No sooner do Iowa’s shotgun season deer hunters hang up their gear, the late muzzleloader hunters head into the woods.
About 32,000 late season muzzleloader hunters don’t have to compete with the crowds of shotgun season, but they do face the prospect of colder weather and more snow during their December 19-January 10 season.
“With fewer hunters, the deer calm down. They key into food sources again; especially in colder weather,” outlines Tom Litchfield, deer research biologist with the Department of Natural Resources. “Hunters can have real good success setting up ‘on stand’ to monitor feeding areas or trails leading to and from them.”
For many with a muzzleloader, that means being obscure and in place before dawn or well ahead of sunset; as nocturnal whitetails travel between bedding areas and food sources. Most muzzleloaders have better range than a slug-firing shotgun. However, the downside is the single shot afforded. That is where stealth and location become prime considerations for the cold-weather crowd who usually hunt alone and who must tag the deer they shoot, rather than work with multiple hunters with ‘party' tags to step in.
Late season muzzleloader hunters harvested 9,465 deer last year; 36 percent of them antlered bucks. The prospect of patterning a nice buck, intent on regaining body weight after the rut, is one of the attractions of the late season.
Plenty of antlerless tags are still available in northeastern and most southern Iowa counties. Unlike in past years, though, most of them are at or very close to target deer population levels.
“If hunting where deer numbers are noticeably lower ― and the landowner feels numbers are down ― hunters should be a little more judicious; backing off a bit on harvest of does,” suggests Litchfield. “However, if you hunt in an area with lots of deer yet, then you might still continue harvesting does, as you have the last two or three years.”