Hunters reported harvesting nearly 94,000 deer during Iowa’s 2019-2020 hunting seasons, which is a decline from 2018-19 when hunters reported nearly 108,000 deer.
Wildlife experts say while there are a number of factors that likely contributed to the decline, the most prominent is the outbreak of hemorrhagic disease that killed thousands of deer across the state. It was the second largest outbreak of hemorrhagic disease in Iowa, behind only the 2012/13 outbreak, and the reduced harvest is consistent with that following the 2013 outbreak.
Tyler Harms, DNR wildlife biologist, said one of the department’s best population survey tools is the bow hunter observation survey where bow hunters record the number of deer and other wildlife species they observe each day from their treestand. The survey is conducted from Oct. 1 through the opening of first shotgun season.
“The lower harvest corresponds with fewer deer bow hunters reported in their survey, and while the impact from hemorrhagic disease may have contributed to some of that decline, our hunters are also conservationists and if they perceive a drop in the deer population, they will make a decision on whether or not to kill more deer. This year, many of them decided not to,” he said.
The Iowa DNR manages the deer herd to support a harvest of 100,000 to 120,000 deer that was based on the recommendations from the legislatively mandated deer advisory committee.
“Our deer population has rebounded after hemorrhagic outbreaks in the past and we expect the same will be true after this outbreak,” Harms said. “From our perspective, we manage the population for the long term and impacts, from this year – while significant, are likely a short blip on the horizon.”
Harms also reported chronic wasting disease has been confirmed in wild deer from Woodbury, Winneshiek, Fayette and Decatur counties this year, bringing the total number of counties where wild deer have tested positive to eight.
“We will schedule meetings in these areas in the next few months to discuss chronic wasting disease, our response and the role hunters play in helping us to manage for this disease,” he said.