Bow hunter. (DNR photo)

The state’s first archery deer season gets underway Saturday. DNR deer research specialist Jace Elliott says hunters have been preparing for weeks.

“We’re gonna see about 60,000 hunters statewide participate in the archery season, that’s going to be about 30 to 35 percent of our entire number of hunters statewide,” Elliott says. The majority of hunters participate in the shotgun deer season, but Elliott says archery hunters will take between 20 and 25% of the deer overall.

Elliott says hunter numbers have not been increasing. “We are seeing sustained declines, although very small declines year to year when it comes to participation in any hunting season in Iowa,” Elliott says. “The exception was 2020, which saw an increase in license sales and hunter participants — which we mostly attributed to the COVID pandemic.”

The annual bowhunter survey shows they go out an average of 13 trips per year and spend an average of three-and-a-half hours per trip. They tend to be more selective and harvest fewer does than in other regular deer seasons. Elliott says there is some crossover between the bow and firearm seasons.

“We certainly have a lot of hunters that participate in firearm season and an archery season. And of course, the opposite is true,” he says. “We have a lot of hunters who really just choose one and stick with it. I believe we have more archery hunters that participate in a firearm season than vice-versa.”

The population trends he tracks show hunters shouldn’t lack targets. “All of the indices that I have available show our population statewide is at a very stable to slightly increasing trend — which is good for hunters — we certainly have a lot of opportunity to harvest deer throughout the state,” according to Elliott. “Of course, some regions of the state are in, you know, a bit of a different story. But for the most part, we are not experiencing declines where we’re seeing about the same deer as last year.”

He has this advice for hunters. “Deer are following a pretty simple pattern of feeding areas to bedding areas. I personally like to target feeding areas, which at this time of year is really going to mean acorns. So find those oaks, find the oaks that are holding a lot of acorns, and you should be able to find some deer,” he says.

This archery season runs through December 2nd. The second archery season is from December 19th through January 10th. The first shotgun season is from December 3rd to the 7th.