Iowa Deer Specialist Expects Deer Numbers To Be Similar To Last Year In NW Iowa; Down As A Whole Statewide

Date posted - December 1, 2012

Rural Northwest Iowa — The first shotgun dear season of the year is December first through fifth in Iowa. Tom Litchfield, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Deer Research Biologist says hunters in northwest Iowa should expect to find about the same number of deer as last year.

Statewide, however, shotgun deer season hunters should expect to see fewer deer. While that downturn is by design, they should still fill plenty of tags, during the December 1-5 first shotgun season or the December 8-16 second season.

While some counties in northwest Iowa don’t have enough deer, statewide, Litchfield says they have been working to decrease deer numbers since 2003. On a statewide basis, the herd is very close to objective; which would be the levels seen in the mid to late 1990s.

Somewhat of a ‘wild card’ this fall and winter will be the impact of Epizootic Hemorrhaging Disease (EHD) across much of the state. Nearly 3,000 reports of suspected EHD have been received; with concentrations in central and southwest counties and several more western counties through the Loess Hills. In all, 63 counties have at least one suspected case, says Litchfield.

Another disease that affects deer should not be confused with EHD. Litchfield says EHD may come on strong, kill a lot of deer, but will probably only last a season and then it’s usually over for a while. He says the last outbreak was in the 1990′s. Chronic Wasting Disease or CWD, on the other hand would kill dear 365 days a year for decades. He says in Colorado and Wyoming they have infection rates of up to 50 percent. But Iowa’s cases are contained, for now.

CWD changes proteins in the deer’s body and eventually causes death from microscopic holes in the deer’s brain.

Litchfield says he expects the deer harvest in northwest Iowa to be similar to last year in most counties, but on a statewide basis, he anticipates the harvest to be down at least 10 percent.

On a safety note, Litchfield says hunters should be sure to know what they’re shooting at, and what’s BEHIND what they’re shooting at, as often the slug goes right through the deer and could possibly strike something they’re not intending on shooting.


With a relatively short season (five or nine days), shotgun hunters often must adapt to the weather. Looking ahead to the next week, seasonal temperatures and a continued brown—not white—landscape lie ahead for hunters holding about 172,000 paid first season, paid second season and landowner tags.

One strategy that remains constant is hunting with the wind. Deer rely primarily on their noses, to warn of danger. Hunters should keep that in mind, especially as they set up drives.

Litchfield says that it is always good to set up drives so that as you move the deer, they don’t have a good opportunity to smell the blockers as they approach. Have them downwind from the deer. He says a lot of hunters drive the same block of ground in the same way every year. Paying attention to the wind may produce better results.

Hunters are Iowa’s primary deer management tool. It is a role they have carried out well in the last decade, with that emphasis to reduce deer numbers. That has been accomplished, primarily, through increased sale of county-specific antlerless tags.

The ‘all seasons’ harvest—including deer taken in the bow, muzzleloader, January, youth and handicapped seasons–reflects that downturn, with 121,407 deer reported by hunters in 2011-12. That compares to 211,451 in 2005-06; though harvest reporting techniques did change during that span.

Still, hunters may find more dead deer, as they fan out across the landscape.

“We know this EHD outbreak had at least significant localized impact; and that impact won’t be assessed until we go through the hunting season,” says Litchfield.

With the emphasis on downsizing the herd, Litchfield sees about 60 of Iowa’s 99 counties ‘at objective.’ Another 20 should reach it after this season. The remainder likely would fall into place after 2013-14. He is concerned, however, that the EHD outbreak could change that dynamic—lowering hunter harvest and post-season counts—for some counties.

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