The History of Whitetail Deer in Iowa

The first hunting law was passed in 1856 to help protect deer by providing a closed season from February I to July 15. The closed deer season was then extended to January I to September 15 in 1872. The 27th General Assembly actually provided complete protection for deer by closing the season year round in 1898 because deer were nearly extinct in most areas of Iowa.

Deer were re-established in the state through the escape of animals from captive herds and the immigration of deer from Missouri, Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Additionally, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources established a trapping and transplanting program. Then, in 1894, 35 whitetail deer escaped from the captive herd of William Cuppy of Avoca, Iowa, which became the nucleus for future deer herds in the western part of Iowa. Approximately 60 deer escaped from the Singmaster farm in Washington County in the early 1920's and became well established along the Skunk River. In 1928, two deer were purchased from Minnesota and released, thus establishing yet another herd in Boone County at the Ledges State Park. 

DNR officials estimated the deer herd to be around 500 to 700 animals in 1936.  This was considered a conservative number due to the fact that the deer were so widely scattered. During the 1940's, some deer were captured from this herd, then transplanted to other parts of Iowa.  The first statewide population estimate was made on 1947 with deer herds estimated at approximately 1,650 animals and were reported in 58 counties. In 1950, the deer population was expanded to approximately 13,000 because of protection due to favorable habitat conditions and hunting restrictions.  At that time, deer herds were reported in 89 counties. 

Now that whitetails were re-establishment in Iowa, issues with deer damage to agricultural crops began to develop. Landowners were experiencing damage to soybeans, corn, and alfalfa crops in areas where deer were heavily concentrated. In 1953, The Iowa Legislature established new laws in 1953  to open up hunting season in only 45 counties for five days.  This was done in an effort to harvest surplus animals and scatter the large deer concentrations. It worked as approximately 4,000 deer were harvested. Hunting seasons have been held annually with various restrictions on number and type of licenses issued since then. Today, more than 200,000 bow, muzzleloader and shotgun harvest between 90,000-120,000 deer annually.