Fall hunting seasons are well under way. Deer hunters, including youth, early muzzleloaders and archers have taken well over 20,000 deer so far. Next weekend, Dec. 4, is the opener for shotgun deer season number one. More than 40,000 resident hunters will be out and about to reduce the deer herd numbers even more. In 2009-10, a grand total of 161,000+ deer were killed by the time all seasons ended in late January. The numbers for 2010-11 may not be as high, but will be very close. Parts of Iowa are already at 'management objective levels' deemed on track for acceptable deer numbers.
As for today's photo of the mule deer, Finegan is an avid hunter with many in state hunts and several out-of-state hunts including Canada under his belt. Finegan is the retired director of the Black Hawk County Conservation Board, which is how this scribe got to know him from attending area meetings or statewide conferences. Once we knew each others interests, different hunting scenarios developed over time that saw us team up for hunts in Quebec, Newfoundland, Manitoba, Alaska, Arizona, South Dakota and Texas.
Since the mule deer presented itself at the right place at the right time, Finegan now jokes that he doesn't have to go to any western state for muleys; all he has to do is just sit in a stand on his own property near Cedar Falls. Actually, mule deer sightings in Iowa are still quite scarce but not unheard of. Most of the time when a muley is seen or taken by a hunter, it is a young male, pushed out of old territory and taken to a bit of exploring on its own. It is too soon to tell if this indicates any reliable trend for range expansion. Most mule deer biologists in western states are dealing with dwindling numbers of mule deer including the 'invasion' of whitetails into muley ranges. There is a considerable overlap of both species in lots of areas.
Steve Finegan of rural Cedar Falls arrowed this mule deer buck on his property last weekend. Any mule deer in Iowa is considered way out of its home range. Normal habitats for mule deer are the western provinces of Canada, plus all the western states from the Pacific coast east to the Dakotas, Nebraska, and western Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Tom Litchfield, Iowa DNR deer biologist, acknowledges that this mule deer documentation is for an animal much further east than expected.
Mule deer have large ears, thus its name, and antler growth patterns that typically show forked G-2s, the second point on the main beam after the short to non-existent brow tine. They have a white rump and a black tipped tail. They can weight up to 400 pounds for large bucks. The record mule deer antler spread is about 48 inches, a very impressive set of bone for a deer to grow. The largest mule deer bucks hide out in the Rocky Mountains in terrain that is impressive for its difficulty to navigate. Kansas prairie lands also hold some big boys in the wide open spaces of the Sunflower State.
This scribe's observation of deer seen from my hunts this fall is slightly outpacing my 2009-10 statistics. During last years hunts through the first 100 hours, my average deer sighting per hour of effort was 1.3. So far this season, my first 100 hours have recorded 1.4 deer per hour of effort.
This is not a valid scientific accounting in itself, but I find it useful for my own benefit. When all my observation data record forms are submitted to the DNR deer biologist and combined with other central Iowa county bowhunter's surveys, valid trend lines can be graphed and compared to previous years' data. This is just one device in the biologist tool kit for keeping tabs on overall deer numbers. It is a system that has great response from bowhunters since they are the ones that put in a great deal of observational time while waiting for deer to move past on nearby trails.
While the DNR wants deer statistics, I keep notes on other great happenings while I'm outdoors. A good number of bald eagles have caused check marks to be written into my ledger, both for immature and mature white headed members of this species. Then there are the much smaller birds such as the brown creeper who inspects every little hole in tree bark for an insect meal. Pileated woodpeckers have kept me busy trying to spot this shy crow-sized wood chiseler as it investigates the tops of old growth trees. And this week's new jewel for an entry is the American Woodcock, that softball-sized bird of moist woodlands with a long beak perfect for probing under leaves for food items. Ornithology departure timetables put Oct. 28 as the average date when woodcocks have migrated south of our border. My sighting of this bird was on November 14th. It was a great treat to see.
Here is something to check out on television: It is called Wild Justice, on the National Geographic channel, beginning tomorrow, Nov. 28. Film crews accompany game wardens on patrol and during special enforcement efforts to catch bad guys who break fish and game laws. In case you think this is not serious business, think again. Earlier this month near Gettysburg, Pa., a game warden lost his life when a convicted felon was confronted while hunting illegally. A gun battle ensued and both men took hits. The officer died in the line of duty. The felon was captured soon afterward and now he will go back to jail for the rest of his life. Meanwhile the Pa. game warden gave his life to defend natural resources from abusive criminals. Fish and game law enforcement officers are spread pretty thin across the American landscape doing a tough job, many times at night, alone, and dealing with subjects most likely to be armed. They need the help of ethical hunters and law abiding citizens to help apprehend those that cheat the system.
Just a quick note and reminder that annual re-licensing of ATVs, Snowmobiles, Off-road motorcycles and Off-road Utility Vehicles can and should be accomplished before Dec. 31. This can easily be accomplished via any of the same locations where hunting and fishing licenses are sold. There are over 230 electronic licensing sites in Iowa. First time registrations are the exception to the rule. These must be registered the first time at the County Recorder's office in your county of residence. Iowa has about 30,000 snow-machines and 47,000 ATVs or other off road vehicles. The annual fee is $17.50 with the money used for legal places to ride the units and safety education programs.
Dec. 1 from 10 to 11 a.m., is the next Story Hour for preschoolers at the GrimesFarm & Conservation Center. The title of this session is "Winter Sleepers". Bring your little ones to the Conservation Center for stories about animals that hibernate during the winter months.
Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.