Iowa Public Land Hunting

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Public Iowa Deer Hunting
The opportunity to shoot a giant deer exists in Iowa. Most of the deer are shot during the firearms seasons.

Southeast Iowa Deer Hunting

Southeast Iowa has a good density of deer throughout the region. Van Buren, Lee and Des Moines counties annually rank among the top Iowa trophy whitetail producers. While not light by any means, southeast Iowa's level of deer hunting pressure still affords some quality hunting opportunities.

Shimek State Forest

Shimek State Forest lies primarily in a single block in western Lee County, with an additional 900 acre unit in central Van Buren County, near Keosauqua. A total of nearly 8,000 acres of deer hunting ground make Shimek one of the state's largest public Iowa deer hunting areas. The terrain in Lee County is composed of steeply rolling wooded hills bordering the Des Moines River.

The Donnellson and Lick Creek Units are the most remote, and therefore, receive the least pressure. Iowa bowhunters are spoiled. Most aren't willing to walk long distances over rough terrain to tag an Iowa trophy whitetail. For those willing to make the sacrifice, the remote interior portions of Shimek promise uncrowded public Iowa deer hunting.

Since the area is primarily big timber, travel funnels caused by variations in the terrain are your best public iowa deer hunting pattern. During the first three weeks of November, (peak Iowa deer rut) look for trophy bucks traveling through saddles, along side-hill travel routes, as well as using trails which detour around steep ditches and ravines. Rub lines are always good places to start looking for a big-woods buck. Total deer numbers are good and Iowa trophy whitetail potential is average for Iowa (which, by the way, is very good compared to the rest of the country).

When public Iowa deer hunting this area plan on staying at the Shimek Forest Campground. For more information call (319) 878-3811. For a little more comfort look for a motel in Donnellson or Farmington.

Indian Creek Wildlife Area and Shimek/Keosauqua Unit

Indian Creek Wildlife Area and Shimek/Keosauqua Unithave more open habitat than what is found in the main body of Shimek. This public Iowa deer hunting area also borders the Des Moines River, but encompasses more edge cover. Look for classic cropland deer funnels such as overgrown fence lines and bottlenecks of cover. A total or nearly 5,600 acres of habitat exist in this area, 3,900 of which is open to Iow deer hunting.

Modern camping, cabin and lodge rental are available at the Lacey-Keosauqua State Park which adjoins the public hunting area. Call (319) 293-3502.

 

Stephens State Forest and Rathbun Reservoir

Typical Iowa hunting ground has a mix of wooded slopes and agricultural fields. This mix of cover and food is ideal to produce giant deer. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

The better areas of south-central Iowa are composed of a mix of rolling woodland interspersed with pasture and agricultural fields. Iowa deer hunting pressure increases the closer you get to a metropolitan area, so it stands to reason that the proximity of this area to Des Moines creates a bit more traffic among Iowa bowhunters. However, the public Iowa deer hunting areas below are expansive. If you can't get away from other Iowa bowhunters here, you can't do it anywhere.

Stephens State Forest

Stephens State Forest is broken up into several medium-sized blocks and spread across Lucas, Monroe, Davis and Appanoose counties. Even the smaller ones have ample Iowa trophy whitetail sign to fire up any Iowa bowhunter. However, stick with the largest blocks which are located in Lucas and Monroe counties.

The White Breast and Lucas Units, southwest of Lucas, comprise just under 3,500 acres of big timber public Iowa deer hunting. Roads provide fairly good access to the outer fringes of the area, but a one mile walk is required to get to the heart of the White Breast Unit. As with Shimek Forest, big woods deer movement patterns prevail.

The Thousand Acre, Cedar Creek and Chariton Units are located in the northeast corner of Lucas and northwest corner of Monroe counties. These three units combine for an additional 4,100 acres of deer habitat. Being more spread out and dissected by roads, access is better to every part of the timber. Though you will find some good Iowa deer hunting here, you should also expect to find a few more Iowa bowhunters, especially on weekends. The Cedar Creek Unit in particular has some rugged, trackless country. If you are trying to get away from the crowds you might wish to start here.

Primitive camping is available at the Lucas Unit. Call (515) 774-5632 for camping information. If you prefer the comfort of a motel, Chariton has several and is centrally located between both major sections of the state forest.

Rathbun Wildlife Area

Rathbun Wildlife Area is a huge block of public Iowa deer hunting land. Licensed from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) maintains 15,600 acres of public Iowa deer hunting land surrounding Rathbun Lake. This huge block of ground is found in southeastern Lucas, western Wayne and northwestern Appanoose counties. Road access is only fair in most areas, meaning that you'll have to hike over a mile, in some cases, just to get to the hunting. This isn't big woods country, but rather a mix of timber, marsh, grassy sloughs and willow thickets - all surrounded by agricultural fields. In other words, it's perfect habitat for deer.

From what I've seen, the deer numbers aren't extraordinarily high, but a huntable population exists here. Plan on spending a day driving around the area and talking to Corp and IDNR staff before focusing on a one or two square mile area. Deer movement will follow the seams in the cover. Anywhere there is structure you'll find a movement corridor. Iowa trophy whitetail potential is fairly good. Once you find an area you like, don't be afraid to talk to a few private landowners in the area. Many will permit access to Iowa bowhunters. Centerville or Chariton are your best bets for finding accommodations.

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