Iowa Shotgun Deer Season Set to Start

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Another December, another deer season. Nearly 200,000 of us are finalizing plans to pursue Iowa's biggest big game.

Tens of thousands of hunters have been hunting whitetails already. Bow season has been underway for eight weeks. Early muzzleloader season, the youth season, the three-day November 'doe' season have come and gone. For most hunters, though, deer season begins on a December Saturday, as parties of shotgun hunters head to the woods. First season shotgunners, about 120,000 of them, head out December 2-6. About 75,000 second season hunters have December 9-17 to bring home the venison.

"Shotgun hunters are going to have a good year," forecasts Willy Suchy, deer biologist for the Department of Natural Resources. "There will be good deer numbers; maybe down in some areas a little bit. We have put a lot of emphasis on taking antlerless deer and hunters need to continue working on it." He anticipates about 100,000 whitetails being taken during the two shotgun seasons.

Responding to calls to reduce the deer herd over the last few years, Iowa hunters have snapped up county-specific antlerless tags; putting more pressure on counties with more deer. Winter surveys showed those goals were being met in some areas. As a result, the antlerless permits were not offered across 21 north central and northwest Iowa counties. Most counties with antlerless tags have sold out. "There are tags left in northeast Iowa and southern Iowa," says Suchy. "That's where the populations are strongest. We can use extra antlerless harvest in those areas."

Riding with officers over the years, I've noticed maybe in the last two or three years that a group of hunters will have their regular tags, and a couple antlerless tags, as well. That allows them to take a doe, but still hold that 'any sex' (meaning buck) tag, in case a big one comes by. I'm using a county antlerless tag in second shotgun season, to keep an any sex late muzzleloader tag available.

Hunters have been urged to pass on that small-racked buck and take a doe in the past few years. In some places, they are starting to see results. "We've been taking more antlerless deer; letting some of the younger bucks grow up", notes Suchy. "We should have tremendous quality out there; just maybe a few less deer total."

And shotgun season means deer drives, for most December gun hunters. If your drives have been working well, great. If not, consider fine-tuning things. "Use the wind (deer prefer to escape into or across the wind). Use the cover," advises Suchy. "Deer get used to people walking through the big timber. They're off on the sides; the wooded draw, the fence row. Hunters should remember those areas." Suchy says grassy CRP slopes are great places to surprise a hiding deer. Or two.

More than anything, those deer drives should be carefully orchestrated, too. Standers should know exactly where they should post themselves. Drivers should know exactly where they will emerge. Cover those bases and it should be another great hunting year.