Dec 9, 2016
For many deer hunters, the first—or second—Saturday in December is as big a deal as Christmas morning. Opening day of the shotgun deer season is what they’ve been waiting for, over the past couple months.
Many have already been out; hunting whitetails in the early muzzleloader or bow season. However, the shotgun seasons; (December 3-7 or December 10-18 in 2016) are their chance to get out in the woods with friends and family. For some it goes back 60 years. For others, it’s tradition just beginning.
Bowhunters faced a very ‘un-typical’ early season; with cold November weather that usually helps trigger the peak of the rut remaining almost summerlike. If milder weather extends into December, however, it could mean more hours in the woods for shotgun hunters. But it could also mess up typical cold weather deer movement. That drive which ‘always works’ with north winds, a foot of snow and near zero temperatures might take a different turn.
Iowa’s shotgun seasons typically involve drives; several hunters pushing deer to blockers; set up for effective—but safe—shots. If drive hunting works for your group? Great. Single hunters or small, two or three person hunts can be effective, too. “Look for a grass opening; corners of timbers. They are often overlooked by hunters”, suggests Andrew Norton, deer biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Deer are on most areas. Try a 40, 80 or 100 acre parcel, away from the crowds.”
Norton also suggests keying on known escape routes taken by deer. “By mid-morning of the first day, if you know where deer go under pressure, by afternoon (they could be using them).”
If you are looking for a place to hunt, check out available public land with Iowa’s interactive Hunting Atlas, online at www.iowadnr.gov. That is also where you can learn more about ‘IHAP’. Iowa’s Habitat Access Program has grown to 20,000 private acres this season. When landowners enroll in IHAP, they receive funding and expertise for habitat improvements, and, in turn, allow public hunting access on their land. That website has loads of other useful deer hunting information, too.
In the early 2000s, concerns that Iowa’s deer herd was expanding too far, led the DNR set up a county-by-county ‘antlerless’ deer stragety; with quotas particularly high across northeast and southern Iowa. Hunters could (and can still) purchase multiple tags in a season in ‘deer heavy’ counties. As a result, the annual deer harvest climbed; hitting a peak of about 200,000 several years later.
The state harvest has stabilized in the past few years. Across all seasons–bow, youth, handicapped, muzzleloader and shotgun–Iowa hunters in 2015 reported harvesting 105,401 whitetails—with 56,401 coming from the two shotgun seasons. As the peak of the rut passed–heading into Thanksgiving Week—early season hunters had passed the 23,000 mark statewide. A lot of antlerless tags were spoken for, by then, too. Many counties were out. And 27 northwest/northcentral counties had no antlerless-only tags to sell again this year.
Deer hunting is big business, in Iowa and across much of the U.S. A couple years ago, the National Shooting Sports Foundation reported that Iowa’s retail sales for deer related activity topped $197 million. Across the country? It was more than $38 billion.
Yearly Checkpoints, Before You Step Into the Woods
• Get Permission…Don’t assume that ‘OK’ to hunt last year is perpetual permission. It’s also a great time to talk with landowners about deer they have seen; whether there are more, or fewer, does.
• Get Orange. Solid blaze orange, covering your torso, is mandatory. However, more—gloves, a cap, coveralls–is better.
• Sight in your shotgun. Get it centered at 25 yards and move out from there. Know what your limit is, should that deer be out at 60, 80 or 100 yards.
• Tag It. Any deer must be tagged before it is moved or within 15 minutes; whichever comes first. Each hunter must carry only his or her own tag(s).
• Report your deer before midnight, the day after you take it. Online is easiest, at www.iowadnr.gov . Click ‘deer hunting’, then ‘Report Your Harvest’. Or call 800-771-4692. Have your 9-digit harvest number (on each tag) ready, either way. DNR wildlife officials already warn that compliance has slipped this year. Failure to report can yield a ticket. The hunter named on the tag is the one responsible for reporting the harvest.
• Donate It? Iowa’s HUSH (Help Us Stop Hunger) program provides needy families with high quality meat. Field dressed deer are skinned, de-boned and ground into two-pound packages at 82 meat processors…then distributed. The program is funded by a dollar surcharge on each deer tag. Participating lockers are listed on page 32 of the 2016-17 Iowa hunting regulations.
Chronic Wasting Disease Concerns Continue;
That’s particularly true in northeast Iowa, where the first cases of CWD-infected wild deer were confirmed (in Allamakee County) over the last three years. Each year, the DNR tests thousands of adult deer for the disease—which is always fatal. Counties along the Mississippi River and below southeast Minnesota are concentration points; as is Davis County–where CWD positive deer in captive populations have been found.
A concentrated effort is ongoing through all seasons near Yellow River State Forest in Allamakee County. Contact DNR wildlife biologist Terry Hainfield at 563-596-7960 or 596-7962 for Allamakee County details.
Biologists still want a smaller sample of adult deer in other counties. Contact the management wildlife biologist closest to where you hunt, to determine if more deer from that county are still needed. They can be located online www.iadnr.gov or in your hunting regulations booklet. Be ready with the county, township and section where the deer was killed.