Thank you for considering Wildlife Management Partners for your "Hunt of a Lifetime". This will be your Iowa hunt for at least a couple of years (because of the draw) so choose where you go carefully!
I'm going to spend a little time giving you solid advice on how to pick your outfitter. Many people get exactly what they deserve (in my opinion) when they get a "bad" hunt. This is because they just don't spend the time asking intelligent questions of potential outfitters.
First of all do INDEPENDENT research. Don't rely on outfitters telling you the best stories about past successes. It takes (at least) 3 years to grow a mature deer. Most of the "Iowa Monsters" you watch killed on the Outdoor Channel are 2 year olds! It takes experience "in the tree" to age these deer on the hoof and in the wild! Even top deer experts have real problems aging Iowa deer past 3 1/2 years of age. Once you have seen one of these mature animals, then you will know. Outfitters that boast high percentages are killing many of their 2 year olds. They will never be 3, much less 4 or older! Check with the Iowa DNR for the top trophy counties. These counties are consistently the best year after year. Just as all states were not created equal, neither are the counties of Iowa. Most of Iowa has fair to poor deer hunting. Only about the top 10 counties (out of 99) or 10% of the state provides excellent deer hunting. Quickly rule out counties that are not in (at least) the top 20%. Trophy numbers in these counties drop off fast.
Ask questions about the food plot program your outfitter has. Nothing is more disappointing than hunting a good food source only to have the farmer show up with his equipment and turn it upside down overnight! Most of my EXCLUSIVELY LEASED farms are in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). This means that my food plots are just that. Planted there for the wildlife and they stay there for the wildlife for the entire year! Food plots are my major expense item in my business NOT LEASE PAYMENTS.
I am also a land management company. I do the maintenance on these CRP farms for the landowners. This provides me with another source of income, so I don't have to make all my money off hunters. I have invested in equipment to do this work for the landowners instead of paying huge $$$ for leases. By doing this I have large blocks of land that I don't have to hunt year after year. No outfitter is going to write a check for leases that he can't use in that particular year! I don't have to use all the farms I have (for hunting) because I make money doing the land (CRP) management.
When asking questions of an outfitter, be precise with your questioning. The reason you hire an outfitter is beacause they have a track record of producing big bucks and getting hunters close enough to those big bucks for a shot-this is what you are trying to establish through your questioning.
Here are some of the pointless questions we get asked repeatedly:
1. How many bucks did you kill there last year? Or What's your success rate? We understand why you ask this question, but in reality this is not specific enough. First of all, those deer are dead and it will take years to replace them. Second, a high % success rate usually guarantees a high kill rate on 2 year-old bucks. We have many farms that we killed nothing on last year. They are still in the #1 B&C state and in the #1 B&C county in that state. They are also in the good to excellent parts of the #1 county. YOU HAVE TO HUNT WHERE THESE ANIMALS ARE! NOT NECESSARILY WHERE THEY WERE KILLED LAST YEAR! The only way to have high % success on mature bucks is to have extremely low hunting pressure, a great food plot program, and clients that wait for mature bucks.
2. What is the best (biggest) deer you killed last year? Again, He's dead! He is never getting any bigger. Look at the larger picture of the area and what quality of animals come from that area. There are no fences in fair chase hunting and big bucks live in and move through these best areas.
3. How big is the farm I will be hunting? You might as well ask the buck, How big is the farm you are living on? He doesn't know or even care! If the food, cover and water are there, the deer will be too! I would be happy to hunt a 5 acre farm if were in the right 5 acres. In fact, on the right 5 acres in a "funnel area" you could shoot 10 good bucks a year. The problem with that is, it takes at least 2000 to 3000 good, balanced acres (3-4 square miles) to produce those same 10 bucks every year. They really didn't all come from 5 acres!
Now the right questions the right way to ask them.
1. References? Ask for references from people that hunted there from your area! Many outfitters use "Ringers" for references. They will not give you a true picture of your anticipated hunt. An outfitter that is reliable should be able to give you people (at least) somewhat close to you for references.
2. How many hunters are there per square mile? How many shooter bucks are there per square mile. Again, your best source to determine how many trophy bucks come from an area is INDEPENDENT research. You can ask the question, How many hunters, but ask about different weeks, and seasons. IF THE OUTFITTER IS "FULL FOR THAT WEEK OR SEASON", find out how many people that is and on how many acres those people are hunting.
3. How many mature bucks are there per square mile? Again, your best source to determine how many trophy bucks come from an area is INDEPENDENT research.
4. How many acres do you manage and how many timbered acres? IT IS IMPORTANT IN IOWA TO ASK ABOUT TIMBERED ACRES! When it gets to 2nd shotgun, or late muzzleloader, in the flatland or prairie areas of Iowa (most of the state), there isn't even 1 deer per square mile in many of these square miles! Deer migrate from the "prairie area" to timber as soon as the first significant snow falls. They almost never live entirely on the prairie, so they will rarely be more than a couple miles from big timber, even in the middle of summer when all the corn and cover is up.
5. Ask if you can bring your own stands and hang them. Even if you have no desire or intention to do this, it is a good test of how "close" hunters are placed. Beware if you are to go to, and stay in your stand "no matter what". Many times this is because if you got out of your stand and walked any distance, you will run into the next dummy hunting the same trail just out of sight.
6. Ask lots of questions about the management of the farm you will be hunting. Particular questions should be about the food plot program, and will you be the only hunters on that farm. Find out the total acres of your hunt farm, timbered acres and acres of food plots. In agricultural areas, (being farmed for corn and beans) a good balance is (at least) 50% timber. In ag areas, find out if the farmer does fall tillage, as this buries the food on ag land. (Very bad!) If the farm is in CRP, as little as 30% needs to be timbered IF there is a good food plot program in place. MINIMUM acres for food plots is 5% of total on farm. 10% is barely adequate where high deer densities exist. 10% of the CRP is where you need to be. Here is a good example: 1000a farm, 500a timber, 500a CRP of which 50a are food plots.
Your most sure way to protect the investment in your hunt is to personally check out the outfitter before your hunt. That means to actually go there or send someone that can go there on your behalf, look at and represent that particular farm to you that you will hunt. The best time to do this is in early spring, as soon as the snow leaves. All the "sign" is there from the previous year. You can see scrapes, rubs, rut trails and feeding trails. You can see the food plot program first hand that your outfitter has had in place. You can also ask what and where he plans to put his food plots in for the upcoming year.
I offer a great program to scout in the spring. With a deposit of $500.00 for your Iowa Trophy Deer hunt, I allow you to personally scout, and shed hunt. My Iowa Turkey hunts are available for only $150.00 (Turkey hunts start in mid April,) with your paid deer hunt deposit. Turkey tags must be applied for in Jan. but have been a 100% draw. Turkey tags are available after the draw by applying online ( www.iowadnr.gov ) or by calling the telephone ordering line 800-367-1188. Call Iowa DNR at 515-281-5918 for application info.