Iowa Whitetail Public Land Scouting Trip

By Adam Parr –

Which state is at the top of your mind when it comes to world class whitetail deer hunting? For me it’s Iowa. I’ve dreamed about hunting this great state for years and hopefully with a little luck, I will draw a tag and will be chasing mature bucks later this Fall. While there are many other states that offer great deer hunting opportunities, every hardcore deer hunter dreams about the day they will finally step foot into the land of giants.

Over the past weekend, my buddy Joe Wilson and I set sail to Iowa to scout public land areas in the units we are targeting for the 2017 deer season. Currently, both of us have 3 preference points so there is a good chance we will draw tags but even if we don’t successfully draw non-resident archery tags, 2018 will be right around the corner. Some people think we’re crazy (we probably are) for spending time and money prior to an already costly out of state hunt but when you wait 3-4 years to draw a tag, it’s worth the extra scouting trip, especially when hunting public land.

I am lucky enough to know a few guys locally in Iowa who were able to give us some pointers and spots to check out. I’d like to thank my buddies, Dan and Erik, for their help during our short trip – it helped us tremendously.

Day 1

After arriving to our hotel late in the evening on Thursday, we woke early on Friday morning and left the hotel by 8am to get an head start on the day. With a major rain storm on the horizon for mid-afternoon, we knew our time was even more limited so we started walking parcels close to our hotel. Within minutes of leaving the vehicle at the first location, we quickly found rut sign from the previous season, consisting of rubs and scrapes.

Scouting Public Land In Iowa
Finding concentrated rubs on public land is always a good sign.

The general area consisted of low grassy bedding areas with steep hardwood ridges mixed in between; a recipe for holding deer in good numbers. Our strategy for this piece, (along with every other parcel) was to walk as much ground as possible and mark good areas on my onXmaps GPS app. Within an hour we located a good rub line, doe bedding area, and a few scrapes in the general area. Shortly after that, Joey picked up a small matched set of antlers on ridge between a field edge and a swamp. Aha – shed success!

Shed Hunting
Joey picked up this small matched set on the first morning of our scouting trip and his shit-eating grin is a sure sign he is happy!

Later in the morning, we moved to a different public hunting area about five miles away. This chunk of land was unique because much of the area backed up to a small lake and made it tough to access, which is important for leaving the crowds behind. Much like the first area, it was filled with big oak ridges and plenty of bedding cover. Within an hour of walking fingers of the lake, I determined I will be utilizing a kayak as a way to creatively access the surrounding tracts of public land. As we walked back to our parking spot at 2pm, the rain starting pouring down so we called it a day and headed back to the hotel.

Day 2

With the major rain system lingering until noon, we spent the better part of the morning hours digital scouting from out hotel room in search of areas to check out on our final day. When the weather finally broke, we set out for three other spots within an hour of our hotel. The first area was a small parcel that looked like it had potential but we basically just drove the edges and didn’t walk around due to the roads being too muddy for our little car to get down.

We then moved to a much larger tract of land that had a mix of CRP, hardwoods, and thick tangled messes of bedding cover. Although we jumped a few bedded does, we weren’t able to locate much rutting sign from the previous season. We also discovered stand locations from other hunters, so combining hunter sign with relatively easy to access terrain, this area screamed DO NOT HUNT! Needless to say we moved on.

Within 10 minutes, we were at another location but quickly discovered the same song and dance as the previous parcel; easy access, tree stands, and minuscule rut sign. It was time to pull the plug on this area altogether and put some miles on the vehicle to a completely different geographical region.

Iowa Public Hunting Areas
Iowa offers great public land hunting opportunities but you will have to get creative and put in the work to evade other hunters.

With the clock ticking on the final hours of the scouting trip, we arrived to a different public hunting area with the hopes of leaving the crowds behind. Much like some of the areas we scouted the previous day, this area was tougher to access because of a large river that ran close to the roads and outside perimeter. The river was running high and fast, preventing us from crossing so we marked this location on the map and will hunt this area as a secondary spot if our first targets aren’t producing.

Lessons Learned

Although our strategy was to walk as much as possible, we also kept efficiency in mind by not getting hung up on mediocre properties. Just because a parcel looked great from an aerial map, didn’t necessarily mean that it was killer once we had boots on the ground. In fact, the parcels that looked good on paper were the exact opposite we were hoping for. Turns out, many other hunters had the same idea, which meant deer activity was sparse, so we moved on. It’s important to not waste time hunting or scouting areas that “look good” because your days are extremely limited and time is precious. It’s really that simple. We needed to actually see deer or find good rut sign and trails for us to really slow down and scout the area but until we did, we kept moving.

Shed Buck
We laid our eyes on this shed buck during the final hours of the scouting trip. I hope to cross paths with him in November.

During the last hour, we were finally able to locate a secondary public area with good deer sign. Although we weren’t able to walk this piece, we believe this area holds good bucks based on deer sightings and terrain that is tough to access due to a large river that no one wants to cross. Many public land hunting experts say they won’t hunt areas that they can easily access on foot. In order for them to actually hunt public spots, they have to take a boat, ford a river in waders, or climb steep/nasty terrain before they spend time there. If these terrain features aren’t in the equation and it’s a cake walk to get to an area, they simply won’t waste their time knowing that the quality of hunting will be poor.

Although the rain and thunderstorms took a solid 10 hours away from our scouting trip, all in all we were still able to cover a bunch of ground. If anything, we were able to put boots on many properties that we would have wasted time on in November, which will pay off big during a DIY week-long hunt. I look forward to hunting the great state of Iowa in the near future but until then, I’ll be saying “Is it November yet?”

View the full photo album from our Iowa scouting trip.

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