Deer harvest confirms reduced herd

ANTLER SCORING for Iowa buck whitetail is coming up in one month. From 7 to 9 p.m. on Feb. 18, antlered deer will be officially measured by a team of certified persons. The place is the Conservation Center at the Grimes Farm. Hunters desiring to know how the score of their deer antlers is made and how it compares to past records will have the opportunity to learn how the measuring process is completed. The deer could be grandfathers deer taken many decades ago. Or the deer could be one from this past season. Either way, the evening will be fun and educational. See you there.

Data from the current season of deer harvests is confirming the trend line of a reduced deer herd in Iowa. Final figures are not in but this much is known. The number of deer killed by all hunters is down from 2012 by about 17 percent. In 2011, Iowa hunters took a bit over 127,000 deer. In 2012, the official harvest reported number was 115,606. So far for the 2013 season which for all practical purposes is almost over is showing a deer take of about 96,800.

In 2012 Iowa deer hunters bought 378,447 licenses, a decrease from 2011 sales of 14,500. During 2013, that number is down about 20 percent to put it in the range of 366,000. The statistics alone indicate a number of things among them being fewer deer seen by hunters. Iowa has come a long way from the peak in the deer herd in 2005-06. A gradual decline in deer numbers was agreed to and established by applying science based harvest and license options to take out more doe deer on a county by county basis. When a county obtained a status as determined by biologists to be appropriate for that area, next year’s available licenses could be set to hold the population steady.

Hunters have done a good job of assisting the DNR wildlife folks in these long term management goals. They do so by judiciously using, or not using, doe deer tags they have purchased. The question of how many deer are enough for hunter satisfaction to be sustained and how many deer are within the social “carrying capacity” of other stakeholders is a decades old discussion. Hunters working with landowners to take, or on purpose not take, doe deer is a topic for each region of the state. The fact is that most Iowa counties have been at a desired maintenance level for several years. Another fact in Iowa is that political meddling is messing with wildlife biologist’s ability to set in place long term goals that are good for the resource. This scribe puts a lot more credibility in science based wildlife management and the biologists who are specifically trained for this purpose than politicians who grease squeaky wheels.

DEER MORTALITY has additional factors beyond the control of biological regulations. Diseases are part of the mix and it is hard to gather data from dead deer that perish from these vectors. One factor to contend with is EHD or epizootic hemorrhagic disease. It is caused by a midge, a microscopic fly that likes hot dry weather. Bigger bucks are more vulnerable to the bite of this fly while antlers are at full size and still covered in velvet. The nourishing blood supply within the velvet covering is an easy place for the fly to bite. EHD is a silent and deadly killer. It takes only a few days for the deer to develop a high fever and act abnormally brave. They are usually accidentally found dead near water sources. To add to the confusion of deer diseases, another similar but different hemorrhaging afflictions is called blue tongue.

Chronic wasting disease is a different vector. It takes years to manifest itself outwardly in the deer, its body condition going down slowly until death comes. This disease is just as deadly in the long run. So far in Iowa this disease has not been confirmed in free ranging wild deer. It has a strong association however with captive deer herds within high fence farms or ranches. It seems to be spread by nasal secretion contact of deer to deer in close confines at feeding bunks other highly restricted eating points. CWD causative agents can remain in the soil of confined feeding areas for decades. Colorado and Wyoming researchers found this out when new deer were placed in formerly confined pens where CWD was diagnosed decades ago. The new deer became ill from exposer to the soils within the pen.

In spite of all the adversities, healthy deer in good habitat will hang on to life, overcome obstacles and even adapt to encroachment into their habitats by urban sprawl and commercial construction projects. Life within a city environment can be “easy” for deer as hunters cannot access them for hunting. Many Midwest cities have also adapted to many urban deer by instituting selective archery only seasons. Management of deer populations is a many faceted situation. But it does take management to control overall deer numbers from wild population cycles that do more harm than good to the land and the deer itself.

WHITETAILS UNLIMITED chapters are conducting their winter banquet season all across the Midwest. The local chapter of WTU will hold their fund raising banquet on Feb. 8 at Marshalltown’s KC Hall, 201 W. High St. Tickets are available up to the last day of January so do be prompt in your purchase of tickets before the deadline. Single tickets cost $45 if obtained before the end of this month. Contact Dennis Balmer at 641-474-2385, Justin Valverka at 641-751-1251 or Kyle Hall at 641-751-9397. WTU is a national nonprofit organization. They support education, habitat conservation, and the preservation of the hunting heritage in the USA.

BIRDS seen over Grammer Grove, the Marshall County public area located southwest of Liscomb along the Iowa River, is an annual fall event for several dedicated birders. Mark Proescholdt is the main guy whose knowledge of birds is top notch. He spends many hours each fall observing the migration of birds of prey as they filter south in the airways over the Iowa River valley. Mark has 24 years of data from this park land. The fall of 2013 brought total sightings to 3,555. Bald Eagles came in at 698. Turkey vultures were 543. Sharp-shinned hawks beat both at 734. Broad-winged Hawks topped them all with 993. As expected, Red-tailed hawks were numerous also with 399 sightings. Other raptors included Kestrels, Northern Harriers, Osprey, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered hawks, Rough-legged hawk, Golden Eagle, Merlin’s and even a few Peregrine Falcons. The biggest day for large counts was Sept. 18 with 444, most of which were Broad-winged Hawks. Each species seemed to have its own peak travel times. And there were lots of migrating raptors traveling over the valley at times Mark was not there to watch. Multiply river corridor “bird highways” by every river system in Iowa, the entire Midwest, and the entire continent of North America, and one quickly figures out how large the wild raptor population really is. Good work Mark. Keep it up. And many thanks to Mark’s helper in the bird watch, Ken and Mary Ann Gregory, Diane Pesek, Jan Lockhart, Eugene and Eloise Armstrong and others.

PHOTO CONTEST entries are due on or before Jan. 31 for the 13th Annual Marshall County Conservation Board contest. Categories are People in Natural Resources, Scenic, Native Plants and Native Wildlife. A $3 entry fee is required with each entry. Only two entries per category are allowed. Call 752-5490 for details. This contest always produces excellent entries. Winners will posted at the Conservation Center for public viewing in early February.

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.