IOWA CITY - The rate of Iowa roadway deer kills has declined to figures not seen since the 1980s, and hunters are getting much of the credit.
The Iowa City Press-Citizen reported Monday that in 2011, drivers in Iowa killed 10,626 deer. Motorists traveled about 18.6 billion miles, for a rate of 570 deer killed per billion miles driven in Iowa.
That's a slightly higher rate than in 2010, but Department of Natural Resources statistics show a big decline over the past decade. The DNR reports that 1986 was the last year in which the rate was lower than 600 deer killed per billion miles driven.
The decline is credited to action by the Legislature, which told the DNR to increase hunting in order to reduce the number of car-deer crashes.
Lawmakers took action after deer road kills peaked in the mid-2000s at between 13,730 and 15,361 crashes.
"The Legislature basically told us, you need to get the numbers down," said DNR spokesman Joe Wilkinson.
The DNR responded by increasing the number of hunting tags for antlerless deer, which encouraged hunters to shoot more female deer. Officials also set up quotas for each county, issuing more tags for counties with more deer.
Wilkinson said many car-deer crashes still happen, especially during this time of year when deer are breeding and become more active, but at least the risk has dropped.
"To the guy or the woman who just hit a deer, that doesn't solve their problem," Wilkinson said.
"But the numbers have gone down significantly. It's because of this heavy emphasis on antlerless tags."
Besides severely damaging vehicles, Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said hitting a deer can be dangerous to motorists.
"We've been on car-deer crashes where the deer comes through the windshield," he said.
Despite, that, Pulkrabek said it's better to slow down as much as possible and hit the animal than swerve to avoid it. That's because swerving can leave a car in a ditch or veering into oncoming traffic.
"If you're going to hit the animal, hit the animal," he said. "Don't swerve, because bad things happen when you swerve."