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Iowa Deer Hunting
Iowa Trophy Whitetail
Prior to the late 1980’s nonresidents weren’t allowed to deer hunt Iowa because the herd was in a state of rebuilding. By the late 80’s it was deemed large enough to support limited nonresident hunting pressure. A conservative harvest policy - including buck-only hunting for residents in some areas - permitted the numbers to continue to grow until the early 90’s when it was easily the best in the Midwest.
Many deer hunters hunted all of the Midwest states every year during that time frame and none of them – not even Illinois – could beat Iowa for a combination of reasonable access and huntable numbers of mature bucks. Iowa’s many bird hunters hadn’t yet responded to the growing opportunity for Iowa trophy whitetail and what deer hunters there were placed little emphasis on iowa deer hunting. Most Iowa deer hunters of that day were satisfied just to shoot a deer. Therefore, many either-sex tags were being filled with does instead of young bucks.
Compared to most places in North America, Iowa was a dreamland awash with a sea of monster antlers. There is a man in Iowa who makes a hobby of tracking down every iowa trophy whitetail killed in the state, presumably with the intent of buying them cheap. In the early 90's, Bill said more than 50 Boone and Crockett bucks had been killed in the state that year (including those never officially scored). One year he estimated the total at 70! That’s the same number of Boone and Crockett bucks that have been taken in Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Alabama combined for the whole of history!
Pressure from farmers, the Farm Bureau and insurance companies caused the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to liberalize the antlerless harvest in the mid-90’s to bring the numbers down in some key areas. And combined with a growing focus on shooting bucks, the numbers of iowa trophy whitetail has stabilized at a level somewhat below what was enjoyed during the heyday. It may not be as good as it once was, but it is still pretty darn good. And the state’s current management plan is geared toward keeping it that way.
Richard Bishop, past Iowa Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Bureau Chief, said the following about the management strategy behind Iowa trophy whitetail hunting. “We recognized back in the early 80’s that most of our hunters were not interested in trophy bucks,” Bishop said. “They simply wanted to shoot deer. The late Lee Gladfelter was the deer biologist at the time and we decided that the best way to satisfy everyone was to keep the deer numbers fairly high so that there was enough does to permit an aggressive any-sex harvest.
“What we found was an interesting benefit. With the healthy deer numbers, Iowa was also producing lots of bucks. This led to a situation where even after every hunter that wanted a buck had shot one there were still many left over to grow a year older. Without making it a specific priority we put into affect a statewide trophy buck program.
“From that framework we have tried to maintain the trophy quality of our buck herd by focusing on keeping a large enough number of does that the overall herd could sustain the pressure we are putting on it each year without the buck numbers falling off. Even now, with today’s greater emphasis on buck hunting, we still harvest less than half of our antlered bucks every year. That leaves plenty of bucks to grow older.”
One Iowa native grew up hunting pheasants and ducks (the deer numbers were still low when he was a boy) This Iowa resident was an opportunist like everyone else and jumped on the deer bandwagon once it started gaining momentum. Since then he has hunted several parts of the state for deer and he still feels that, aside from maybe certain parts of Kansas and Texas and a few isolated pockets in the western plains of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Colorado, Iowa remains among the best places to tag a trophy buck in the United States.
Finding Iowa Deer Hunting Oportunities
If you want to try Iowa deer hunting here is some basic information to get you started
Iowa Deer Hunting Licenses:
The odds for a nonresident to draw an either sex tag have been roughly 50% to almost 100 % in most units and a bit lower in the most popular areas. Bonus points are given to deer hunters not successful in the draw so everyone will draw the tag at least every other year – at least in theory. Iowa deer hunting license fees have gone up again to $550 the highest of any midwestern state. It was a move that has sparked plenty of controversy and no small amount of anger from neighboring states. For more information about Iowa deer hunting license quotas and deadlines call the Iowa Department of Natural Resources at (515) 281-5918.
Where to Hunt:
You can literally find a big buck anywhere in Iowa. However, the eastern, western and southern two tiers of counties generally have the best cover. That means the terrain is rugged or there would be corn growing in these places instead of antlered angus. I wouldn’t get too caught up in Iowa’s most famous counties. I’ve hunted most of them, but one of the main reasons the numbers are so good is because deer hunter numbers are high and more bucks get killed. Sure, the northeast counties, the southeast counties and the Loess Hills in the west central part of the state get most of the acclaim, but southwest Iowa is a real sleeper as are several of the river and even creek drainages throughout central and east central Iowa.
The farther you get from the “hotspots” the better your chances for gaining permission to hunt. Besides, some of these more open areas also have excellent pheasant hunting affording the opportunity for a combo hunt if go during the bow season.
Iowa’s outfitting industry is still young and trying to find its feet. The nonresident draw is the biggest reason mom and pop outfitting has failed to gain any consistency in Iowa. Because they are assured of only a 33% draw rate (roughly) they must book three times as many people as they can handle – especially if they cater to bowhunters. It takes time and effort to sell that many iowa deer hunts. But there are also a few long-term businesses that have been operating for nearly a decade. For a listing of Iowa outfitters contact the Iowa Guide and Outfitters Association at (570) 876-4086, www.iowaoutfitters.org.