2015 Trophy Deer Forecast: Iowa

2015 Trophy Deer Forecast: Iowa
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Last month, we took a look at the overall picture for deer hunting in Iowa for the previous year and reported locations where hunters might have a better chance to harvest a deer.

The top counties with a better-than-average harvest were featured, and we recommended public areas where a hunter might improve his or her chances for tagging out.

This month we'll look at some recent data for trophy bucks in Iowa and where you're most likely find these big deer.

We're also going to get an update on CWD in the wild deer herd and recount the tale of Iowa's Franz Buck, touted as the highest- scoring wild whitetail ever harvested on professional video.


As we noted in the 2014-15 deer summary in last month's issue, the deer harvest was up slightly compared to the previous year. Big deer harvests were comparatively the same.

"Overall the comments are pretty positive when asking about the 2014-15 deer season," said Iowa Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Research Supervisor Willie Suchy. "Compared to the drought conditions of 2012 and 2013, deer should have been able to achieve full genetic potential due to good vegetative growth throughout the summer."

Deer numbers are stabilizing, and Iowa's wild deer herd is reaching goals set by the Iowa DNR to numbers reflective of those the mid 1990s. "Overall lower deer numbers mostly affect doe numbers," added Suchy. "Hunting pressure has a more direct effect on buck quality."

Since 1953 the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has been compiling data and lists of where trophy deer are taken. Though the numbers give an indication of where big bucks occur more frequently than others, large bucks have been harvested and recorded in many Iowa counties.

Iowa continues to produce trophy deer, and every year hunters have recorded some very impressive trophies. Let's take a look at the top counties in Iowa in the past several years.

Between 2010 and 2014, Warren County leads, with 55 bucks that would qualify as "trophies" under the state's standards. Scoring is the same as the national clubs, but the local minimum qualifying scores differ.

Allamakee and Clayton counties took the second and third spots, respectively, for 2010-2014. Allamakee logged 44 bruiser bucks, while Clayton counted 39. Rounding out the top five counties were Guthrie, at 38 trophy bucks, and Dallas, with 33.


Each year hunters from across the State and throughout the region converge on Des Moines for the Iowa Deer Classic. The 2015 event was no exception. The classic provides hunters with a pretty good picture of what the possibilities are here in the state.

The top buck for the Iowa Deer Classic was harvested by Kyle Falk. It was a 232 7/8 monster out of Winneshiek County. Following Kyle Falk was the highly publicized Franz Buck, measuring 230 7/8, harvested by Joe Franz out of Marion County. Scott Moeller brought in a very nice buck at 209 0/8 from Jones County.

Phil McGrath, from Lucas County, measured a buck at 204 4/8, and Kyle Shipley had a trophy buck at 203 6/8, from Adams County. With the exception of the Franz Buck, taken by muzzleloader, all were harvested during archery and all were non-typical bucks.

We've highlighted where the top bucks are coming from in recent years. However, trophy bucks are possible from any of our 99 counties. The top 20 bucks at the Iowa Deer Classic represented 16 counties, of which 3 are listed in the top 10.

Tom Litchfield, Iowa Department of Natural Resources deer biologist said it best. "Where do you find them? You find them in the places where other hunters are not looking or are not looking very hard," he advised.


The "Franz" buck, a 230-Inch Non-Typical Iowa Monster. Photo via North American Whitetail

"I bought the farm where the buck was harvested the summer of 2014," said Joe Franz, of Clive, Ia. "Tayler Riggen of Mossy Oak Properties, the listing agent for previous owner, Bruce Hupke, showed me a photo of a huge shed that had been picked up last spring."

Hupke also stated that adjoining neighbor Rich Lewis had found the other shed. "Needless to say, the wheels quickly started turning knowing that I had a true trophy buck on my property that was likely still alive since the sheds were found well after the hunting season."

The deer, which would become known as Palmer due to the significant palmation in his main beams, was seen for the first time on a trail camera in August of 2014.

"He was a beast. I couldn't believe what I was seeing," said Franz. The first photos were sent to Derek Wilkerson, land management specialist for Franz, and the decision was made at that time to keep Palmer's existence between them.

A strategic plan was made, and Franz, along with Wilkerson, who videotaped the hunt, walked out to their Shadow Hunter tower on Oct. 4 for the first attempt at harvesting Palmer.

"It wasn't until about 6:30 when we caught a glimpse of a large rack across the field to the northwest," Franz noted. Palmer had arrived and entered the field. The deer was cautious as he worked his way in.

