important to do some driving in an effort to pick out patches of cover that may not be visible from main roads or even nearby farmsteads. Deer will hide in these small stands of cover during the day and head into the surrounding crop fields at night. Also, many deer will spend the day in standing corn, soybeans or other crops as long as the greenery is tall enough to hide them. Once the crops are harvested, the deer head for the river bottoms and any other small patches of cover they can find.

Many hunters enter these small patches of cover and, not seeing copious amounts of tracks, trails, rubs and other sign, immediately dismiss them as "empty" when, in fact, these islands of cover are just that: small, convenient hiding places that are used by deer as needed while dodging hunters throughout the season. When hunting pressure is highest, these non-descript hotspots will be deer magnets. The most successful hunters keep tabs on several such areas throughout the season, checking them out at least weekly, knowing that sooner or later they will produce.

Adding to the challenge is that only 1.5 percent of Iowa is public land. This means hunters must spend some time meeting with landowners and negotiating for hunting rights during the various seasons. It may be tough to get into some properties on weekends, holidays or during the peak rut, but shrewd hunters will ask to hunt during the non-peak periods -- week days, pre- or post-rut periods, or during the seasons with the least participation, particularly the muzzleloader and late bow seasons.

Iowa offers hunters multiple deer-hunting seasons to help spread the hunting pressure out, providing more hunters more access to more land and allowing hunters multiple chances to harvest deer. Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

Perhaps, most important is that hunters be willing to shoot antlerless deer. The odds are highest all around for doe hun

ters who don't mind passing on smaller bucks. It makes sense to shoot a large, mature doe for meat rather than a yearling buck, which could easily grow into a serious trophy in three to five years.

Landowners who don't normally allow hunting in an effort to save the bigger bucks for themselves or family members are often more than happy to allow a visiting hunter to take a doe.

Also, look into the hunts in Deer Management Zones, state parks and other controlled hunts where the IDNR is targeting specific deer herds for thinning.

The point is, be flexible, be adventurous and be willing to adapt to local conditions. Iowa is full of deer and the outlook for 2010 and beyond is as encouraging as it gets in this precarious business. With some 126 days of hunting allowed, finding your deer this season shouldn't be a problem!

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