Iowa’s Furbearer Season Begins Nov. 2


23 Oct

Furharvesters take note: the outlook is pretty decent for most of the commonly targeted species ahead of Iowa’s furbearer hunting and trapping season. 

“Over the past five years, coyotes have become the new hot thing,” said Vince Evelsizer, furbearer wildlife research biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Last year, more than 18,000 coyotes were harvested, easily surpassing the previous record harvest of 15,347.

“The market has been strong for coyotes and the outlook for this fall looks good again,” Evelsizer said. “Our coyote population remains stable to increasing across the state with indications from our surveys the highest population is in southwest Iowa.” 

Coyotes have become the number one furbearer species people are pursuing because the fur market is good, and it’s featured more than ever on television shows and videos. The hunting industry is also producing new products specifically for coyotes, he said. However, with that popularity the number of issues have also arisen. Evelsizer stresses that anyone pursuing coyotes make an extra effort to respect land ownership, property boundaries and use fair-chase ethics. 

Iowa ranks in the top five states for the number of licensed furharvesters per capita, averaging around 14,500 per year for the last three years. When the fur market was strong, like in 2013, the number of licensed furharvesters was nearly 21,000. 

Raccoons, along with muskrats, are two species targeted by beginning furharvesters. 

Iowa’s raccoon population continues to be high – too high. Unfortunately when populations reach high levels, the prevalence of disease outbreaks increase. For raccoons, outbreaks of distemper often occur which has been the case this year. Pelt prices are trending up slightly this fall, especially for large prime raccoons. 

Iowa’s muskrat population is variable, but the long-term population trend continues to decline.

“There are some areas that have muskrats, but statewide, the population is extremely variable. Scouting will be important. Huts have already begun to show up in Iowa’s wetlands and will rapidly increase wherever muskrats and ideal water levels with aquatic vegetation occur,” Evelsizer said. “However, we still don’t see the widespread distribution of muskrats across the state like we used to.”

The fur market outlook for muskrats indicates pelt prices from last season may trend up slightly for the 2019-20 season because inventories are low going into the season thus increasing market demand for those harvested this year.

Red fox numbers are trending up slightly in some regions of the state, which is positive. However, red fox continue to deal with mange. Pelt prices are expected to remain fairly similar to last year.

Iowa’s beaver population is trending higher. While the pelt prices on the fur market is low, prices for beaver castor (glands) is high. The number of nuisance complaints often increases with the population.

Badger numbers are stable across Iowa and increasing in western Iowa likely due to lighter and dryer soils and grasslands. Pelt prices are likely to be similar to last year.

The river otter population has trended upward in eastern and southern regions of Iowa. The bag/possession limit for river otters is two. Pelt prices are expected to be stable to up slightly.

Iowa’s bobcat population is up across southern Iowa and continues to expand into new areas of north Iowa; specifically northeast Iowa. The fur market should be similar to up slightly compared to last year.

New this year is a three bobcat bag limit across three tiers of counties in southern Iowa.

Iowa’s bobcat harvest is divided into three zones – a three bobcat bag limit zone (southern Iowa), a one bobcat bag limit zone and a zone closed to bobcat harvest. Only one bobcat may come from the one bobcat zone regardless of the county in that zone it was taken from, the remaining cats must come from the three cat zone. No more than three bobcats total can be legally harvested by a furharvester this season.

Furharvesters are reminded of the requirement to contact a conservation officer within seven days of taking an otter or bobcat to receive a CITES tag. The CITES tag must remain with the animal until it is processed or sold.

Gray fox populations remain low but are rarely targeted by trappers. We are watching the gray fox population closely,” Evelsizer said. A proposal has been submitted to study gray fox populations, including what they’re dying from – cause specific, as well as looking at their habitat needs. This population decline is not unique to Iowa, it’s a Midwest trend, he said, we are hopeful about getting this funding to carry out this research on gray fox.

DNR reaches out to furharvesters with a survey

Iowa furharvesters can help the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with furbearer management by participating in a furharvester survey.

The Iowa DNR is sending this survey out to 5,000 licensed furharvesters prior to this year’s trapping season. This survey is purposely designed to be in the form of a diary so our furharvesters can use it throughout the long season to record their activities as they go. That way the information they record is accurate - similar to surveys filled out by bow hunters each fall. This is the second year of the survey.

“This diary will give us valuable information on trapper and fur hunter effort. Things like how much time they are pursuing furbearers, when they are doing it – and what species they are targeting. Based on harvest, and last year’s furharvester diary survey, we are able to see that in today’s world, coyotes are our number one most pursued species and that wasn't anywhere near the case 20 or 30 years ago.” Evelsizer said. “A survey like this had never been done in Iowa until last year.  We’re excited to work directly with our furharvesters to collect this information and hope to see more of them return the diaries.”

Based on the survey results from last year, the most trapping effort occurs during the first two weeks of November and effort goes down later in the season, but there's a slight increase during the holidays. Survey respondents indicated that coyotes were the number one species targeted for trapping followed by raccoons, mink and muskrats. The average number of days spent trapping was 27 per trapper. Hunters spent an average of 26 hours pursuing furbearers.

Jennifer Swanson, assistant wildlife research biometrician for the Iowa DNR, said the information from the survey will help with population estimates for several of the more secretive furbearer species that are otherwise more difficult to count, like badgers and gray fox.

“Only three percent of the surveys were filled out and mailed back last year. For the effort to be worthwhile and to have good information, we’d like that return rate to be much higher,” Swanson said.

The survey will not be used to measure if a trapper is good or not, or for law enforcement purposes.

“If a trapper receives a fur diary survey and won't be trapping/hunting this season, it is okay to give it to someone else that will be active. Just make a note of the transfer in the survey,” she said. “The information collected from this survey is important because it provides a direct link of feedback from our furharvesters that helps us manage furbearers in Iowa.”

Furharvesters who have questions about the survey should contact Evelsizer at 641-357-3517 or vince.evelsizer@dnr.iowa.gov.

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