Whether you are a bowhunter or not, opening day of the 2015 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 2015 Iowa Deer Hunting 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.
THE IOWA DEER POPULATION
"Overall deer numbers are stable," said Iowa Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Research Supervisor Willie Suchy. "The reduction in the antlerless quotas, the elimination of the January antlerless season as well restricting hunters in 27 counties in northwest Iowa has allowed deer numbers to stabilize."
State goals for the Iowa deer herd have been to reduce the deer population to numbers matching levels that existed in the mid 1990s. According to Suchy, Iowa's hunters have done an excellent job of reducing deer numbers to the goal developed by the deer study advisory committee in 2009. This level provides a good balance between the desires of hunters and the concerns by citizens about overabundant deer.
"The bottom line is a healthy deer heard that all can enjoy," continued Suchy. "There will always be challenges to managing deer in urban areas and other refuges like state and county parks where restricted hunting opportunity exists. However, special hunts will continue and have been successful in reducing deer numbers in those areas."
2014 DEER SEASON SUMMARY
"2014-15 was more of a normal year weather wise, especially during the second shotgun deer seasons," noted Suchy. This resulted in an increase in harvest compared to 2013-14 during these seasons. The mild winter should be good news for hunters this fall.
Almost no EHD was reported. EHD was reported in 2012 and 2013, IDNR noted, in eastern and southern parts of the state.
According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the reported harvest increased slightly compared to 2013 but was 33 percent lower than in 2006. About 21,000 fewer licenses were issued for the 2014 deer season, mostly due to the reduced antlerless quotas and the elimination of the January antlerless season as well as generally lower deer numbers across the state. This is a decline of 6 percent from 2013 and is 17 percent lower than the peak in 2008. The number of hunters remained the same as in 2013 and is 4 percent lower than the peak in 2006. According to IDNR data, the number of deer harvested increased by 113 percent from 1995 to 2005 and decreased by 33 percent from 2006 to 2014.
WHERE TO GO
The harvest was in fact up, but only by 2,181 deer. Statewide there were 101,595 deer harvested, with 47,131 of those being does, 44,542 were antlered bucks, 9,447 were button bucks and 475 were shed-antler bucks.
Planning for the 2015-16 season may take a bit more strategy and possibly even take you as a hunter to uncharted territories. One of the benefits Iowa has to offer is excellent hunting opportunities within a day's drive in any given direction from the central part of the state.
Let's break down the top 10 counties from the previous year and look and where you might have a better opportunity to fill your tag. For the 2014-15 season, Clayton County came in on top with a total of 4,282 deer harvested. Of those 1,175 were antlered bucks and 2,129 were does.
The balance of 378 deer was shared between button bucks and shed-antler bucks. Clayton County covers 793 square miles and boasted 5.4 deer harvested per square mile. In contrast Grundy County, which fell to last in state harvest statistics, only reported a total of 78 deer harvested for the entire season, with a 0.16 deer harvested per square mile.
Allamakee County jumps up a spot to number two with a total of 3,570 deer harvested with a ratio of 5.4 deer harvested per square mile. There were 1,393 antlered bucks, 1,854 does and a combination of 323 button bucks and shed-antler bucks making up the total harvest. Warren County, moving up a couple notches to number three, showed a total harvest of 2,641 deer.
Warren County covers 573 acres and had a ratio of 4.6 deer harvested per square mile. Of the total number harvested there, 1,133 were antlered bucks, 1,243 does, and a combined total of 265 for button and shed-antler bucks.
Jackson County, also moving up a couple spots to fourth in the top 10 this year, reported a total harvest of 2,564 deer. Of those 1,089 were antlered bucks, 1,176 does and 299 were button and shed-antler bucks combined. Jackson County covers 650 square miles and had a ratio of 3.9 deer harvested per square mile. Rounding out the top five spots is Madison County, continuing the trend by jumping up two notches. The county shows a total harvest of 2,508 deer. In that total were 959 antlered bucks and 1,296 does, with 253 being a combination of button and shed-antlered bucks. Madison County is 562 square miles and had a pretty impressive ratio of 4.5 deer harvested per square mile.
Van Buren County, which was our top spot for the 2013-14 season, slipped to number six for last season. There were a total of 2,482 deer harvested, and of those 989 were antlered bucks. 1,236 does were harvested as well as a combined total of 257 button and shed-antlered bucks. Van Buren County had a pretty decent harvest ratio of 5.1 deer harvested per square mile, though likely due to its smaller footprint of 491 total square miles.
Winneshiek and Lucas counties, which came in at seventh and eighth, respectively, had a combined total of 4,649 deer harvested. Of those there were 1,886 antlered bucks and 2,286 does. Winneshiek County had a ratio of 3.6 deer harvested per square mile. Lucas County had a very impressive harvest ratio of 5.1 deer per square mile. However it is the smallest of the counties in our top ten at only 434 square miles.
Rounding out our top 10 counties for the 2014-15 deer season are Dubuque County and Fayette County. These two counties combined for a total of 3,974 deer, and of those there were 1,610 antlered bucks. There were 1,943 does harvested last season in these two counties, with a ratio of 3.3 deer harvested per square mile and 2.7 deer harvested per square mile respectively.
So there they are'¦the top 10 counties in Iowa! The total numbers of deer harvested in these counties were 26,670 animals. Of those 10,834 were antlered bucks, 13,163 were does, 2,527 were button bucks and 146 shed-antlered bucks. These top 10 counties totaled 6,200 square miles and have a total deer harvest ratio of 4.3 deer per square mile. Based on the number of deer harvested and the higher average of deer per square mile for 2014-15, these counties offer you better opportunities to fill your tag for the season.
In addition, the IDNR site includes a "Hunting Atlas," which is an interactive map that shows all of the public hunting land throughout the state as well as information on the Iowa Habitat and Access Program.Through the IHAP program landowners make property available for public hunting. The IHAP program has reached an enrollment of around 8,000 acres to date, IDNR reported.
For the 2014-2015 season, the success rates among deer hunters included 32 percent of youth season hunters tagging a deer. Does made up 39 percent of the harvest. For the archery season, 25 percent of hunters reported success, while early season muzzleloader hunters reported a 31 percent success rate.
Does made up 38 percent of the archery harvest and 42 percent of the muzzleloader harvest. Disabled hunter (permit required) season participants reported a 32 percent success rate, and 54 percent of deer taken were does. For Gun 1 hunters, success rates were at 40 percent, with does accounting for 43 percent of the harvest, while Gun 2 hunters saw 29 percent success, with does accounting for 50 percent of deer taken. Late muzzleloader season saw 24 percent success, with does comprising 52 percent of the harvest.
DEER MANAGEMENT ZONES
As you examine your options for filling a tag 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 of 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. For more information on these deer management zone hunts, visit the Iowa DNR website.
THE 2015-16 DEER SEASON
The season could offer hunters challenges as deer numbers begin to stabilize and return to goal levels. 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," noted Suchy. "They hold the key to having a good quality deer herd, and the number and quality of the animals is directly dependent on the choices they make in the field."
We are all stewards of the wildlife in Iowa. Take time to report your harvest. 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," Suchy advised.
In part 2 of our 2015 Iowa Deer Hunting Forecast, we'll take a closer look at some of the trophies that were harvested during the last deer season. In addition, we'll analyze 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!