116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Yes, there are 24 hours in a day. But when you’re a firefighter on 24-hour shifts there’s a higher consciousness of time, for in any of those 24 could come the call.
For Iowa City firefighter Joshua Wutke, his recent memorable call alerted him that he’d be going deer hunting right after he got off work.
After a dash home for gear, the Wisconsin native soon found himself “posted” along a Washington County farm field while the “drivers” walked his way hoping to flush deer in his direction.
In short order, a big doe crossed his position in the morning light. This was Joshua’s first time deer hunting in Iowa.
“I did look forward to seeing the big bucks” that Iowa was famous for, he said.
The McDonalds of Marion were on their first deer hunt in Iowa, too. Eric and his sons Chase, age 14, and Beckett, 12, were in the bottomland woods north of Vinton. Their call to arms also was emergent. Eric’s niece offered to take them out as a mentor and they jumped at the chance.
The weeks between proffer and opening day was enough time to get extra practice at the range and make a good set of plans.
The general firearm deer season runs through the first three weekends of December. “First Season” is seven days and “Second Season” is nine. The trade-off for going second is getting two weekends of hunting instead of one.
Before the shotgun season, some hunters enjoyed two months of bowhunting punctuated with a youth-only modern gun hunt and a short muzzle-loader-only season.
Following the close of shotgun season on Dec. 18, the “Late Season” muzzleloaders have a statewide season to Jan. 10. They share some of that time with the “non-resident” holiday season hunt.
In sum, there are lots of opportunities to get after white-tailed deer in Iowa. These are the good old days — oh, how far we have come.
White-tailed deer were eliminated from most of Eastern Iowa by the 1860s. Total legal protection of deer in 1898 was too little and too late.
Iowa State professor emeritus James Dinsmore said the deer was extirpated as of 1900. Then regulations, deer releases, and changing attitudes revived the herd to the point where Iowa legalized a new deer season in 1953.
The scrutiny and caution of that inaugural hunt was evident in the rules. The season was five days, hunting didn’t start until 9 a.m. and all harvests had to be presented to an official at local check-in stations. There were 3,057 deer toppled that year. The chief complaint of the season was the princely fee for participation: $15, though farmers got them free.
Yes, $15. But according to the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, 15 bucks in 1953 is equivalent to $164.96 today. A princely sum indeed.
Today you can hunt for 80 percent less than that inaugural season. The 2022 shotgun season saw 56,596 deer lawfully change hands from the property of the people of the state of Iowa to licensed hunters. There is no requirement to bring harvested deer to an official checking station, it’s more like the honor system.
Joshua was surprised to see a deer so quickly into his hunt. For years, Joshua joined his grandpa in the deep woods of northeast Wisconsin. They would endure the cold at night in a pop-up camper and during the day hold vigils at the scattered openings in that great woods of white pine and oak.
The pair hunted those woods long after the heydays from the 1880s through the 1980s. Their experiences were quiet affairs, few gunshots in the distance and even fewer interactions with deer.
After the day’s first opening push for deer in Washington County, Joshua was reminded of Iowa’s liberal party-hunting practices and the abundance of extra harvest tags in the group. He wouldn’t be letting the next deer walk on by.
The McDonald group skirted material success their first morning. They had waited with stealth at a clearing until it was time to reposition, when lo and behold a doe had walked up on them. When they moved, she sprang from her position not 50 yards away. Her retreat was in a direction for which they didn’t have a shot, but there was plenty of excitement.
Beckett reflected that while waiting in the woods “I noticed little things in trees, like squirrels and birds,” the fruits of patience.
Their patience almost paid off on the last weekend. Determined to be the first truck in the parking area, Eric and the boys rose extra early. That morning greeted them with fresh snow and high morale. Within an hour, three does skulked along a fence line within range.
Beckett was on the gun. As he steadied for his shot, the deers’ path took them behind a colonnade of trees and out of sight. Along with patience, Beckett learned the powerful lesson of only taking certain shots. The crew all remarked about their positive experience and anticipation for 2023.
For Joshua’s party, this was to be the final drive of the day. He’d served his time being a driver so now he would be on post.
The breaking of brush alerted Joshua of deer approaching: two bucks. The first was a nice deer, but then Joshua saw the trailing buck, it was the biggest he’d ever seen.
The brute was about 80 yards away. One round from a .350 leveled the buck where he stood. Knowing the rules for the group, Joshua reset to the first buck and proved that one round was fatal medicine. A doe piled into the field and with a third shot, it too became dead weight.
In 90 seconds, Joshua shot three deer, more hunting action than he had ever experienced in seven years of hunting Wisconsin. Needless to say, Joshua was hooked.
He said the more open-field and fast action of Iowa hunting was great. Coupled with the hearty camaraderie he felt from the group, he’s already looking forward to next year.
For $33, that is $3 in 1953 money, a pauper can join a prince and hunt the king of Iowa wildlife.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion, teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and is past president of the Linn County Conservation Board.