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End-of-the-Season Iowa Deer Hunting


Editor’s Note: Tommy Nails of Milton, Iowa, is originally from Corinth, Mississippi, and grew up hunting deer and turkeys in Mississippi. He’s been hunting deer for 30 years.  He moved to Iowa about 7 years ago but still travels back-and-forth to Mississippi during hunting season. After deer hunting Iowa for the first time, his dream was to live there, so he could hunt those big northern deer. 

As I’ve mentioned before, during rifle season, I’ll take a few of my Mississippi friends and let them hunt on the land I lease. During the 9-day season this past year, I had a total of three hunters. During the 5-day season, I had five hunters. So, the most people who hunt my property, besides my daughter and me, is about eight other hunters each year. At the end-of-the-season hunt - which is the 5-day season - the rut is over, and the bucks aren’t interested in chasing the does. Their main concern now is surviving the winter. So, the most-important resource that the deer have to survive a cold winter in Iowa is the waste grain in the crop fields. As deer season winds down, I set my hunters up on soybean fields and corn fields. You’ve got to remember that the bucks have been chasing does and losing weight up until the end of the rut. Now, they want to put that weight they’ve lost back on, plus try to put on even more weight to bulk-up for the cold winter. At this time of the year, we’ll be hunting close to the bedding areas but not in the bedding areas. We want to get the mature bucks that are coming out of thick cover before they reach or get near the crop fields. 

On a perfect year for late-season hunting, I like for the outside temperature to be a high of 32, lows between 13 to 19 degrees at night, and a 3-to-4 inch deep snow on the ground. When the snow is at about that level, the food in the crop fields is almost gone. Under those conditions, I see a lot more activity on my Mossy Oak BioLogic clover field. The deer will come into the clover fields and dig through the snow to get down to the clover under the snow. 

Nails_day3When I first moved to Iowa, I gained permission to hunt on some local farmer’s lands free-of-charge. When I moved from Mississippi, I had friends who called me and said they'd like to come to Iowa and hunt with me. They knew this region produced big deer. If someone was kind enough to give me permission to hunt on his property, I didn’t feel right about taking my buddies to hunt that same land. The landowner only gave me permission to hunt there as an individual. He didn’t give permission for me and all my buddies to hunt there. I’m sure there have been a lot of hunters who have lost really-good hunting spots, because they’ve taken their buddies onto a piece of ground where no one but them have been permitted to hunt that piece of property. 

I was caught in a dilemma! I had some really-good friends who wanted to come up here and hunt with me. Although I had great places to hunt, I couldn’t take them to the properties I was hunting. So, I started leasing property to take my buddies who drew tags to hunt in Iowa to some leased ground where they could hunt. I'm not really in the guiding business, and my deer hunting isn’t set-up to be a source of income. I want to have places that I can take friends where they’ll have a reasonably-good chance to take a buck of a lifetime. Financially, I can’t lease all the land that I want for me and my friends to hunt. So, I’ve started charging the folks who come up just enough money to cover my leases to not cost me any money to entertain my friends. 

The guys who hunt with me come here with big expectations. About 70 or 80 percent of the eight hunters who come to hunt with me will have an opportunity to take a buck 140 points or better. However, we do have some hunters who miss. Also, we have hunters who come here looking for a 190-point Boone & Crockett buck, and they’ll pass up bucks that score 140 to 160 B&C.  

The first hunt this year – the 9-day hunt – we had three hunters in, and two of the hunters took bucks. One of the bucks that was taken was a 148-inch 8-point. The second buck – only 100-inches - was taken by a 69-year-old man. But this was the biggest buck he ever had taken in his life. He planned to have this only the second buck he had ever taken in his lifetime mounted. I was actually sitting with him in the blind when he took that buck, and he was really, really, really excited. He was probably more excited than some of my hunters who’ve taken bucks that will score 150 or more. 

Day 2: How to Use Deer Drives to Take More Deer

Tomorrow: Taking a 191-Inch Buck with Tommy Nails

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