How Iowa Restored Its Deer Population and Revived its Hunting Season

by Shelby Scott

Deer hunting is an ages-old practice across the United States, symbolic of values such as tradition, dedication, patience, and simple love for the outdoors. Today, we like to think of hunting as an annual celebration of those values.

Contemporarily, hunting has seasons, depending on both the chosen weapon and the animal “in season” at the time. However, prior to these restrictions and categories, hunting across the U.S. was a year-round practice. In the end, it greatly reduced game, and food sources from white-tailed deer to bison to elk were nearly depleted.

During the 19th century, Iowa nearly saw complete extinction of the state’s deer population, while the bison and elk population dwindled to practically zero. However, in 1856, the midwestern state introduced its first “conservation” law. The act prohibited white-tail hunting from February 1st to July 15th. However, not two decades later, IA expanded the law, the prohibited season dating from January 1st to September 15th.

Regardless, the state’s deer population continued to decline, the Des Moines Register stating by 1898, the state’s legislature had completely prohibited hunting of the species year-round. The ban on hunting the hooved creatures lasted several years, but the population saw little growth.

Eventually, settlers began raising their own captive herds, as a way to boost populations while also supplying their family with game. Additionally, the news outlet shared IA began relocating white-tail from other states across the nation, with a growing herd established with only two deer in 1928.

By 1936, IA had a dangerously small deer population, DNR counting a total of 500-700 statewide. Fortunately, from there, the state’s herds continue to grow, repopulate, and expand.

Iowa Reopens Deer Hunting Season 50 Years Later

While the 1936 tally, especially in today’s comparisons, encompassed an incredibly small population, IA’s deer thrived from then on. Not two decades later, the state’s deer population had more than doubled, with 1,650 across 58 different counties.

1950 saw herds reaching populations of nearly 13,000 and two years later, deer hunting season finally reopened. However, considering the species’ near-extinction less than a century earlier, the state legislature provided several restrictions.

Nevertheless, IA had saved its white-tail population, and hunters could take to the forests and brush again to pursue game. However, with the boosted populations came another problem. According to the Register, the animals began creating agricultural damage.

The outlet further shared that even though the populations had rejuvenated, only 45 counties had “huntable deer populations.” 2020’s IA deer population saw a total of 445,000 deer, with nearly 110,000 harvested.

Contemporarily, the state now has a very huntable deer population. So much so that avid hunters flock to the state each year, bringing home monster trophy bucks. After nearly a century of rebuilding IA deer populations, out-of-state hunters have majorly boosted the midwestern state’s economy.