5 Land Access Types in Iowa

By Nick Martin

You may have heard stories from members of your family or friends about the “hay day” of Iowa Pheasant hunting but never experienced anything like those stories yourself. Although Iowa has not recently been known for its miles of grasslands or public hunting like some other states, a variety of fundraising groups are slowly starting to help Iowa get back into the limelight in the hunting scene.

With Iowa properties being roughly 95% privately owned, it can be hard to know where to begin or expand your hunting territory. Even with the challenge of “limited” public options, the state still has some incredible opportunities for hunters looking for a unique experience.

If you are newly getting into upland game hunting or looking to expand your hunting access options, we have provided the top 5 land types accessible in Iowa to explore. Whether you are getting ready to bag that spring gobbler, fall Iowa whitetail deer or anything in between.

Iowa Hunter Access Program (IHAP)
The Iowa Hunter Access Program (IHAP) allows for privately owned land to be accessed (via walk-in) by any hunter with a valid Iowa hunting license once the landowner enrolls in the program. Iowa Department of Natural Resources Biologists work alongside the property owners to improve the habitat of their ground and provide some financing through the USDA farm bill to help with the improvements. In return, the farmers allow public access hunting on this ground September 1st through May 31st. Typically, the IHAP properties are in a five year contract. Some owners opt to renew after those five years, while some do not once they have fulfilled their contract.

Location is also important because some counties have more IHAP enrolled ground than others. During drought years, for example, some of the grasslands can be mowed and hayed by the landowners in emergency situations. This is why it is always a good idea to scout prior to the hunt to see the exact condition of each site as it currently sits. We also recommend you verify if access is still available through a local DNR representative before traveling to any IHAP location as third-party websites can have old and outdated information.

IHAP areas tend to be fruitful for a variety of game especially after the first couple of years of being established. Many properties provide a variety of habitat including, but not limited to, timber, grassland, food plots, waterways etc. We do see this as a successful program as it is helping to reestablish pheasant and turkey populations along with many other animals. A current list of all IHAP access ground can be found on the Iowa DNR website as well as the online Iowa DNR interactive hunting atlas.

County Conservation Areas
Iowa is divided into 99 counties as a state. The County Conservation Law, passed in 1955, allowed voters in each county to establish their own county conservation board. In 1989 Allamakee County became the Iowa’s 99th conservation board, completing the state. These boards manage over 200,000+ acres statewide of hunting access, nature preserves, parks, trails and more. This law filled a critical gap needed between local outdoor recreation areas and the state’s outdoor recreation areas.
Each county is unique in the opportunities it provides through county conservation owned land. The county conservation owned hunting lands are similar to IHAP areas as they are more managed due to local funding and a hands-on approach by the local conservation officers. The goal is to continually improve the habitat and acquire more overtime. Timber, grassland, marshes, crop fields, and other ground types can be found in many counties. These are listed on the Iowa DNR public access map and most county websites have a list of locations. Keep in mind, some public access locations are refugees and are not huntable. We encourage you reach out to the local conservation board of the county you are looking to hunt to get a better idea on hunting opportunities for the location.

Wildlife Management Areas
By far the broadest and largest department in the state for outdoor activities is the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The department manages over 390,000+ acres with funding provided almost 100% through Iowa hunting, fishing and trapping license and through the Pittman Robinson act of 1937. Although the largest group of land management in Iowa, the lack of man power and financing is an everlasting battle that the state faces. Most of these locations have parking areas and possibly a boat ramp. These areas provide great access opportunities for hunters.
Ground types in these areas vary greatly by geography in the state. A common trend is they include many low-lying areas around rivers and streams throughout Iowa. Depending on the season, it may or may not be a fruitful habitat. This is mostly dictated by spring flooding and the species you are targeting. The majority of your public land deer and turkey will be bagged on Iowa DNR owned ground in the spring and fall. You can also utilize the Iowa Sportsman Atlas to learn about these areas as well.

United States Fish and Wildlife Access Areas (USFW)
United States Fish and Wildlife areas can be mostly found in the North Central region of Iowa. Comprised of over 20,000 acres, the goal of this group is to reestablish wetlands and grasslands to meet the ongoing habitat needs of Iowa. These are fantastic locations for waterfowl to reproduce as well as stop on their migration journey each year. Over 13 species are supported by the 20,000 acres. The majority of these areas will hold more upland and waterfowl species but don’t be surprised if you see other critters running around as well! Duck stamp dollars directly support these wildlife areas along with Ducks Unlimited and other local and federal funding. Each management district can have varying rules on these grounds so it is best to check the local regulations before hunting, but the constant is they always require nontoxic shot.

Youth Only hunting areas
You may not know this, but some Iowa Counties have “youth only” hunting areas. A permit must be obtained from the local County Conservation Board prior to hunting in these areas. Typically, you are provided with a half day permit for the area. You will have this area exclusive to your group so you have a controlled environment as much as possible. Use this as an opportunity to mentor and drill safety into the youth at this time. The accompanying adult cannot carry a firearm while in this area. Youth usually are defined as being 15 years of age or younger. Maximum groups allowed consist of six people (three adults three kids), and minimum groups consist of two people (oneadult and 1 kid). Trapping and other hunting is not allowed in these areas nor with the permit. These areas are to promote youth hunting, family time, educate youth on responsible gun safety and much more. Contact your local county conservation to see if you have a youth only area near you.