I have always scoffed at the claims made about Iowa’s landscape. While there are places where you can see for miles in any direction, most of the state is blanketed with rolling hills, scattered timber stands, sandy hills, and limestone bluffs. The “Iowa is Flat” rhetoric has kept high powered rifles from among the tools used to harvest whitetails, with only a minor exception in the southern two tiers of counties for a couple of years. This was also an arguable concept, due to the dates of the season and antler drop timing for bucks…but I will stick to my point. The bar has officially been raised by our State Government, by legalizing straight walled rifles during some of our Iowa gun seasons.
Now before you go grab your 600 Nitro Express Elephant gun, let’s talk about what Iowa is legalizing in terms of cartridge options. As the bill, House File 475, reads:
b. A straight wall cartridge rifle that is allowed pursuant to this subsection shall be of the same caliber and use the same straight walled ammunition as is allowed for use in a pistol or revolver for hunting deer as provided in subsection that meets ballistics specifications similar to the requirements for straight wall ammunition allowed for use in a pistol or revolver for hunting deer as provided in subsection 5.
In layman’s terms: you can only use straight wall rifles chambered for straight wall pistol/revolver cartridges that are already authorized in Iowa’s hunting regulations. Just in case you don’t already read the pistol/revolver regulations, here is a list of the legal calibers of straight wall cartridges, as listed by the 2016-2017 Iowa Hunting and Trapping Regulations:
.357 Magnum, .357 Maximum, .375 Winchester, .38 Super, .40 S&W, .401 Powermag, 10 mm Auto, .41 Remington Magnum, .41 Action Express, .44 S&W Special, .44 Remington Magnum, .44 Automag, .444 Marlin, .445 Super Mag, .45 ACP, .45 Colt, .45 Super Mag, .45 Winchester Magnum, .45 Silhouette, .451 Detonics, .454 Casull, .45-70 Govt., .460 Rowland, .460 S&W Mag, .475 Widley Magnum, .475 Linebaugh, .480 Ruger, .50 Action Express, .50 Linebaugh, .50 Beowulf and .500 S&W Mag.
It is vital that you know what calibers are legal, if necessary, read that list a few more times before heading to your local gun store in search of a new toy. The fine for being caught afield with any variation of these, or any rifle with a non-legal caliber is $250 and a 2-year hunting privilege suspension!
Iowa is not planning to open a special season for these weapons. The State is, however, allowing them to be used during qualified youth hunting season, as well as, disabled hunter’s seasons. The thought behind this is that these rifle calibers will give youth and disabled hunters lower recoil options, as compared to the 12, 16, and 20 gauge alternatives. But don’t worry if you don’t qualify as a youth or a disabled hunter, the straight walled rifles may also be used by any qualified hunter during the first and second shotgun seasons as well.
So, what is the best option for the best all around, Iowa legal, straight walled rifle and ammo combo? This is totally a preference game; however, I like to go big and then go home. Although most of these cartridges will do the job just fine, I am like either the 45-70 Govt or the lighter recoil .444 Marlin. They both launch 250-300 grain projectiles, with an effective range approaching 200 yards. For those of you who hand load your ammo, you can tweak either of these rounds to your tastes in terms of recoil or down range energy.
As far as the cannon, I have always had a soft spot for the Marlin brand and the Western style lever gun. As far as firepower, the Marlin Lever gun offers 5 shots in the .444 and 4 shots in the 45-70. This is on par with the shotgun tube magazine capacities we are used to. The trajectories, out of either a 22” or 24” barrel, are also on par with my Mossberg 12 gauge when shooting a 300-grain slug, a combo I am extremely comfortable with at 150+ yards. For me, switching from my slug gun to a lever action rifle would be simply a body style change with pretty much the same engine under the hood, but I am sure most of us have varying opinions on what gun/caliber combo is best.
Over all it is important to remember that these rifles have their limits, and you should know their effective ranges and capabilities on whitetail sized game. The longer barrel offers increased range and accuracy, but these calibers will not ethically take a deer sized animal over 200 yards in most cases. Choose your caliber based on your preference, learn the effective range of your round, and choose your shots wisely. I am excited to see the scene changing in the Iowa hunting landscape, and as hunters, we can keep moving forward by being responsible, ethical, and respectful.