Iowa City urban bow hunt struggling to control deer population

Iowa City’s deer management plan isn’t keeping pace with the recommended number of harvested deer for the urban bow hunt. If the plan continues to struggle, the deer population is expected to rebound by 2024.


Larry Phan

Deer are shown in a field near Governor Street on Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021.

Natasha Keicher, News Reporter

This article is one in a series covering deer in Johnson County.

The City of Iowa City is struggling to control the deer population, despite implementing a deer management plan in 2019.

Anthony DeNicola, CEO of White Buffalo Inc., a nonprofit organization partnering with the city to survey the deer population, said the city needed to harvest at least 55 deer in 2020 to control the population density, but only three deer were harvested during the hunt.

“You can draw your own conclusion on how well the program is working to maintain the densities established,” DeNicola said.

Iowa City Assistant City Manager Rachel Kilburg said the city hasn’t been keeping pace with the number of deer that need harvesting during the urban bow hunt — an animal-population management practice that allows hunting within a city’s limits.

“We haven’t been decreasing at that rate,” she said.

The city’s deer management plan of urban hunting consists of two parts. The first part was conducted from 2019 to 2020, when the city worked with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to bring professional sharpshooters to cull the deer population.

About 500 deer were harvested in Iowa City during the first portion of the plan, according to reports by White Buffalo Inc.

Kilburg said after the sharpshooting, the city’s deer population density did decrease. In 2018, the estimated deer density was around 80 per square mile and in 2020, the average density was 14 per square mile, she said.

The density of the deer populations is determined by scanning the specified zone, in this case Iowa City, with a helicopter. This is done with aerial shots in helicopters, trail cams, and harvested deer reports from previous years.

The second portion of the plan consists of urban bowhunting that allows residents to hunt within city limits after completing the registration requirements. Urban bow hunting is set to end in 2024.

RELATED: Iowa City deer management continues to draw controversy among residents

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Andy Kellner said one reason the number of deer harvested last year was low was because some of the hunters who signed up for the urban bow hunt contracted COVID-19.

“It ended up stalling what they were able to do out in the field last year,” Kellner said.

While COVID-19 did impact the hunt, Kellner said there were other things that didn’t help the hunt as well — such as Iowa City’s investment in the deer management plan.

“We see other cities have success with urban bow hunts where they make it a big priority,” he said. “But I’m not certain if [the hunt] is a big priority in the city of Iowa City.”

Other Iowa cities have had more success with bow hunting to control deer management.

In Des Moines, the deer population has decreased to a more manageable density as a result of the urban bow hunt implemented by Polk County in the late ‘90s. From 2019 to 2020, the number of deer per square mile in the Des Moines area has decreased by 27 percent.

DeNicola said, for Iowa City to ensure the deer population density doesn’t go back to what it was in 2018, hunters will have to harvest over 100 deer this year.

“If they continue with dismal harvest levels, the population will be back to where it was when we started sharpshooting in 2019 by the time the hunting program ends,” he said.

The 2021-22 urban bow hunt season started on Sept. 18 and will end on Jan. 10. Kilburg said, only four hunters have signed up for the program so far.

Kilburg said the Iowa City Police Department, which oversees the hunt and reports of deer harvested, has received only two reports of culled deer for the 2021-22 urban bow hunt season.

“Yes, our deer density levels are down, but we are continuing to work on the plan because we know that we’ll need to keep pace with what was recommended,” Kilburg said.