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Thursday, May 5, 2016

A day on the deer hunt with Iowa DNR officers

Thursday, December 6, 2001

At the next road, hunters in blaze orange moved on a drive, away from them, into the public hunting area.

Our mild fall weather has the duffers thankful for their extended season.

At the same time, deer hunters have to check the calendar, to make sure their season is underway. In between the drives and chip shots, a lot of antlers and venison have been taken.

"I checked more hunters on opening weekend than I did a year ago," offered Stan Blair, Department of Natural Resources conservation officer. "The buck hunters might have had only one or two when we checked them, but the guys hunting for (does or bucks) were well satisfied."

With a bumper crop of whitetails in some areas, wildlife officials would like to see 25 percent more does taken than last year, when hunters overall harvested a record 126,000 deer. Killing a buck drops the deer herd by one, but harvesting a doe usually means three fewer deer, since most does drop twins in the spring.

Riding on opening day with DNR officer Ron Lane, the 61 hunters he checked were down from the year before. With hunters now able to buy licenses up to the time they go into the field, we wondered whether some were waiting for second season and snow, or just decided not to hunt. A check early this week, though, showed a late surge at the license counters. Just over 73,700 first season tags had been sold by early week.

With landowner/tenant tags added in, there were considerably more first season hunters in 2001, than in 2000.

And most of the hunters we ran into were having a great time. In one area, a group of eight had four deer, all antlerless, by 10:15. They had stopped at an old farmhouse to hang the deer, take a break and crack a few jokes.

A few minutes away, a group of 11 was finishing a drive when we stopped by to check licenses. They ranged from 5 or 6 year old Colby, to his dad, uncles and Grandpa, with whom Colby had been sitting in a ground blind.

They had only one deer by then, but didn't seem too concerned as they broke for lunch. When they noticed neighbor Wes Ciha at the corner with a nice buck in his pickup, they walked over to inspect it.

With cold and snow, it seems that hunters don't often want to stop, preferring to stay warm by staying on the move. The mild weather, though, seemed to slow the pace a little. The deer would still be there. There was time to congratulate the neighbor, joke about the one that got away, even to invite the DNR guys to stay for chili. (We declined.)

Brent Gasper let hunters all around him do the work. He just sat still until a thick-beamed nine-point buck suddenly appeared. "He came in about 80 yards away on a fast trot. I just picked up the gun, set it on him and shot."

Gasper, who recently moved to Iowa from Michigan, was amazed at the size of Corn Country whitetails. "Back in Michigan, they'd be half this size," he laughed.

"We saw more does than bucks," relayed Lane.

The string of satisfied hunters and no violations ran out after dark, though.

Waiting out the last truck at Dudgeon Lake, near Vinton, we wondered whether the hunter was all right. He finally showed up, carting back a deer shot early in the day - with his wife's tag on it. That would have been fine, had she shot it and tagged it.

When the deception and backtracking finally unraveled, he admitted that his wife had been nowhere around. He had tagged it; a pretty expensive mistake, considering he left that night without the deer, his shotgun, and with two citations ($140 with court costs) and the prospect of $1,500 in liquidated damages.