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Due to multiple shoulder surgeries Franz is qualified to use a crossbow during archery season. "Derek had ranged Palmer at 46 yards and asked if I was comfortable with the shot," he continued. "I told him that I wasn't confident outside of 40 yards. We watched as Palmer cut in front of us and out of range."

Following the initial encounter, a plan was made to try again during early muzzleloader season. On Oct.12, they made their way out to the Shadow Hunter tower for a second consecutive day, which proved to be an exceptionally windy one. At 6 p.m. as they were gathering up their gear, they made a final scan of the fenceline when Wilkerson caught an antler reflection.

All that could be seen was a large bodied deer with its head down standing in the tall grass.

Palmer started walking toward the pair at a slight angle. When he was first spotted he was at about 90 yards and coming in quickly. Franz told Wilkerson that he couldn't see the buck due to the lack of light in his scope.

They quickly moved his seat forward so that he could extend the muzzleloader farther out to pick up more light. As they made their move in the blind, Franz bumped the window seal. "Palmer's head came up and he stared directly at us. I thought I had blown it," he said.

Lowering his head to take aim, clearly seeing the buck in his scope, Franz picked a spot on the massive body and squeezed the trigger. "As the smoke was clearing I felt really good about the shot," he continued.

The pair walked over to where the buck had been hit to find blood. As they neared the spot, good blood was found.

"The concern was the corn we found in the blood pile. The shot may have been a bit back and may have hit his gut," noted Franz. "Deer hit there take longer to expire, so we made the decision to wait to avoid bumping him and risk losing him."

Needless to say, Franz didn't get much sleep that night. Early the next morning with the help of several fellow hunters, Chris Dunkin and Mark Luster from Trophy Pursuit and Derek Wilkerson, they set out to find the buck and located it soon after.

"As we approached the deer I froze, overcome by emotions," explained Franz. "As I walked up to Palmer, I was in utter shock and disbelief and just stood there and stared at him."

The Franz Buck is regarded as the highest-scoring wild whitetail ever to be harvested on professional video. "It was sad to see the life of such an amazing animal come to an end," he continued. "I was the luckiest guy in the world for my success."

The deer was estimated to be about 7 ½ years old and he weighed in at over 300 pounds on the hoof. Official B&C measurer Glen Salow would give this buck a final gross non-typical score of 261 3/8 with a net of 230 7/8.


Last year we reported the first confirmed case of CWD in the Iowa wild deer herd. The CWD positive came from an adult male harvested in Allamakee County during the first shotgun season in early December of 2013.

"Three more positive CWD deer were found as a result of our 2014 surveillance efforts," said Suchy. "All were within a few miles of the positive deer in 2013, in an area Southwest of Harpers Ferry in Allamakee County."

In February the Iowa DNR held a meeting with local landowners and hunters. As a result of the meeting they were authorized to collect up to 200 additional deer in the area in late February and early March.

An additional 85 samples were obtained, and none tested positive. "Not finding any additional positive deer was encouraging news, but additional surveillance will be needed to fully understand the extent of CWD in the area," continued Suchy.

Efforts will continue this summer and fall. Anyone who sees deer acting strangely or finds a roadkill deer in the targeted area is asked to contact the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

"One of the most important elements to the CWD response plan is to obtain additional samples in the area where the cases have occurred", said Kevin Baskins of the IDNR. "We certainly will be relying heavily on hunters and the public to help us with this." Since 2002, Iowa has tested 50,998 wild deer and 3,429 captive deer and elk.

One of the concerns that many hunters are likely to share is "how will this affect me?" There is currently no evidence that humans can contract CWD by eating venison.

However, national health and disease control organizations recommend that hunters do not eat the brain, eyeballs or spinal cord of deer and that hunters wear protective gloves while field dressing game and boning out meat for consumption.

Hunters can help reduce the risk of spreading CWD by not leaving bones on the landscape after processing their deer. A better option is to bury the remains or take them to a clay-lined landfill.

"Hunters across the state are one of our best resources for reporting during the deer hunting seasons," noted Suchy.

As Hawkeye hunters take to the field this season, they can know they are fortunate to hunt areas that are capable of producing some true trophies.

Remember to always report your harvest. It's every hunter's responsibility to set an example for future hunters and to help maintain this great natural resource that we all enjoy here in Iowa. Good hunting!

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