Deer are on the move

DEER are extra active now due to nature’s plan for continuation of the next generation of whitetails. Late October and continuing through mid-November, anything can happen as deer travel extensively to find mates. Their drive to do so is timeless, an ongoing cycle of nature that is as old as the Universe itself.

So that puts people in situations where our own education and knowledge can be our best defense. If we understand the increased possibilities of deer sightings in the field, or increased probabilities of deer crossings along our highways, then we can help avoid or minimize the consequences of a too close meeting with Iowa’s number one big game animal. According to Iowa Department of Transportation stats, October is a high month for car/deer accidents (14 percent) and November is highest with 21 percent.

The easiest way to reduce risk of a car/deer accident is simple just slow down. Next, remain alert to animal eyes in either ditch area along roadways. If you see one deer, expect a second or maybe even a third. Lastly, if a deer suddenly appears between your headlights and a collision seem inevitable, slow down and much as possible but do not swerve to miss it. Swerving may cause loss of control of your vehicle, a possible roll-over and much higher incident of injuries to people.

The trend line for the overall deer herd in Iowa is going down at a steady but slow planned rate. Professional wildlife biologists have the data to prove it. It is their studies and understanding of deer biology and numbers that are key to wise use concepts for long-range management and conservation of this important species. Compares to 2003, just 10 years ago, traffic related car/deer accidents have dropped significantly. Management goals as set for various counties based on that regions deer population has slowly allowed for a stabilized deer herd in 82 of Iowa’s 99 counties. Other counties are close to goal. A few still need additional pressure by hunters to lower the doe deer numbers going into next spring.

Deer are crepuscular, more active in early morning hours or at sunset times. Add the rut phase of deer reproduction into the mix and the rules seem to change. In other words, anything can happen at any time. Deer movements also increase due to the harvest of corn, in some cases removing hiding places that deer were comfortable with all summer long. Deer adjust to these land use changes quite well. People need to adjust their actions also by being more informed and being extra alert.

White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) were reported to be quite abundant when white settlers arrived in Iowa in the early 1800s. Although clearing and cultivating the land for agriculture may have initially improved the sustainability of the landscape for deer, uncontrolled exploitation for food or hides rapidly reduced deer numbers. By 1880, deer were rarely sighted in much of the state. In 1889 the deer season was legally closed. By this time deer had virtually been eliminated from all parts of the state.

There were still deer to be found, rare as they were. Nature does not like a vacuum so she will, if given enough time, allow deer to migrate into unused territories. Available habitat will again nourish new deer into places they once occupied. Estimates of deer in Iowa in 1936 stated that all counties had some deer but the overall total was between 500 and 700 animals. Given the lack of a good scientific census taking method, these numbers are suspect. However one reads our wildlife history lessons, deer were still scarce in 1936. However, by 1950, the estimated deer numbers in Iowa was set at 10,000.

The first modern deer season was in 1953 and 4,000 deer were taken by hunters. Fast forward to 2013. It is entirely likely that Iowa deer hunters will take an estimated 140,000 animals out of the mix by seasons end in late January 2014. The post season population will be much more in line with the overall average as existed in the mid- 1990s. In fact, a Governor’s Deer Study Committee from 2008 made numerous recommendations to bring down overall deer numbers. The plan was implemented. Trend lines show the downward slant of the population. Surveys from biologists, conservation officers, and hunter field reports and tagging reporting regulations reinforce and confirm a decreasing herd size. All this effort is aimed at finding a medium point that will satisfy most stakeholders. Today, thanks to professional wildlife management, most of Iowa’s counties are at the goals set long ago. And the biggest tool of all in the managers tool box is the cooperative venture with sportsmen and women who hunt deer. They understand the process and the science behind deer population needs.

PHEASANT SEASON opens today at 8 a.m. There will be hunters trekking through grassland habitats seeking the elusive ring necked pheasant rooster. If plied from his hiding places, its burst of vivid reddish brown feathers, long tail and super fast wing beats will propel it into the air in its escape attempt. Most will evade the gun. Some will not. However if this year is like last, there will be a lot of effort put forth to get a small number of roosters. It is the effort expended that is always part of the hunt. And the effort is also proportional to the satisfaction at the end of the day when tired hunters and tired dogs reap the rewards of a bird or two, a great supper meal and long sleep to refresh oneself for another day afield. Such is the tradition of hunting pheasants.

Iowa pheasant hunting pressure is always highest during the first two weekends of the season. Then a big drop occurs until Thanksgiving time with a spike in numbers makes use of vacation time around this holiday. Christmas time shows another upward spike in pheasant hunting attempts.

Safety is always important. The accidents and incidents of past years shows that being seen is very important to having a safe hunt. Pheasant hunters must wear at least one item of clothing that is at least 50 percent solid blaze orange. Hats, gloves, vests, shirts or coveralls can all be purchased with blaze orange in the fabric. Hunters need to have a plan, clearly communicate the plan to the entire party and follow the plan. Unload guns at fence crossings or other obstacles. Properly identify the target and what is behind the target. Know safe zones of fire. Be safe.

CHRISTMAS is closing in fast. And the Marshall County Conservation Board in sponsoring a NATURE’S TREASURES CRAFT SALE from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Nov. 2. The place will be the Conservation Center at the Grimes Farm, 2359 233rd St., Marshalltown. You will find unique locally made nature related crafts for friends or family. A sampling of items will include leaf pendants, decorative birdhouses, watercolor greeting cards, hand-painted glassware, metal art, recycled T-shirts, nature photography and books, jewelry, paintings, outdoor field guides and more. The more list even includes dog collars and leashes, serviceable wool mittens, photo mats and frames, ceramic bowl sets or even some furniture. Check it out on Nov. 2. You might find the perfect gift for a reasonable price. Call 752-5490 for details.

BALD EAGLES have been gracing the sky near several of the places this scribe conducts his outdoor forays and walkabouts. I hear them first, then see them gracefully wing their way into a nearby tree to perch, or as they glide low over the water in attempts to catch fish. These majestic birds of prey are strong fliers, great fish catchers and great eye pleasers. So I’ll leave you with these bits of eagle wisdom: Advice from an Eagle -Let your spirit soar, See the big picture, Cherish freedom, Honor earth and sky, Keep your goals in sight, Bald is beautiful, and Fly high.

Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.