Iowa Law Expands Rifle Options for Late-Season Antlerless Hunts

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

Proponents tout opportunity and herd control. Critics question new regs

Iowa deer hunters will have additional firearm opportunities this season. Image by CVA

Iowa is the place of dreams for deer hunters. Tags are difficult to draw, but when you do, the state is a big-buck mecca. Now, controversial new rules will also boost opportunities for antlerless deer.

Recently, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law expanding deer hunting rifle options for late-season antlerless hunts. The bill quickly soared through the Iowa House and Senate and completed its journey in May.

Per reports, it seems the changes occurred because of deer population densities in some areas and a willingness to increase hunting opportunities. There were also increasingly loud complaints of crop depredation throughout much of the state. Although estimated statewide damages are unknown, agriculturists have complained of lost crop production. Not everyone is happy about the change, though, including Midwest Whitetail Co-Owner and Co-Host Jared Mills. (You can view Midwest Whitetail and Chasing November on Realtree 365.)

“The arguments for these laws getting passed are supposedly increased hunter participation and controlling the deer population,” he said. “I don’t think that we’re adding new hunters through this, or at least not a substantial amount. I think it’s the same hunters that will now just use a different weapon.”

Although some people believe parts of Iowa are overpopulated with deer, Mills doesn’t think so. He believes most hunters and nonhunters agree with that. He acknowledges overpopulation in certain areas, but said that could be addressed more efficiently.

“I would be in favor of depredation tags being issued at a more local level, even down to specific properties,” he said. “I think local game wardens could help in deciding who gets issued those extra tags. The issuing at the state level, with county-wide quotas, doesn’t seem to be an accurate way of allocating those tags.”

The new regulation will also include the use of AR-15 rifles during the antlerless season. The law also changes caliber requirements. Previously, rules required bullets to be at least .24 inch in diameter. The new regulation decreases that to .223 inch, which brings many more AR-platform guns into the mix. Other legal requirements include a 16-plus-inch barrel, expanding-type bullets no smaller than .223 and no larger than .500, and a calculated muzzle energy of at least 500 foot-pounds.

The new opportunity will occur in January. Some counties with higher deer populations already had a similar season. However, it will be expanded from the five original counties to include up to 15. It’s yet to be determined which counties will be affected by the change, which will consist of a 12-day season in mid-January.

The law also mandates that antlerless deer licenses will go on sale in counties with remaining tags available in the county quota. According to the law, those tags will go on sale the day after the close of the late muzzleloader season and remain available until the allotment is sold or the season ends, whichever occurs first.

“As for this late antlerless season, unless I travel to a different county, I won’t be hunting with an AR or even participating in the late antlerless season,” Mills said. “The counties that I hunt and the surrounding areas run out of antlerless tags relatively early in the season. I know there are several counties in the state that don’t run out though, so yes, I’m sure there will be hunters in those counties using ARs.”

For those worried about buck harvests, the new law does not apply to antlered deer. Only antlerless whitetails will be permitted. Still, some hunters think this change opens the gate for future expansions.

“I’m not a big fan of any of the recent changes and expansions of weapons and calibers that are allowed,” Mills said. “I don’t think it is a good thing long-term for the deer herd in Iowa. I think the passing of these bills will lead to more being passed with similar outcomes.”

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