The Iowa legislation would increase the number of out-of-state deer hunters by 25%

by Jared Strong

An Iowa Senate bill would increase the number of non-Iowa residents who can hunt the state’s white-tailed deer each year from 6,000 to 7,500, and those hunters would be encouraged to also shoot female deer.

Senate Act 42 was moved Tuesday by a Senate subcommittee with support from Republicans. Similar legislation did not find enough support to pass in 2020.

Out-of-state hunters pay a premium to shoot deer in Iowa, and demand for those licenses regularly exceeds the long-standing 6,000 limit.

The state received about 10,700 applications for licenses in 2022 and about 11,300 in 2021.

These hunters pay about $650 — compared to about $70 for residents — so increasing available licenses in Senate law has the potential to increase state hunting revenues by more than $960,000. The hunters also contribute an unknown amount of money to the local economy for lodging, food, and supplies.

“Non-resident deer hunters are certainly having a positive economic impact,” said Jace Elliott, the state deer biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The bill was introduced by Senator Mike Klimesh, a Spillville Republican. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the article.

Klimesh’s bill includes an incentive for hunters to shoot females. Iowa law requires out-of-state hunters to acquire an antler-only license along with the general deer license, but only about 20% of antler-only licenses result in kills, said Sen. Dawn Driscoll, a Republican Williamsburg, who chaired the subcommittee meeting. Measures to control the red deer population usually focus on culling females, which may give birth to two or more fawns each year.

The new legislation allows out-of-state hunters to earn a “preference point” for shooting a hind in an area with high deer population. These points are used to increase the likelihood of obtaining another non-resident hunting license in the future.

Hunters can generally earn one preference point each year either by entering the drawing to obtain a license and not being selected, or by purchasing a point without submitting a license application. Either way, the cost is about $60 per point.

The DNR sets out-of-state quotas for different areas of the state, and obtaining a license to shoot deer with a bow is southern Iowa’s hardest, often requiring four or five preference points, said Tyler Harms, a DNR – Wildlife biometrician. That means it can take four or five years to get a license.

The state allows up to 35% of out-of-state licenses to be used for archery seasons, which are widely regarded as the best opportunity to shoot big money.

And the vast majority of these hunters come to Iowa for the money. Elliott said more than 95% of the deer shot with non-resident general deer licenses — where hunters can shoot any sex of deer — are bucks. That compares with about 50% among residents.

But the success rate among out-of-state hunters is less than 50%, meaning the total number of additional bucks that could be felled under the new legislation could be fewer than 750.

“It can seem like a lot of deer, but overall it’s not,” Elliott said.

Hunters killed about 110,000 deer during the last fall and winter deer season, he said, a 7% increase from last year.

Harms doubted the law would have a significant impact on the overall deer population if it became law, but said, “We’ll definitely be watching.”

The Iowa Bowhunters Association and the Iowa Conservation Alliance oppose the law, according to statements by their lobbyists.

Jim Obradovich, who represents the Iowa Conservation Alliance, said there is a DNR deer study — which lawmakers requested with new legislation last year — that is pending. A purpose of the study is to measure deer population densities in different districts in order to guide hunting policy.

“We oppose it because we see it as a kind of hasty approach to this process,” Obradovich said.

Sen. Liz Bennett, a Cedar Rapids Democrat on the subcommittee, called the bill an “interesting idea,” but also said it was too early to think about it.

Editor’s Note: Jim Obradovich is married to Iowa Capital Dispatch Editor-in-Chief Kathie Obradovich.

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