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Iowa Outdoors: Decline in deer population leads to new harvest regulations

February 9, 2018
Brett Reece - State Game Warden , Traer Star-Clipper

After 10 years of increased doe harvest from 2003 to 2013, the deer population in Iowa declined from all-time highs in the early 2000's. The goal is a stable population at a level comparable to the mid-to-late 1990s. A population at this level should sustain an annual reported harvest of 100,000 to 120,000 deer, a goal that has been met since the 2012 hunting season.

To stabilize populations, the regulations for 2017 restricted the harvest to antlered deer during the early muzzleloader and first shotgun seasons in 27 north-central and northwestern counties. This is the same as it was during the 2016 hunting season.

Reductions were made to the county antlerless deer quotas in 22 counties for the 2017 season, largely in response to local population changes and management needs.

Deer numbers are still higher than the DNR's goals in some areas. However, most of these areas are near urban areas, parks or private refuges and special hunts and depredation licenses provide the best management opportunity to fine tune the harvest in these areas.

Four techniques are currently used to monitor trends in Iowa deer populations. These are (1) spotlight surveys conducted by Iowa DNR staff in March and April, (2) the number of deer killed on Iowa's rural highways throughout the year, coupled with annual highway use estimates, (3) the number of animal-related accidents reported to the Department of Transportation, and (4) the bowhunter observation survey coordinated by the Iowa DNR and conducted by volunteers during OctoberNovember.

All of these surveys correlate well with the reported antlered harvest, and appear to provide reliable long-term trend indices. However, none of these surveys can be considered absolutely reliable indicators of annual changes in the population because of the high variability in the survey conditions, deer behavior, habitat conditions and weather.

Deer populations for the state as a whole have stabilized. This is due to the stabilized harvest pressure that has been applied to the female segment of the herd beginning in the 2013/14 hunting season. The goal being to return deer population levels to those that existed in the mid-to-late 1990s. This goal has been achieved on a statewide basis.

The data indicate that, statewide, the deer herd declined from 2006 to 2013, and has stabilized after the 2013 hunting season. All of Iowa's counties have reached or are close to the established goal. Now that the deer herd has stabilized statewide, management efforts are being focused at local scales (e.g., single or multiple counties) in response to local population changes as a result of disease or other population changes.

During the 2017/18 deer hunting seasons, 338,145 deer licenses were issued to 169,834 deer hunters who reported harvesting 105,544 deer, which is an increase of more than 4,100 deer from 2016.

Hunters reported harvesting 650 bucks in Tama County during the past deer season which ended January 10. Hunters also reported harvesting 572 does and 107 button bucks in Tama County during the season that just ended. This data translates into a buck harvest figure of .9 per square mile in Tama County during the past season. Hunters reported harvesting 423 bucks, 424 does and 82 button bucks in Benton County this past season. This data translates into a buck harvest figure of .6 per square mile in Benton County during the past season.



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