DEER season opens today in Iowa for those with shotgun licenses for season number one. This season runs through Dec. 5. A second gun season begins on Dec. 8 and culminates on Dec. 16. What can hunters expect? If averaged over the entire state, deer numbers before the gun seasons are about 10 percent down from last year. Tom Litchfield, DNR deer research biologist, notes that "we have been working to decrease deer numbers since 2003. On a statewide basis, we are very close to objective numbers similar to what the deer herd was in the mid-1990s."
As of Nov. 30, statewide deer reported harvests are showing these numbers from deer killed by youth, early muzzleloader and archers: Doe deer at more than 12,000, antlered bucks at about 15,000, button bucks at about 2,200 and shed antlered bucks at 24. That brings the total to 29,200 deer. Shotgun hunters will take a much larger number by the time season one ends. And after the end of season two, the total take of Iowa deer will be over 100,000 animals. Iowa's total gun licenses sales are expected to be in the range of 172,000. In 2011-12, all deer hunters took 121,407 as reported. At the peak of deer numbers in 2005-06, hunters took 211,451 deer.
In our neighboring state of Missouri, hunters took 204,668 deer during the November portion of the firearms season. That is a 7.7 percent increase over last year and only 1.3 percent below the previous 10 year average. Missouri has a strong healthy deer herd. Careful management and strong citizen support for game laws allows the Missouri DNR to adjust to changes each year and enhance the social and economic benefits of deer hunting. Missouri sees approximately $1 billion annually added to the economy by deer hunters. That economic engine supports over 12,000 jobs.
Tyler Polley, 8, of Brookfield, Mo., took his first deer during the recently completed Missouri hunt. His .223 rifle did the job for a 40 yard shot. Mentor and guide for Tyler’s hunt was his father Ken, a State of Missouri Conservation Agent supervisor in the Linn County area. Tyler’s Iowa connection are his grandparents Dennis and Marilyn Polley, of Haverhill. Today marks the opening of Iowa shotgun season number one for whitetail deer.
Wisconsin deer hunters tell a similar story. Gun deer hunters registered 243,739 deer as of Nov. 25, up 7.7 percent from last year. They sold about 633,000 licenses for deer this year, up from 621,375 sold last year. This scribe does not have the economic impact data to share with you for Wisconsin. But there is no doubt it rivals what takes place in Missouri.
Hunting is a management tool that has deep cultural roots for outdoors enthusiasts. Wildlife departments across America have long recognized the value of a cooperative relationship with hunters to support conservation programs. Part of the equation, and a huge reason for its proven successful track record, dates back many decades to the growth of professional wildlife management. Keeping deer herd numbers in balance with the carrying capacity of the land is a top priority. An additional priority is finding a balance for the "cultural" carrying capacity throughout Iowa's diverse landscapes. That can be the tricky part, especially when politicians in the statehouse have to be consulted, convinced, educated and re-educated on the facts. What is known is that trend lines for overall deer herd reduction are showing that DNR regulations are working. With most of the state at or near acceptable management levels, those areas of the state will see future regulations aimed at stabilizing deer numbers. Biologist Litchfield notes that 60 counties in Iowa are now at "objective." Another 20 counties will likely be added at the end of this deer season. The remaining 19 counties could fall into management goal status after 2013-14. Maintaining a deer herd goal status in each county is obtained by adjusting the number of antlerless tags available for purchase.
Hunters are reminded that the law requires every deer killed to be reported by midnight of the day after it was taken. The confirmation number provided by the simple toll free phone call or internet registration system is written on the small tag and then placed on the deer. This is in addition to the larger tag placed on the deer within 15 minutes of it being killed or before it is moved. Compliance is easy. Compliance avoids a potential ticket from a game warden, and compliance helps gather biological data that is crucial to managing the deer herd.
IOWA has the HUSH program for utilizing deer meat hunters do not need above and beyond what is required for personal use. HUSH stands for Help Us Stop Hunger. Donated venison can be taken to any participating locker. One local locker for this purpose is the State Center Locker. On a national scale, many other states have similar programs to utilize venison. One group calling itself Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry (FHFH), between 1997 and 2004, processed 1,600 tons of deer meat. That works out to about 12,800,000 servings at various soup kitchens and food pantries. When properly prepared, deer meat tastes great. And once this fine source of protein in ones stomach, it goes to work to provide sustaining our lives.
HUNTER SAFETY CLASSES for 2012 are over. While some procrastinators never seem to find the time or make the commitment when classes were offered earlier in the year, each fall becomes a race for a few people who suddenly realize they need the hunter safety course to be able to buy a hunting license. Then they expect a local instructor to drop everything and put a class on just for them! Not going to happen folks. There is too much data and too much information required to be given within a 10 hour program. Instructors of hunter safety classes can only scratch their heads and wonder why they did not take advantage of local classes held earlier in the year. At the DNR offices in Des Moines each late fall, the phone rings off the hook when some desperate people try to locate and get signed up for a hunter safety class. Iowa has hundreds of volunteer hunter safety instructors who offer their time to help instruct the courses in spring, summer and early fall. Come fall time, those instructors are busy themselves hunting upland game, waterfowl, deer or other critters.
So, for the record, the class dates for 2013 in Marshall County will be May 16 and 18, June 13 and 15, and Aug. 15 and 17. These classes are open to anyone age 12 or over. Each class starts with Thursday night class from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Izaak Walton League. Then the hands-on portion takes place the following Saturday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. These classes are free. An alternative to these classes is to take the written portion via the computer at home. When finished, and after paying a fee of $25, a printable voucher is available. That voucher is the admission ticket to a hands-on field day. Hunter safety field days are posted as they are scheduled on the DNR training web site. Please note ... Field Day courses are different from a conventional 10 hour safety course.
Then there is the issue of lost hunter safety certificates. Every person graduating from a hunter safety class is issued a certificate. They are told to keep it in a safe place. Most do. Some don't. That certificate will be needed at a future time to purchase the first license. Getting ones name into the Iowa ELSI licensing system is critical to future license purchase attempts. A lost or misplaced certificate can be replaced by calling the DNR office in Des Moines at 515- 281- 5918. Local instructors do not have the class records. All data of who took a class, date of the class and location are sent to Des Moines after a class is completed. Marshall County's chief hunter safety instructor is Roger Kaput. He will be happy to offer advice for those who want or need a safety class in 2013.
The latest newsletter from the Marshall County Conservation Board has been sent. This free quarterly publication has lots of news and events, or activities for the outdoor minded person to get involved with. The MCCB website also has lots of information. Check it out at
www.co.marshall.ia.us/departments/conservation. Two new additions or sections to check are the
Outdoor Events Calendar and Frequently Asked Questions. The newsletter tells of winter activities to come including Cross-Country Skiing, Owl Prowl, Bald Eagle Days, Photo Contest reminder, Artifact Roadshow, Woodworking for Wildlife, Nature Story Hour, Brown Bag Bunch and Uncle Ike Nature Programs. For details on any of these topics, feel free to call 752-5490.
BALD EAGLES are relatively easy to spot at this time of the year. The big majestic raptor is hard to miss with its white head and white tail on an otherwise dark body. Migrating eagles are still moving south.
Locally we will have eagles all winter long, especially if mild weather allows the river to stay open. You have probably heard or read by now that one of the Decorah eagles famous for its past nest building and eaglet raising has died. Eagles do find new mates. Time will tell if the new nest site near the fish hatchery will be successful. In the meantime, I'll leave with this bit of eagle humor: The sight of a bald eagle has thrilled people for generations. The sight of a bald man, however, does absolutely nothing for the eagle.
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.