Iowa hunter numbers continue to fall

Hunters in a hunting party walk back to a meeting point during the first day of the first shotgun deer season on public
Hunters in a hunting party walk back to a meeting point during the first day of the first shotgun deer season on public land near Mederville, Iowa last Saturday, Dec. 4. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

State game managers continue to worry about and try to counter the ongoing decline in hunters.

“We are going to be missing a generation of hunters if we can’t get this turned around,” said Dale Garner, chief of the Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Bureau.

Mirroring a nationwide trend, the number of Iowa hunters declined more than 20 percent between 1991 and 2001, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Between 2002, when the state issued 189,137 resident hunting licenses, and last year, when it issued 172,230, the state’s pool of hunters shrank another 9 percent.

Garner said the decline in Iowa hunters is primarily because of the state’s steadily declining pheasant population, which biologists attribute to consistently hostile winter and spring weather and the conversion of upland habitat to row crops — two factors beyond the control of game managers.

The loss of opportunities to hunt pheasants — “an entry-level species that

helps get kids into hunting,” said DNR communications Director Kevin Baskins — has limited new hunting recruits, he said.

Garner said he believes loss of wildlife habitat and loss of access to hunting grounds have caused many older Iowans to give up hunting.

In addition, the rural to urban population shift, a byproduct of the steady enlargement of Iowa farms, has severed many Iowans’ ties to the land, he said.

Hunting also has to compete with other forms of entertainment and recreation, most notably electronic media, for the attention of teens and young adults, Garner said.

The DNR and hunting-related conservation groups — such as Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, Whitetails Unlimited and the National Wild Turkey Federation — have been focusing on special seasons, workshops and mentoring programs to promote hunting among teenagers, Garner said.

High school archery and trap shooting programs have been gaining popularity and hold promise for attracting more hunters, he said.

Hunters and anglers, through their license fees and excise taxes on equipment, provide most of the money and support for fish and wildlife habitat and management.

Proceeds from the sale of hunting, fishing and trapping licenses, as well as habitat, waterfowl and trout fees, go into the Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund, which in fiscal 2010 amounted to $35.7 million, or about 30 percent of the DNR’s $121.6 million operations budget.

While pheasant and other small game hunting has languished in Iowa, the ascendancy of deer and turkey hunting and increased sales of applicable licenses have so far taken up most of the revenue slack. That could soon change, however, as hunting pressure brings the deer herd back to mid-1990s levels.

A planned reduction in the availability of special permits to kill antlerless deer will start showing up in license sales within two years, Baskins said.

Unlike hunting licenses, the number of Iowa resident fishing licenses actually has increased slightly this decade, from 320,817 in 2002 to 325,341 last year.

DNR fisheries bureau chief Joe Larscheid said license sales reflect anglers’ satisfaction with fishing opportunities, which continue to improve.

Citing lake construction and rehabilitation projects, expansion of the popular and successful walleye stocking program, a boom in yellow perch fishing in the Iowa Great Lakes and trout stocking in urban fisheries, Larscheid said, “Fishing is better than ever in Iowa.”

Number of Iowa licenses


2002: 189,137

2009: 172,230


2002: 320,8172009: 325,341

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