The first of Iowa's two popular shotgun deer seasons begins Saturday and the Department of Natural Resources expects 60,000 hunters — decked in blaze orange-colored clothing for safety — to hit the timber Dec. 2-6.
Another 60,000 hunters, including Jeff Schulz and his son, Ben, of Long Grove, are expected to participate in Iowa's second shotgun deer season Dec. 9-17.
“We wouldn’t miss it,” said Jeff, 40, who prefers the second season because it spans two weekends. “I work during the week, so it gives me more opportunities to get out there."
The father-son duo plans to hunt on wooded private property near DeWitt. Jeff is a bricklayer for Seedorff Masonry in Eldridge, and Ben, 14, is an eighth grade student at North Scott Junior High School. He also is a member of the North Scott trapshooting team.
Meanwhile, Illinois' second weekend of the firearm season began on Thursday and ends Sunday. Hunters harvested 51,365 deer during the state's first weekend of the firearm season, the DNR reports. From Nov. 17-19, hunters harvested 455 deer in Rock Island County; 356 in Henry County; 518 in Mercer County; and 393 in Whiteside County.
Successful hunters in Illinois must report their harvest by 10 p.m. on the day of the kill. Hunters can report their deer online using the automated check-in system at dnr.illinois.gov or by calling 1-866-452-4325.
In Iowa, hunters must report their harvest by midnight the day after recovering the deer. Hunters can report their deer online at iowadnr.gov, by calling the toll free reporting number 1-800-771-4692 or at any license vendor.
While state officials say the number of hunters in Iowa has slowly decreased over the past decade, active hunters have noticed fewer whitetails the past several years than in the early 2000s.
A decade ago, state lawmakers instructed the agency to reduce the deer population following several years of steady growth.
Throughout all of last year's seasons, hunters in Iowa harvested 101,397 deer, down more than 30 percent from the 2006 peak. DNR officials predict a similar harvest in 2017.
The Iowa DNR will continue collecting tissue samples this year from harvested deer to test for chronic wasting disease, or CWD, in the state's wild herd.
To date, Allamakee and Clayton counties in northeast Iowa are the only counties in the state where CWD has been detected. However, the disease remains a constant threat along some of Iowa's borders with neighboring states, including Illinois and Wisconsin, where CWD cases have been confirmed.
Curt Kemmerer, a Maquoketa-based wildlife biologist for the DNR, said he needs as many hunters as possible to participate in counties along the Mississippi River.
"Although it hasn't been found this far south yet, we're still monitoring and sampling this area pretty hard," he said, noting the process takes just a few minutes. "We're happy to come to you, and it gives hunters a chance to pick our brain."
The DNR hopes to collect 5,000 samples this year, and most of them will be taken during the first half of this month. Sampling involves removing and testing the lymph nodes of mature deer.
Since 2002, more than 62,000 wild deer in Iowa have been tested. CWD was first detected in Allamakee County's wild herd in 2013. For the first time in 2016, a wild deer tested positive for CWD in Clayton County.
For more information, contact Kemmerer at 563-357-2035 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
During the 2016-17 hunting season, more than 2,800 deer were donated through Iowa's Help Us Stop Hunger, or HUSH, program, generating close to 550,000 meals for needy Iowa families.
HUSH works with about 80 participating lockers to provide high-quality meat to Iowans through the Food Bank of Iowa.
Field-dressed deer are skinned, de-boned and ground into two-pound packages before being distributed.
Hunters fund the program by paying a $1 surcharge with each deer tag purchase.
Processors receive $75 for each deer they process and the Food Bank of Iowa picks up $5 per deer.
Each locker will accept whole deer and require the hunter to fill out a Hunter HUSH card. Hunters do not need to pay a fee at any locker. For a list of participating sites, go to iowahush.com.