Crowds of Hunters for December Deer

Crowds of Hunters for December Deer

Dec 4, 2014

November cold and snow made it feel like shotgun deer season early, across Iowa. The state’s busiest deer season—lately it’s busiest hunting season overall—still falls in December.


Expect about 58,000 hunters across Iowa in the first shotgun season, December 6-10. Another 40,000 head out December 13-21, during the second gun season. Many of them will also pack along thousands of antlerless tags, to extend their prospects. If you are a fan of cold weather…and have a muzzleloader, that December 22-January 10 late season attracts hunters holding about 40,000 tags.


Hunters will hold fewer tags than the 359,956—across all seasons–which went over the counter in 2013-2014; and that was down 11% from the 2008 peak. Iowa’s overall deer harvest…through all seasons last year was 99,400…down 34% from the peak.


For several years now, deer hunters have noticed fewer whitetails, than in the early 2000s. That is by design. A decade ago, state lawmakers instructed the DNR to reduce the deer population, after steady growth through the previous few decades. With addition of county and season specific antlerless tags, generous quotas, and a couple extra seasons, near Thanksgiving and during January, hunters responded. The deer herd is now at mid- 1990s target levels, in all but a handful of counties.


With a 33% drop in harvest numbers since 2006, Iowa’s Natural Resources Commission this summer approved a reduction in antlerless tag quotas in 72 counties. The remaining 27 north central and northwest counties have no county antlerless tags…and hunters may take only antlered deer during the first shotgun season. Still, even with deer at mid 1990s levels, there are plenty of opportunities. Some wildlife biologists predict more mature bucks available…with cold and snow blowing through Iowa, from Veterans Day throughout most of November.


“The extreme cold kept many bow hunters out of their tree stands. That should leave some really nice bucks (during the gun seasons)”, forecast Terry Hainfield, Iowa DNR wildlife management biologist for northeast Iowa; where several of the top deer counties lie. “Coming out of last winter, nutrition was favorable for healthy does (which dropped fawns in late spring) and for antler growth on bucks”, added Hainfield.


“Now is a good time (for hunters, landowners to work with the DNR) to help develop a better understanding of proper deer management; including the benefits of harvesting does and keeping deer numbers at ecologically acceptable levels”, stresses Hainfield. “Hunters working with landowners at the local level are the best and most efficient way to keep deer numbers acceptable and provide a high quality deer herd.”


STAY SAFE IN THE WOODS…Iowa’s shotgun seasons allow for group drives; drivers pushing deer toward blockers. Anyone in the group may tag a downed deer— with their own tag. That stands in contrast to other states—and even Iowa’s more solitary muzzleloader and bow seasons. However, it has proven to be an efficient method for taking deer, since modern deer hunting was introduced here in the early 1950s. Whatever the season, any deer must be tagged before it is moved or within 15 minutes—whichever comes first.


It also holds the potential for danger, as drivers move closer to, or across, their friends on a drive. “That’s why wearing solid blaze orange is mandatory. At least the minimum (torso covered). More is better”, stress conservation officers. The #1 cause of deer hunting incidents involves a hunter shooting at a running deer…with someone in the area. Make sure you recognize what stands in front of and behind the target!


Register Your Harvest…Your deer is down, tagged and on its way to the truck. Your harvest is not complete, though, until you register it. The harvest reporting system provides information much faster, and with more detail, than the previous, cumbersome postcard survey. This leads to more responsive management of deer populations; such as adjusting county by county tags or special zone hunt allotments.


There is no change in the procedure. Online, it takes just a couple minutes. Go to and click (left margin) ‘deer hunting’. From there, click ‘Report Your Harvest’ and follow instructions. Be ready to enter your tag’s nine-digit harvest report number. By phone? Call 800-771-4692. It can also be done at any hunting license vendor in Iowa. The deer should be reported by the hunter whose name is on the tag…and it must come before midnight, the day after the deer is tagged.


HUSH Provides Meals for Needy…Have an extra deer at the end of the hunt? Consider donating to Iowa’s HUSH (Help Us Stop Hunger) program. This season, 82 participating lockers provide high quality meat to needy Iowans, through the Food Bank of Iowa. Your field dressed deer is skinned, de-boned and ground into two-pound packages at the processor…then distributed. Look for a locker in your area


The program is funded by hunters, who pay a dollar surcharge with each deer tag purchase. In its second decade now, HUSH has provided meat from 60,000 deer to those who need it—3900 last year. Processors receive $75 for their end of the work. The Food Bank of Iowa picks up $5, as it oversees distribution. Find a HUSH locker in any hunting regulations booklet, or online at . Click Hunting, then deer hunting, then Help Us Stop Hunger.