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Iowa’s most popular hunting seasons are less than two weeks away when more than 100,000 blaze orange clad hunters will be walking, posting, sitting and standing in Iowa’s timber and field edges hoping to tag an Iowa deer. The first deer gun season is Dec. 2-6; the second deer gun season is Dec. 9-17.
The good news is, that Iowa’s deer population is stable to slightly increasing across much of the state, with the exception of certain parts of northwest, west central and southwest Iowa.
“The gun seasons are the most popular of all of our hunting seasons, a lot of great tradition and memories are made during this time,” said Jace Elliott, state deer biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “These two seasons also play an important role for our deer herd management with more than 50 percent of the total harvest typically occurring during these 14 days in December.”
In 2022, hunters reported harvesting 109,600 deer and Elliott is predicting a similar harvest this year. So far in 2023, more than 25,000 deer have been harvested, which is slightly higher than each of the last two years’ harvest up to this point.
“Based on the reported harvest from our earlier seasons, we are expecting a similar harvest total again this year,” he said. “Data from our population surveys suggest there should be just as much, if not more, opportunity to harvest deer as past years in most regions of Iowa.”
While hunter success in earlier seasons has been good, Mother Nature can play a role when hunting opportunities are much shorter. Cool weather with snowfall on opening day leads to higher harvest; warm weather with rain leads to lower harvest. The way too early forecast calls for above normal temperatures.
Method of take for the gun seasons
Over time, the type of firearm allowed in the gun season has expanded from the original shotgun-only, to include muzzleloaders, handguns and, most recently, rifles.
Rifles shooting expanding type bullet with a maximum diameter of no less than .350 of an inch and no larger than .500 of an inch with a publish or calculated muzzle energy of 500 foot pounds or higher are allowed as a method of take in the gun season. The hunting regulations has a list of allowable cartridges that has generated the most questions.
Based on the recent deer hunter survey, the method of hunting during the gun season is split nearly 50-50 between hunters who prefer drive hunting (pushing deer towards hunters on post) and those who prefer stationary hunting (sitting in a tree stand, ground blind, etc.).
Changes to deer seasons
Phone use while hunting
Reminder to hunters that the use of cellphones, one or two-way radios to communicate the location or direction of game or furbearing animals or to coordinate the movement of other hunters is prohibited.
Outside of very few and specific exceptions, modern technology, including social media and instant messaging apps, is not allowed to assist with the hunt. Hunters are encouraged to keep their phone on their person and not in a backpack for safety reasons.
Be sure to report your harvest
Hunters who harvest a deer are required to report their harvest by midnight on the day after it is tagged or before taking it to a locker or taxidermist. The hunter whose name is on the transportation tag is responsible for making the report. If no deer is harvested, no report is necessary.
Successful hunters have the option to report the harvest by texting the registration number to 1-800-771-4692 and follow the prompts, through the Go Outdoors Iowa app, online at www.iowadnr.gov, by phone at the number listed on the tag, or through a license vendor during their regular business hours.
Main beam antler length added to harvest reporting requirement
Beginning this year, Iowa deer hunters who harvest a buck will have a quick, additional piece of information to report as part of the harvest reporting requirement – the length of the main antler beam. Specifically, hunters will be asked if the main beam length is below or above 14 inches, but will not be required to provide the exact length.
This information will provide buck age structure to the DNR’s harvest data, producing a better overall picture of Iowa’s deer herd from year to year.
Online hunting atlas
Hunters have an online tool that may improve their in-field experience, even before opening day.
The Iowa hunting atlas is an interactive map that shows all available public hunting land that is managed by the state, county or federal governments. The atlas is online at www.iowadnr.gov/hunting. A mobile version is also available.
A click on an area will show basic information like size, habitat type and likely species available.
Deer donation program
The Iowa DNR, the Food Bank of Iowa and 34 meat lockers are participating in the Help Us Stop Hunger program for 2023. Hunters are encouraged to contact a participating locker before they harvest a deer to see if the locker has any additional drop off instructions.
Hunters may also sign up as a deer donor with the Iowa Deer Exchange at www.iowadnr.gov/deer then scroll down to Iowa’s Deer Exchange Program link. There, donors can provide their information on what they are willing to donate. The database creates a map and table with information deer donors and deer recipients can use to get connected.
There are currently 23 hunters registered who are willing to donate deer, and 287 registered recipients wanting venison. Hunters and recipients who had previously registered for the Deer Exchange Program should review their information to make sure it is still accurate and active.
There is no cost to participate. It is illegal to sell wild fish and game in Iowa.