An estimated 60,000 hunters will be heading to the timber in the next few months with Iowa’s archery deer season underway Oct. 1. With some careful planning and scouting, hunters can capitalize on the predictable behavior of deer in the early fall.
“Early season deer strategy is usually pretty straightforward—find the feeding areas and you’ll find the deer,” said Jace Elliott, state deer biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “Acorns, which are high in both carbohydrates and fats, are becoming a major food source that hunters would be wise to target in the early archery season.”
Statewide, the acorn crop appears promising. Hunters should focus on species within the white oak family, which are typically among the first to drop their acorns. However, acorns of red oak species, which are slightly less preferred by deer due to a higher acid content, can still make up a sizable portion of a deer’s daily diet and should not be overlooked.
With drier than average conditions during the growing season, many crop fields are on schedule for harvest early in the archery season. This will create more daytime deer activity in places archery hunters tend to target, such as timber stands and wooded edges.
Deer will begin changing their daily behavior as the breeding season, or rut, approaches in late October and November.
“The rut is when a lot of our hunters fill their tag on a buck,” Elliott said. “Rutting bucks can be found moving at all times of the day in search of a doe, which means putting a lot of time in the stand can pay off in a big way during this time of year.”
No matter the time of season, look for new signs of deer activity, like tracks, droppings, rubs or scrapes, to help with stand location and maximize time in the woods.
Iowa deer population slightly increasing
The results of Iowa’s annual spring spotlight survey indicate the population has slightly increased over the last several years, said Elliott, who coordinates the project.
“Our estimates can be variable from year to year, but for the past several years, the population has been relatively stable,” he said.
He said the deer data shows statewide trends are stable to slightly increasing, which means opportunities to fill the freezer persist in every part of Iowa.
Bowhunters hunt a lot
Bowhunters fall on the avid range of the participation scale. Based on the annual bowhunter survey, they go out an average of 13 trips per year and spend an average of 3-1/2 hours per trip. They tend to be more selective and harvest fewer does than other regular deer seasons.
Bowhunters get the privilege of hunting during the breeding season, or rut, when adult bucks tend to be very active and vulnerable to harvest during daylight hours. However, this privilege comes at a cost—responsible bowhunters must spend countless off-season hours practicing and fine-tuning their weapons to make ethical shots when the opportunity comes. Despite being required to use more primitive weapons than deer hunters in the muzzleloader or regular firearm seasons, about 35 percent of Iowa deer hunters participate in the archery season, which contributes about 20-25 percent of the overall deer harvest each year.
While chronic wasting disease sample collection is often associated with the firearm seasons, the Iowa DNR does collect deer tissue samples during bow season as part of its statewide annual effort to monitor for the fatal disease.
“Submitting a deer during the archery season is the best chance to take advantage of the free testing we offer before county quotas are reached,” Elliott said. “Samples submitted in the early season also tend to have the speediest turn-around for test results, before the diagnostics lab gets bombarded with samples from the firearm seasons.” Hunters willing to provide a sample are encouraged to contact their local wildlife biologist to arrange for the collection.
In the event that the county quota has been filled, or if the hunter is interested in testing a fawn or other nonpriority deer, hunters may choose to pay for their own test through a new partnership with the Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.
Hunters will need to contact their local wildlife staff and ask how they can get their deer tested through the new hunter submitted option. The DNR will collect and submit the sample on their behalf. There is a $25 fee for the laboratory to run the test. Results should be available within 2-3 weeks.
Changes to deer seasons
- The antlerless deer quota has been adjusted in 24 counties.
- Due to declining deer populations, Woodbury and Crawford counties were added to the “buck-only” list during the first shotgun season, meaning antlerless deer harvest is not permitted on general deer licenses in these counties from Dec. 2-6. Kossuth and Humboldt counties were removed from this list, opening up more antlerless harvest opportunities in light of recovering deer numbers.
- The Population Management January antlerless-only season will be offered in Allamakee, Winneshiek, Decatur, Appanoose, Monroe, Lucas and Wayne counties if the number of unsold antlerless licenses on the third Monday in December exceeds 100 tags. This season allows the use of any legal method of take, including shotguns, handguns, muzzleloaders, bows, crossbows, and center-fire rifles .223 and larger.
- The Excess Tag January antlerless-only season will be held in any county that still has unsold county antlerless tags by January 10. Only centerfire rifles .223 caliber and above are allowed during this season.
- A new requirement for hunters who harvest an antlered deer is reporting the length of the main beam of each antler.
Deer donation program
The Iowa DNR, the Food Bank of Iowa and 34 meat lockers are participating in the Help Us Stop Hunger program for 2023. Hunters are encouraged to contact a participating locker before they harvest a deer to see if the locker has any additional drop off instructions.
Hunters may also sign up as a deer donor with the Iowa Deer Exchange at www.iowadnr.gov/deer then scroll down to Iowa’s Deer Exchange Program link. There, donors can provide their information on what they are willing to donate. The database creates a map and table with information deer donors and deer recipients can use to get connected. Participants requesting venison far outnumber those willing to donate. There is no cost to participate. It is illegal to sell wild fish and game in Iowa.
Be sure to report your harvest
Hunters who harvest a deer are required to report their harvest by midnight on the day after it is tagged or before taking it to a locker or taxidermist. The hunter whose name is on the transportation tag is responsible for making the report. If no deer is harvested, no report is necessary.
Successful hunters have the option to report the harvest by texting the registration number to 1-800-771-4692 and follow the prompts, through the Go Outdoors Iowa app, online at www.iowadnr.gov, by phone at the number listed on the tag, or through a license vendor during their regular business hours.
Phone use while hunting
Reminder to hunters that the use of cellphones, one or two-way radios to communicate the location or direction of game or furbearing animals or to coordinate the movement of other hunters is prohibited.
Outside of very few and specific exceptions, modern technology, including social media and instant messaging apps, is not allowed to assist with the hunt.
Hunters are encouraged to keep their phone on their person and not in a backpack for safety reasons.
Don’t Veer for Deer
The combination of dropping temperatures and crop harvest across Iowa will likely get deer moving early this year. With the peak of the deer breeding activity still more than a month away, drivers need to remain vigilant with their defensive driving skills.
“Deer can be unpredictable when it comes to roadways, so don’t assume that a deer won’t jump out in front of your vehicle just because it sees you,” explains Elliott. “This is the time of year when a lot of deer crashes happen, and many of those could have been avoided by a few simple precautions. Always keep your eyes on the road and maintain an appropriate speed. If a deer jumps onto the roadway, don’t veer or try to avoid it, but brake firmly while staying in your lane.”
If a deer is spotted in a ditch or roadside, drivers should always assume there are others nearby and drive accordingly, Elliott said.