DNR proposes new deer hunting restrictions for southwest Iowa

Six counties will likely get "buck only" restrictions for the first shotgun season in 2024. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

State regulators are seeking to severely restrict the hunting of female deer in several southwest Iowa counties in an effort to increase the animal’s population in that area.

Hunters in six counties would be barred from shooting white-tailed does during the first shotgun season, and none of the counties will have additional doe licenses available for other seasons.

Those counties include Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Monona, Pottawattamie and Shelby. The new restrictions already exist in 17 counties of northwest Iowa, where some have been in place for a decade.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has been gradually reducing the number of licenses for antlerless deer in the southwest counties in recent years.

“This is in response to what we’ve noticed is a sustained population decline,” said Jace Elliott, the DNR’s deer biologist. “The hunters in that area, what I’m hearing from them is, it’s about time. I’m always surprised when we propose relatively large changes, and I don’t get a single person reaching out from that part of the state that’s even confused about why we’re going in that direction.”

Also, no doe licenses would be issued for Cass and Page counties, and the number of available licenses will be reduced for Adams and Montgomery counties.

The department might finalize the new restrictions next month as it hosts a series of meetings that are part of its Western Iowa Deer Initiative, which is meant to solicit input from hunters and landowners.

The new restrictions represent a significant reversal of the state’s policies two decades ago, when there was a robust deer population in southwest Iowa. The DNR had made thousands of antlerless licenses available and also allowed hunters to use powerful rifles during special January seasons to encourage more participation.

“It worked probably too well,” Elliott said. “At the time, people didn’t have the foresight to realize that we’d be in this situation.”

He said deer numbers declined gradually over time in the area and — because of the area’s relatively open landscape — were unable to rebound as they quickly can in southeast Iowa, where there are vast areas for deer to hide.

Tim Powers, an Iowa field director for Whitetails Unlimited, a group that promotes hunting and habitat conservation, said he trusts that the DNR’s decision to impose new restrictions is necessary to increase deer numbers.

“I’d go along with what their research is telling them to do,” he said.

The restrictions have worked in north-central Iowa, where they have been lifted or loosened in some counties in recent years as populations recovered, Elliott said. It will likely take at least five years to notice an appreciable improvement in southwest counties. Those with the quickest gains are typically adjacent to counties with larger populations and have more available habitat.

The following DNR public meetings are scheduled to go from 6:30 to 8 p.m.:

— July 8: Atlantic, at The Venue, 307 Walnut St.
— July 9: Denison, at the Lookout Shelter at Yellow Smoke Park, 2237 Yellow Smoke Road
— July 10: Council Bluffs, at Bass Pro Shops, 2901 Bass Pro Drive
— July 11: Shenandoah, at the Shenandoah Public Library, 201 S. Elm St.
— July 15: Onawa, at the Onawa Public Library, 707 Iowa Ave.
— July 16: Sioux Center, at the Sandy Hollow Clubhouse, 3395 400th St.
— July 17: Sioux City, at the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center, 4500 Sioux River Road
— July 18: Cherokee, at the Cherokee Community Center, 530 W. Bluff St.

The post DNR proposes new deer hunting restrictions for southwest Iowa appeared first on Iowa Capital Dispatch.