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Iowa Public Land Hunting
Loess Hills State Forest and Wildlife Areas
Iowa's record book is filled with entries from Monona and Harrison counties. The rugged Loess Hills form the primary habitat for the fine Iowa trophy whitetail hunting that exists in this area. Being very difficult to hunt systematically, the terrain allows many bucks to escape hunters and grow old. In general, the land is composed of bald hog-back ridges covered with native prairie grasses. Thickly wooded ravines and brushy side-hills fall away to the fertile farm country below.
Though much of the best deer hunting is found on private land, two large public Iowa deer hunting areas produce good action. In the future the IDNR plans to step up its land acquisition here.
Loess Hills Wildlife Area
Loess Hills Wildlife Area lies just a few miles west of Castana, in central Monona County, and encompasses over 3,700 acres of timber and prairie uplands. Past hunters report that the deer density is not high but the trophy potential is better than average. There is limited pressure from Iowa bowhunters in the general area, due primarily to the fact that there are no major population centers nearby.
Loess Hills State Forest
Loess Hills State Forest (sometimes called the Pioneer State Forest) is broken up into scattered tracts lying in southern Monona County and northern Harrison County. All tolled, there are over 7,000 acres in the state forest. This is rugged country with limited bowhunting pressure. Iowa trophy whitetail potential is good.
The best strategy for Iowa deer hunting "the Hills" is to focus on the terrain. Look for features that force deer to detour through bottlenecks. Steep slopes, deep ditches and sunken saddles all offer deer a traveling advantage and are perfect places to ambush a buck on the move. From those I've talked to who live, hunt or work in the Loess Hills, gaining access to hunt (especially to bowhunt) private land is not impossible. Try the public lands first, and then branch out from there if you don't find something you like.
The little town of Onawa is centrally located and serves as a good base of operations when hunting both the Loess Hills Wildlife Area and the state forest. There are very limited accommodations, but give the Midway Motel a try.
Red Rock and Saylorville Reservoirs
We've all heard of the urban deer explosion. Bucks are getting old and big by living practically within the shadows of Des Moines' skyline. Though you can't hunt within the city limits, you can do the next best thing. You can hunt a couple of great areas just outside.
Saylorville Wildlife Area
Saylorville Wildlife Area is contained in Boone, Dallas and Polk counties. There are a total of just under 11,000 acres of public Iowa deer hunting land included in this huge area, and if you live in Des Moines, its right at your doorstep. As with Rathbun Reservoir, much of the public Iowa deer hunting area is upland cover with limited timber, but there is enough deer cover to support a fair herd. Adjacent to the public ground are wooded areas enclosed by state park boundaries, or within the corporate limit of Des Moines. These are off-limits to hunting and give the deer a sanctuary. Hunting near the line and waiting to pick off an Iowa trophy whitetail that ventures out during the November rut is an excellent strategy.
Red Rock Area
With the exception of the Mississippi River corridor, this is the largest public Iowa deer hunting area. Red Rock offers an unbelievable 25,500 acres of public land hunting, controlled by the IDNR. According to Jim Zohrer, with the IDNR, Red Rock is loaded with deer. The trophy buck potential for this area is quite good, especially after several years of low water have permitted the growth of dense bottomland habitat. The area is characterized by a wide band of cover (two to three miles wide, in most cases) roughly paralleling more than a dozen miles of the Des Moines River.
There are very few roads crossing the river throughout this upper section. Of course, access is readily available along the perimeter, but the difficulty of getting to the interior translates into excellent opportunities for hard working Iowa bowhunters.