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2009—Another excellent year for Iowa deer hunters

From the Iowa Department of Natural Resources

-- Iowa hunters harvested 136,504 deer in 2009, of which 71,273 were does continuing a five year trend of reducing the size of Iowa’s deer herd.

This harvest is about 5,750 fewer deer than were reported in 2008.  Although the totals would likely have been closer with perfect hunting conditions, some decline was not surprising given that there were fewer deer than in 2008.

Tom Litchfield, state deer biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said hunters have done a good job in moving Iowa’s deer herd toward population goals.  While he expects the harvest to decrease some in future years, this decrease will be primarily the result of fewer antlerless deer in the harvest.  

The recent harvest is one gauge of the deer herd. Others are still underway, including aerial surveys, road killed data and the spring spotlight surveys.

Litchfield said based on the preliminary information, there is potential for reductions of the number of antlerless deer licenses available in about 20 counties in east central, northeast and southeast Iowa.  He also said the November antlerless deer season will likely be a thing of the past within two years.  

“The bulk of our counties will be at goal within two more years.  Counties near Des Moines—Dallas, Madison and Warren—may take longer because we have larger refuge areas to address, and counties in the mid-western part of the state along the Missouri River will likely be last to meet the population objectives,” he said.  “As for the Des Moines area counties and rural subdivisions, we must harvest deer where they are considered a problem and not just in the rural areas in attempts to lower the countywide population.  If we can hold a special deer hunt in Waterworks, we can hold one anywhere.”

Surveys in north-central and northwest Iowa show deer are concentrated in areas with good habitat, but also show there are areas with very few deer.  “There is less overall habitat in the region. CRP lands, fence rows and groves are being taken out making deer more susceptible.  If there is not enough cover in the open country for pheasants, there is not enough for deer,” Litchfield said.

While the size of the Iowa deer herd is shrinking, the quality remains exceptional.

“Our deer herds are healthy and we are still producing trophy deer. The Deer Classic will help as a barometer.  Last year, there were about 90 deer that qualified for the Boone and Crockett record book at the event.  That was an exceptional year, even for Iowa.  And some of the bucks were of proportions that you can’t expect to see every year,” Litchfield said.  

Once all the numbers are in, Litchfield said it is important to review each season.  Once a deer herd starts to decline, care needs to be taken because that can get out of hand. “It’s like sledding down a hill.  It’s easy to stop at the top, but if you do not monitor and control your decent, you may find yourself heading toward a place you did not want to go,” he said.

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