Why Your Deer Hunting State Will Never Be Like Iowa


When it comes to the best deer hunting states, few hold the fascination quite like Iowa — to those whitetail hunters who don’t live in Iowa.

I’ve been doing this a long time (26 years to be exact), and I’m continually amazed by the grandiose illusions that Hawkeye State deer hunting evokes among nonresidents. In fact, I could set my watch by the comments that will show up on social media every year when deer seasons are winding down. I just ran across one last night, in fact. It went something like this:

A Facebook user posted a chart detailing Iowa’s deer season framework:

Iowa deer hunting season structure

He then followed up with some commentary:

“If Kentucky, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, Nebraska followed a similar model as IOWA, you’d see more and bigger bucks come out of those states every year.”

Screen Shot 2020 12 07 at 11.18.00 AM Why Your Deer Hunting State Will Never Be Like Iowa

I don’t know this particular hunter, but he certainly has his heart in the right place. My guess is that he (like a lot of others) is obviously frustrated with his own hunting spots and wants bigger and better things for the land he hunts. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, especially considering the fact that he probably hunts in a high-pressure area on relatively small acreage (compared to what’s common in most parts of Iowa).

If you don’t read any further, let me be clear: The notion of somehow switching around season dates will do nothing to improve the overall number of bucks — or age thereof — for any state’s brethren to hunt next year (or the year after that, and so on).

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There are myriad factors involved, but for the sake of time (and space), I’ll address the simplest reason in today’s blog post:

It’s a simple supply-and-demand numbers game.

First, let’s look at a few facts and supporting numbers from our Deer Hunters’ Almanac. Number 1: Iowa IS the Heartland. Secondly, more than 700,000 acres of crops are planted annually there. Add in the native foods, plus wildlife-specific foods (plots), and Iowa has more deer food, pound for pound, than any other state. Next, the state is home to 3 million acres of forestland. But that’s just background info for the real reasons why Iowa is a deer hunting fantasy land.

OK, now let’s look at the simple facts surrounding deer and deer hunting in Iowa compared to some other big deer hunting states:


Gun Hunters: 217,070

Bowhunters: 78,128

Deer population: 450,000

Deer Harvest Ave: 107,857


Gun Hunters: 487,533

Bowhunters: 177,061

Deer Population: 1.1 million

Deer Harvest Ave: 274,312


Gun Hunters: 200,000

Bowhunters: 100,000

Deer Population: 600,000

Deer Harvest Ave: 143,170


Gun Hunters: 113,000

Bowhunters: 16,400

Deer population: 325,000

Deer Harvest Ave: 46,238


Gun Hunters: 223,000

Bowhunters: 163,000

Deer Population: 700,000

Deer Harvest Ave: 148,885


Gun Hunters: 499,088

Bowhunters: 102,276

Deer Population: 1 million

Deer Harvest Ave: 171,724


Gun Hunters: 619,938

Bowhunters: 253,924

Deer population: 1.3 million

Deer Harvest Ave: 336,464


Gun Hunters: 579,000

Bowhunters: 322,000

Deer population: 1.6 million

Deer Harvest Ave: 360,666


Gun Hunters: 240,000

Bowhunters: 205,000

Deer Population: 700,000

Deer Harvest Ave: 172,040


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Gun Hunters: 215,554

Bowhunters: 60,844

Deer Population: 500,000

Deer Harvest Ave: 117,612


Gun Hunters: 200,000

Bowhunters: 100,000

Deer Population: 650,000

Deer Harvest Ave: 143,170


Gun Hunters: 689,000

Bowhunters: 265,841

Deer population: 1.7 million

Deer Harvest Ave: 374,690


Gun Hunters: 560,000

Bowhunters: 240,000

Deer Population: 900,000

Deer Harvest Ave: 217,184

Again, digest all of these numbers. It doesn’t matter when you have your season; how that season framework is aligned; etc. Hunters are going to kill the deer if they’re there, and the resulting overall harvest is going to be (for all intents and purposes) roughly 25% of the overall deer population. If you are one of the privileged few to live in a state like Iowa (huge farm tracts, low hunter density, etc), you will have a greater chance of hunting mature bucks. Now, granted, hunters are hunting mature bucks everywhere, but the odds get shifted against you when your state’s hunting population is pushing a half-million to three-quarters-of-a-million or more. Again it’s simple math.

Please note: I did not include the Southern states, because their comparisons are even more complicated. That can be a blog topic for another day.


Why is Iowa so revered by deer hunters everywhere? That’s easy. Because Iowa holds the right ingredients, has enormous tracts of private ground, and has a fraction of the hunters that reside in other big deer hunting states.

Pore over the above numbers, and you’ll realize that all of these states are surprisingly similar in the fact that hunters kill off about a quarter of the deer herd every year — and that holds true whether you are one of the near-million-hunter army in Pennsylvania, or one of the just 225,000-ish hunters in Iowa. The key difference in that example is the average guy in Pennsylvania is probably hunting 30 acres surrounded by hunters on every corner of his property, and the guy in Iowa is probably hunting a large farm all by himself. True, bucks grow big when they’re left alone, but I’ll never lobby for fewer hunters in the woods. If you know me at all, my mantra is quite the opposite: More hunters = more fun, and a continuance of our hunting lifestyle for future generations.

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For those reasons and more, the big-name deer hunters you see on TV, YouTube and elsewhere on the internet (not so coincidentally) all have bought and/or leased deer hunting land in Iowa. This includes the Kiskys, Lakoskys, Drurys, Lindseys and Cianciarulos, to name just a few. Must be nice? You bet it is — and good for them! But this is not reality for the rest of the whitetail world.

In the final analysis, if you pine to have deer hunting “as good as they have it in Iowa,” I have but one suggestion:

Move to Iowa.

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Sean Campbell’s love for hunting and outdoor life is credited to his dad who constantly thrilled him with exciting cowboy stories. His current chief commitment involves guiding aspiring gun handlers on firearm safety and shooting tactics at the NRA education and training department. When not with students, expect to find him either at his gunsmithing workshop, in the woods hunting, on the lake fishing, on nature photoshoots, or with his wife and kid in Maverick, Texas. Read more >>