Legislation would increase number of out-of-state deer hunters by 25%

By: - January 24, 2023 5:35 pm

Iowa is a significant destination for out-of-state deer hunters. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

An Iowa Senate bill would increase the number of people who don’t live in Iowa who can hunt the state’s antlered whitetail deer each year from 6,000 to 7,500, and those hunters would be encouraged to shoot female deer, too.

Senate File 42 advanced with Republican support out of a Senate subcommittee Tuesday. Similar legislation failed to get enough support for passage in 2020.

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

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

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Those hunters pay about $650 — compared with about $70 for residents — so the increase in available licenses in the Senate bill has the potential to boost state hunting revenues by more than $960,000. The hunters also contribute an unknown amount of money to local economies for lodging, meals and supplies.

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

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

Klimesh’s bill includes an incentive for the hunters to shoot does. Iowa law requires out-of-state hunters to purchase an antlerless-only license with the general deer license, but only about 20% of the antlerless-only licenses result in kills, said Sen. Dawn Driscoll, a Williamsburg Republican who led the subcommittee meeting. Deer population control measures usually focus on culling does, which can give birth to two or more fawns each year.

The new legislation enables out-of-state hunters to earn a “preference point” if they shoot a doe in an area with a high deer population. Those points are used to increase the likelihood of obtaining another non-resident hunting license in the future.

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

The DNR sets out-of-state quotas for different areas of the state, and it’s the most difficult to obtain a license to shoot deer with a bow in southern Iowa and often requires four or five preference points, said Tyler Harms, a DNR wildlife research biometrician. That means it can take four or five years to get a license.

The state allows up to 35% of the out-of-state licenses to be used for bow seasons, which are generally considered the best opportunity to shoot a big buck.

And the vast majority of those hunters come to Iowa for bucks. Elliott said more than 95% of deer shot with non-resident general deer licenses — in which 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%, which means the total number of additional bucks that would be felled under the new legislation might be fewer than 750.

“It can seem like a lot of deer, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not,” Elliott said.

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Hunters killed about 110,000 deer during the most recent fall and winter deer seasons, he said, which is a 7% increase from the previous year.

Harms doubted the legislation would have a significant impact on the overall deer population if it becomes law but said, “We’ll certainly watch it.”

The Iowa Bowhunters Association and the Iowa Conservation Alliance oppose the legislation, according to their lobbyists’ declarations.

Jim Obradovich, who represents the Iowa Conservation Alliance, said there is a deer study by the DNR — which lawmakers required with new legislation last year — that is still pending. One purpose of the study is to measure deer population densities in different counties to help guide hunting policies.

“We’re opposed to this because we see this as kind of jumping the gun on that 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 soon to consider it.

Editor’s note: Jim Obradovich is married to Iowa Capital Dispatch editor-in-chief Kathie Obradovich.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.

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