In an analysis of Boone and Crockett
bucks entered from 1830 to 2001, Iowa came out on top with 615. No further evidence needed: Iowa consistently produces big deer.
Tom Litchfield, state deer biologist, confirmed that his state manages "for a high-quality herd," but noted that management has lately had to conform to social pressure rather than biological need.
"Iowa's deer herd has always been managed by social tolerances, and in 2002 the herd surpassed those social tolerances enough that we put a management strategy in place" to reduce the herd, he said. "It took three years to get under control, then it began to decline.
"A lot of people form opinions by what's going on in their backyard," he noted. "If they see a lot of deer there, then they assume deer in the country must be a problem too. And a lot think that killing deer in the country will help."
So while the herd is healthy, it's been on a forced decline – so much so that Litchfield recommended that hunters may not want to shoot as many does this season, especially in eastern Iowa. He'd in fact hoped to reduce antlerless permits in several counties this season, but because of the "political element in deer management," he said, it didn't happen.
But if nothing else, lower deer populations should keep the quality high.
Deer Population: 300,000
Economic Impact of Deer Hunting: $214 million
Eastern and southern Iowa – roughly the southern third of the state.
"Our quality is pretty much equal statewide," Litchfield said. "We only have a couple counties where you might see quality that's not as high, and the root of that would be very low deer numbers in those counties." He could only think of one county that has never produced a B&C buck.
Current Status of the Deer Population: 1-5 scale with 1 being poor and 5 being optimal
Litchfield gives the deer herd a 4 for "health and quality," but noted that deer numbers overall will be down.
Status 5 Years From Now
"It should be a 5," he said. Deer quality should be "very high," maybe sooner than that "if different stakeholder groups can compromise amongst themselves. The deer herd should be at a socially acceptable level – we'll never make everyone happy so we'll seek a middle ground."
Biggest Factors Over the Next 5 Years
"The biggest thing in Iowa will be social tolerances or social impressions of Iowa's deer herd," Litchfield said. "On a lesser level, in some parts of the state there could be habitat issues because crop prices are high right now, which encourages people to farm more ground."
He added: "Disease could have a definite impact as well," notably Chronic Wasting Disease, possibly tuberculosis.
Any Doom and Gloom?
To the question of whether he can foresee any areas of his state having a large population decline or crash at some point, Litchfield said not due to any biological reasons.