A state conservation official says hunters stalking deer in and around the state’s largest metro areas have had success in keeping the animals in control. Bill Bunger, a wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says urban hunts have thinned the herd. “Generally speaking sure, there’s spots where access is still a little bit limited to the deer, and that’s kind of by choice of the people who live in that area. But everywhere where they have been able to put hunters has made a big difference,” Bunger says.
Hunters have taken 5,300 deer from the Des Moines and surrounding metro areas since 1997. Hunters do all their work in urban areas with bows. “We extend the season a little bit for ’em, it starts a little bit earlier than our regular archery season,” Bunger explains. “And we run it through the gun season — because there are no conflicts with the shotgun hunters of course in town. And we run it a little longer into January as well.”
There are also urban deer hunts in eastern Iowa. “Waterloo does hunt, and they’ve done it probably a year longer or so than in the Des Moines area, and they are very much successful over there,” Bunger says. He says Cedar Rapids has had hunts for a number of years and he says they’ve seen an impact with the number of roadkill deer going down.
Residents of urban areas get concerned when the deer population climbs and the animals start eating gardens, hosta and other plants. Bunger says even though the population levels for deer have come down, the cities keep a watch on them and continue the hunts each year. “Deer numbers just aren’t stagnant, so if you walk away from it, they are going to go back up over time. So, it’s just kind of an ongoing process,” Bunger explains.
He says most cities have task forces that keep track of the deer population to determine where they should hunt. “The Des Moines area in particular, they actually with the help of the Army Corps pay for an aerial survey by helicopter every year. Most of the cities as a rule just hunt every year,” Bunger says. He says the cities do look at the populations and maybe determine they’ve harvested enough deer and need to the hunting to other areas.
Many of the deer taken are donated to the DNR’s “HUSH” or Help Us Stop Hunger program to be distributed through local food banks. Bunger says other cities allow the hunters to take home the animals for their own use.