A dying tradition: Story County game warden encourages new hunters

Rachel Sinn

It might be the love of the outdoors, or maybe the chase itself, but hunting in Iowa has long been a pastime for many in the fall and winter months. Civilization has thrived on the hunters and gatherers since the beginning of time, but is it a dying art?

Story County Game Warden Matt Bruner believes yes, hunting is a dying art.

“The median age of our hunters has risen; it’s that baby boomer generation,” Bruner said. “The recruitment of new hunters has slowed. In Iowa we saw a decline of 8 or 9 percent of new hunters overall.”

Bruner said he assumes now that the baby boomer generation is aging, many hunters are physically unable to continue. Bruner finds the urban sprawl of our cities has caused less exposure to the sport.

“There’s not as many family farms that are all over the place, so those that are living in suburbs or in town are just not as exposed to hunting and fishing as much,” Bruner said.

Alex Ulrich, junior in interdisciplinary studies, has always enjoyed hunting as a family tradition and hobby.

“It’s a family tradition and it’s not going to stop. It’s a personal getaway. I eat everything I hunt,” Ulrich said. “I’m very much in tune with what the Native Americans say; you use everything you hunt.”

As the active game warden for Story County, it is Bruner’s job to enforce laws, educate children and peers, and deal with all public relations when it comes to hunting. Bruner suggested the mourning dove season as a great way to get started for an inexperienced hunter. From Sept. 1 through Nov. 9, there is a daily limit of 15 doves with a possession limit of 30 per hunter. A small gaming license is required, but dove hunting is open to the entire state.

For veteran hunters, shotgun season, which occurs from Dec. 1 to 16 with a three-day break in between each week, brings excitement as well as some danger to those who are less careful. Trespassing, shooting out of hours, improper licensing and deer chasing are just a few of the illegal activities Bruner deals with on a regular basis.

“The vast majority of deer killed in Iowa are killed during that two weeks,” Bruner said. “There’s a lot of people out and about. I get a lot of phone calls for questions and complaints.”

Ulrich enjoys an early morning start to a hunt; losing sleep is the least of his worries when he can enjoy the tranquility of the outdoors.

“I love early morning hunting; it’s just peaceful. It’s more quiet, people are still sleeping, you don’t hear cars on the highway,” Ulrich said. “I just enjoy it; I feel like you see more deer and turkey start to come out.

Ulrich said being outdoors is a great way to relax and relieve stress.

“I really don’t care if I get anything. It’s more about getting outdoors and getting away from everything,” Ulrich said.

Bruner’s priority for the upcoming seasons is always safety first. He reminds hunters that it is illegal to have a loaded gun in their vehicle.

“People that have a loaded gun in their vehicle can bump something when they’re getting out or putting their gun in and it discharges in the vehicle,” Bruner warned.

Bruner advised hunters to start asking for permission to use private hunting grounds now, before deer season begins. While public ground is good for hunting, it can be very crowded.

Ulrich is excited for the winter months, when snow blankets the ground.

“I’m hoping for some snow. For deer hunting, it’s a lot easier to track the deer when they’re bleeding out across the snow, and honestly it’s more serene and beautiful when you’ve got snow everywhere,” Ulrich said. 

Ulrich urged those who are interested to give hunting a try this year.

“In the early morning, when it’s just got snow coming down, it’s super peaceful and it muffles all the noise; it’s fantastic,” Ulrich said.

Bruner asked that all Story County hunters stay knowledgeable to rules and regulations and offers himself as a source for all questions.

“I always encourage those who are hunting to plug mine or their local officer’s number as the DNR in their phone,” Bruner said. “If they happen to have a question, they can call me in the field or at some random time.”