Shotgun Deer Season Opener

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Great weather. Good deer numbers. First season shotgun hunters took advantage of those two factors, putting together a pretty decent opening weekend.

The first of Iowa's two shotgun seasons opened Saturday. Wildlife officials expect hunters to pretty easily set a new harvest record. Besides existing antlerless quotas, 30,000 additional tags are available. A special later January season was expanded from southern Iowa to the entire state, also.

Relatively mild temperatures kept first season hunters hunting longer, rather than looking for a place to thaw out over the weekend. At the same time, much of Iowa had snow on the ground; something many hunters prefer to sight deer coming their way. "I talked with 41 hunters on Saturday; another 57 on Sunday. They had some success," offered Kyle Jensen, Department of Natural Resources conservation officer. Patrolling Johnson County, and logging a few miles in Cedar, Washington and Linn Counties as well, he had seen only one dead deer on his spot checks until late in the day on Saturday. That rose to about 15 by the end of the day; about the same number Sunday.

With a statewide push to reduce the overall whitetail population, hunters this year are being encouraged to take more does. "Hunters I talked with were seeing deer, but a lot of them were still after bucks," noted Jensen. "I saw a lot of small bucks. If you're going to take a small buck, you might as well take a doe to help with the population problem." Some of those hunters indicated they hunted the weekend for bucks, but would go for a doe, later in the five-day season.

To the north, hunters seemed a little more willing to take an antlerless whitetail. "It was a pretty good opener. Most of them were pleased with the deer they were seeing," observed Jennifer Lancaster, the DNR's recently appointed law enforcement supervisor for northeast Iowa. She checked hunters across several counties. "Some were making a conscious effort to shoot does. I urged them to take those does, to help manage the herd."

Sitting along a whitetail escape route, two of us filled antlerless depredation tags right away Saturday morning in Delaware County. It only hurt for a second, watching the big 10-pointer rocket to safety as I dropped the deer in front of him. Talking with a few of the guys that hunt first season where our group hunts second season, I noticed that they had a lot of does hanging by Sunday afternoon. That was encouraging. A few years ago, they would have taken does or fawns only as a last resort.

In southeast Iowa, a group of Iowa City hunters saw more deer than people. "Last year, I didn't even see a deer. This year, I saw about 16 over the weekend," said Loren Forbes. Forbes' group of eight hunters, working a section of Shimek State Forest, near Donnellson, came home with six deer. Forbes said they knew of two other hunters in the heavily timbered area, otherwise they had the place to themselves. The group worked on filling out their remaining tags closer to home, during the week.

As always, a few violations punctuated the weekend. "When you consider that there are 100,000 hunters out there, the number of incidents is quite small," noted Lancaster. "Still, the ones we had would have been so easy to avoid; not wearing blaze orange, shooting from the roadway. Those are basic safety issues." Her district also yielded a few 'no license' tickets and a case of using radios to position hunters.

Jensen, too, had some paperwork to finish after the weekend. Four hunters in one group of four hunters all walked away with trespass tickets. He also cited a couple hunters with untagged deer and two for using landowner tags illegally. There was a 'no blaze orange' in there, too.

Overall, though, hunters were pretty happy, coming out of the biggest 'deer weekend' of the year. "They had perfect temperatures; even a little snow on Saturday," noted Jensen. Come this Saturday, 60,000 second season hunters will get their crack at it.