If you asked me in September if our gun hunters would have more success than our archery guys, I would have said not a chance. Yet, that is exactly what happened. In this blog post, I will go through each of our seasons detailing how things went. Overall, I can say I am pleased with what happened considering how the odds seemed against us at every turn. It could always be better, but in reality, this year could have been far worse considering the potential EHD damage to southern Iowa deer herds, the warm temps that never stopped, and the ongoing rut that lasted into January.
We had more encounters with shooters than we had bow hunters, and that is what I strive for every year. Usually, that should be a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of encounters to hunters. In great years, that can even go to an average of 4:1. We had a couple younger deer shot in bow season, but in respect to my hunters, the deer were proportionally big for their age visually, so they thought they made a good call on the shots. We had a couple mature deer that were shot at, shot, or passed that should have been more successful, but we all know how the deer woods can go - unrestricted and unpredictable. We even had one hunter see 30 bucks in 10+ days of hunting, in Zone 6, and that was a great hunt. The big one he was after never came in for a shot on 2 different dates, and once he saw that one, he wasn't going to shoot something less despite having a couple opportunities at quality deer. Yet, all in all, it was a good season despite some EHD issues and HORRIBLY warm temps. I expect 2024 to bring a better hunting product as far as age-class and sightings, so we will see!
FIRST REGULAR GUN SEASON
We had two younger bucks shot that aligns with the same notion of the archery bucks that were younger. My hunters were happy with their deer there, so I can't complain much. Then, to end the season, we had a father/son duo fill their tags on the last morning about 20-min apart. Those were our best gun deer for sure, pushing the 150" mark each. The rut was still directing deer movement - some bucks moving/searching and most does were bedding up and hiding out. Temps were moderate to warm, and no snow. Not ideal conditions for the big boys to get on their feet and feed.
SECOND REGULAR GUN SEASON
We had a hunter come into camp with a small time-frame to hunt. After seeing a shooter on his first night in, feet from our fence line (and property) on a hot doe, and thought we were in the hunt for what would have been our best deer of the season until COVID struck. Unfortunately, his wife had COVID and he must have contracted it before leaving as he had to cut his hunt short and head home due to feelings absolutely horrible. I know he'll be back in the future for a round of redemption.
LATE MUZZLELOADER SEASON
We had one late muzz hunter this year, and we tried the approach of waiting on the food in the evenings and being conservative as far as our approach. Still, we had rut action going on yet! Crazy!! I don't remember the last time I saw this late of action happening this consistently. We had relatively warm temps, as in the temps we should have had in November during the rut. Finally, we got some cooling temps, and I ventured down to help my hunter before I had to leave out of state for a convention. We got it done barely an hour into the hunt! How lucky! We went out with a bang. As luck would have it, the weather improved on what would have been the last day of the season.
With some early EHD concerns, which still hold true until we get out during shed season and find any deadheads with some velvet or not, horribly warm temps throughout, and this seemingly non-stop rut, this has been the weirdest year I have ever seen deer hunting or guiding. In one way, I am very happy for it being over. In another way, I am sad it ended. What I learned this year is that even the weirdest, most unorthodox things can happen in the deer woods, and regardless of our prep, the deer still have to cooperate for us to kill them. Some other minor things learned were that if a drought happens and warm temps remain, hunting will be really challenging and different than the southern Iowa norm. So, I am anxious for 2024 in hopes of improvement on all fronts, but 2023 was a fun one nonetheless. I thank everyone who came and hunted with us this year. We appreciate you!