The loss of human life makes the whitetail deer the most dangerous mammal in North America, making many related coffee club roundtable discussions as abundant as the deer population itself. The debate is often on how to reduce crumpled fenders and damage to landowner’s properties, and still enjoy hunting “big game” in Iowa. The debate extends from coffee clubs to the Iowa Legislature to community task forces and here is what they are saying in your neck of the woods.
The population of deer differs in different places in Winneshiek County. It also depends upon who you ask and where they live, where they spend most of their time driving to, and where they hunt in Winneshiek County.
Has the deer population gone down according to the surveys? Wildlife Biologist Terry Haindfield from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at the Upper Iowa Wildlife Unit in Decorah says, “I cannot answer this question with only a yes or no. It’s complicated with many variables. First, I would say the surveys have not shown the total population in Winneshiek County to be decreasing. But I feel the deer numbers, in general, in the southern half of Winneshiek County have declined. In Howard County, aerial deer surveys are not showing much of a population decline since 1997 to my dismay, especially considering my observations and public comments. The spring spotlight surveys began just four years ago but I believe it has revealed some very interesting information. For example, we have been seeing, say three deer in a mile driven, then one, then four, then two, then one, then twelve, then twenty-two, then eighteen, then two, then four, then two, etc.”
Haindfield explains, “What is probably happening is there has been a re-distribution of deer within a county. In the past (1980’s) people in Howard county probably all had a few deer on their farms. Then the population started to grow and antlerless (doe) licenses were increased to lower the number of deer in the county. It did that significantly in most areas but refuge areas swelled with deer and possibly over-inflated the total deer count on surveys. This punishes the hunters who find few deer on traditional farms they hunted and creates problems where refuges have too many deer. The DNR’s job now is to find ways to reduce the 'hotspot' areas while increasing deer in the areas of too few of deer. I believe this may be happening in Winneshiek County; in general too few of deer in the southern part of the county and yet 'hotspots' of too many still in the northern part."
Lake Meyer Conservationist Larry Reis who bow hunts in southern Winneshiek County feels there has been a gradual decline in deer population the last seven or eight years. Reis feels the deer population is at a healthy number because of the doe to buck hunting license ratio.
Avid hunter and habitat expert Corey Meyer of Calmar feels as a whole there are fewer deer where he hunts in southern Winneshiek County. He says that is only his perspective, others may see it differently. Meyer explains about the role of hunters. “Hunters are conservationists if they realize it or not. They carry the responsibility of helping landowners with the carrying capacity of the land. We are very fortunate in our area to have landowners that allow us the privilege to hunt on their land by just asking permission and in return we must be respectful to those landowners’ wishes in helping to maintain a sustainable population of game. Healthy land can carry a healthy population of game like we experience in our area, that is where a balance must be struck because an excess can hurt everyone both economically and socially, but conversely an over harvest of a natural resources can lead to a decline of the species. As an avid hunter I feel we have been very efficient in reducing the bounty of the deer herd in southern Winneshiek County, but there still are pockets of higher deer numbers in refuges. In the areas where there has been an effort to reduce the deer herd to more acceptable population levels, we must maintain that level and not allow that excessive deer bounty to affect our landowners or we might be susceptible to losing our local hunting heritage.” Another important point Meyer drives home is this, “We ALL must be responsible for taking care of the land and the resources at hand to ensure the long-term harmony between social and economic issues of the White-tailed deer!”
The DNR has put a priority on harvesting females as a way to keep the population in check and they have been encouraged by the reported harvest that showed slightly more than half of this season’s total harvest consisted of does.
But the big question is still out there. What is a healthy deer population for drivers and landowners to coexist with nature? Again, it depends upon who you ask.