Hawkeye State Public Hunting
Iowa is famous for corn and in political circles, the Iowa Caucuses. A not-so-local secret that is getting out very quickly is it’s spectacular hunting. Iowa continues to be a top destination for upland bird hunters and is a first class destination for monster bucks. A half dozen 200+ class whitetails were taken in Iowa last year alone. With over 450,000 acres of public hunting land, finding a spot to claim your trophy is easier than you may think.
Red Rock Public Hunting Area
Red Rock may be the best public area to bag a trophy buck in Iowa. With over 30,000 acres of marsh, bottomlands, timber, and upland cover there are plenty of places for big bucks and hunters to hide. Red Rock borders both sides of the Des Moines River just west of Pella. Due to it’s expansive belts of dense cover, utilizing a canoe or other small watercraft to access more remote areas can pay off.
Shimek State Forest
The Shimek State Forest in Southeast Iowa offers a total of 8,000 acres mostly in Lee County. This is another great area to fill a tag with a monster public land buck. The dense woods is loaded with acorns and hickory nuts. The steep terrain gives deer plenty of escape routes. There are several areas of the forest that are difficult to access, giving hunters willing to go the extra mile a hunting experience comparable to private land hunting. The Shimek State Forest is also known for it’s superb turkey hunting.
Hawkeye Wildlife Area
This hunting spot offers everything deer and deer hunters are looking for. Timber, marsh & bottoms, and upland cover. The Hawkeye Wildlife Area boasts over 13,000 acres encompassing the Iowa River in Johnson County. Big bucks survive the season by utilizing a vast network of bottoms as the river dumps into Coralville Lake. It’s tough going but it can be worth the effort. As is the case with hunting just about any public hunting area, go where others aren’t willing to go and find the best hunting. Hawkeye is also home to top notch pheasant hunting.
Brushy Creek Recreation Area
In the central part of the state, Brushy Creek Recreation Area stands out for many of the same reasons Hawkeye WA does. This area in Webster County has over 6,500 acres. While much of it’s acreage is upland cover, the southern section features dense woods and river bottoms. Brushy Creek Recreation Area is also a great place to fill a turkey tag. Camping is available on site.
Loess Hills State Forest
Monona County is one of Iowa’s best known trophy deer hot spots. Much of the area is in private hands or is leased but this state forest offers superb hunting and a unique experience. There are over 10,000 acres of public land in the area. It’s rugged terrain and distance from major population centers keeps hunter densities low.
Other prime spots to consider for deer hunting include: The Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge, Stephens State Forest, Saylorville Wildlife Area, Rathbun Wildlife Area, Dudgeon Lake Wildlife Management Area, and The Elk Grove Wildlife Management Area.
Pheasant Hot Spots
This Polk County public hunting grounds is about 6,500 acres of mostly flat bottomland that is perfect upland cover. The property borders the Skunk River and encompasses many of it’s oxbows. Chichaqua has a well deserved reputation for being one of the best pheasant hunting areas in the state. This reputation brings a number of hunters to the area so a well trained dog is key to flush pressured birds.
Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge
Don’t be put off by the words “wildlife refuge”. Most of the 8.000+ acres of the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge are open to hunting and provide superb pheasant cover. And that “refuge” in the name scares off those who aren’t in the know. Be sure to pack non-toxic shells for this hunt as lead is not permitted.
Iowa River Corridor
This area is an Army Corp of Engineers project with over 50,000 acres along a 45 mile stretch of the Iowa River. Most of the property is former cropland converted back into native upland, bottoms, and timber cover. The Iowa Corridor offers topnotch hunting for pheasants, deer, waterfowl, turkeys, and small game. Pheasant hunters may also encounter bobwhite quail.
Other places to check out include: Big Creek State Park, Rolling Thunder Prairie, Marietta Sand Prairie, Hendrickson Marsh WMA.