Shotgun Deer Season is Coming

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Iowa's woods and fields will be dotted with orange this weekend, as the state's shotgun deer seasons get underway. Saturday is opening day for 75,000 first season hunters. A week later, about 60,000 hunters--including landowners who did not fill their first season tag-take their turn during second season.

With a generous allotment of antlerless tags this year, deer hunters should break the harvest record, set last year when 194,512 whitetails were taken over all seasons. However, the largest share of that harvest occurs over the two shotgun seasons, December 3-7 and December 10-18. "It should be another real good year this year. We are looking at a harvest of about 200,000," forecasts Willy Suchy, deer biologist for the Department of Natural Resources. "The increase should be from the antlerless tags. Our goal is to get the deer population down to where it was a couple years ago. We need to increase the doe harvest by a little bit more this year."

Hunters have responded to the call. In each of the last two seasons, they harvested more does than bucks: a first in 50 years of modern deer hunting in Iowa. Many of those whitetails were tagged with special antlerless tags, from a county's designated allotment. Those county quotas are pegged to local deer numbers and the push to steer more hunting pressure to areas with surplus deer. "If your party would start the day and fill some doe tags, you could then be really selective on the type of bucks you shoot," urges Suchy. "The bucks you pass up this year are going to be the trophies next year."

Iowa's shotgun seasons are 'party' hunts for the most part; anyone may tag a deer taken by another hunter in his or her party. However, deer must be tagged within 15 minutes of being killed or before they are moved, which ever comes first. Party hunting has proven efficient over the years, with some hunters posted as blockers along deer escape routes, as other hunters 'drive' an area. "To be effective, you have to understand where deer are likely to go," suggests Suchy. "Utilize the terrain and the wind. Deer like to go upwind or 'cross wind.' Setting up your drive to take advantage of the conditions is an important element of the hunt."

At the same time, it's not a bad idea to break with tradition occasionally. Suchy suggests slowing down the pace of a drive, rather than rushing through a timber in a 'forced march.'

"Deer are very adaptable. Crop patterns change a lot and that will influence deer movement," observes Suchy. "Look through some of those out-of-the-way places; brushy fence rows, the backside of a pond or a terrace. Usually some of the nicer deer tend to hang out in areas like the corner of a field or in CRP acres and watch traditional drives go by."