Iowa man fights to save his hunting preserve

Terry Hinegardner
Posted at 3:23 PM, Feb 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-19 16:23:58-05

Hunters would be able to shoot and kill certain animals normally kept as livestock in Iowa under a bill that has mustered enough legislative support to survive a crucial deadline this week.

House File 2400 would define “untamed game livestock” to include bison, goats and sheep that are raised in Iowa for hunting preserves. It was advanced by the House Natural Resources Committee on Monday.

The proposal is a response to a change in how the Iowa Department of Natural Resources licenses the preserves, which most often have deer and game birds but sometimes feature exotic hunting of hoofed animals on large, enclosed tracts of land.

One of them is North Star Gameland in Tama County. It boasts guided hunts for a variety of rams and deer, Spanish goats, hogs, elk and bison, according to its website.

“Most of my clients, they’re not trophy hunters,” Terry Hinegardner, the preserve’s owner, told Iowa Capital Dispatch. “Most of my hunters are meat hunters, families, grandparents bringing their grandsons or (grand)daughters. I’ve got groups that are three generations coming at the same to hunt, from all walks of life.”

He said one of his most-frequent customers is a bowhunter who is paralyzed and can’t walk. Hinegardner uses an all-terrain vehicle to tote the man to a hunting blind and retrieves his kills.

The preserve is about 220 acres of hilly timber north of the Meskwaki Bingo Casino and Hotel that’s enclosed by an 8-foot-tall fence. It’s been operating for more than 60 years, and Hinegardner said he raises most of the animals himself in the preserve or in separate enclosures.

DNR imposes limits

But in August, the DNR sent a notice to Hinegardner, alerting him that the exotic species would now be limited to non-native deer and elk. The legislation began as a study bill that was advanced by a House Natural Resources subcommittee with Fisher’s support and by its full committee on Monday.

The DNR believes it erred for years when it allowed the other animals. It was notified by the Iowa Department of Agricultural and Land Stewardship that the other animals are classified as livestock and cannot be hunted on preserves under Iowa law. Chloe Carson, an IDALS spokesperson, said the department’s review of the law was prompted by an unspecified “inquiry on the status of feral hogs in the state.”

Hunting preserves have been regulated by the state since 1992, and there are now 47 of them, said Tammie Krausman, a DNR spokesperson. Most are for game birds or whitetail deer. Hinegardner’s is the only one that hosts a wide variety of animals, and it’s been licensed by the state since at least 2003, Krausman said. License information for prior years wasn’t immediately available.

Critics of the preserves say they lack the sport of true hunting because the animals are more likely to be acclimated to humans and are less skittish than those in the wild.

“Basically, it’s shooting fish in a barrel,” said Fred Long, president of the Iowa Conservation Alliance, which opposes the proposed legislation. “It’s not hunting.”

The DNR gave Hinegardner about five months to rid his preserve of livestock, with a deadline of Jan. 31. He said he does not have feral hogs.

“My heart dropped,” Hinegardner said about receiving the DNR’s letter. The now-banned animals account for about two-thirds of his business. Without them, it would likely fold, he said.

He sought help from a local legislator, Rep. Dean Fisher, R-Montour, who said it was unlikely he could pass a law by that deadline. So Hinegardner sued the DNR and asked a judge to reverse the agency’s recent determination about the animals, court records show.

In December, District Judge Fae Hoover-Grinde issued a temporary injunction that delays the DNR’s depopulation demands until a trial is held on the matter. The judge noted Hinegardner’s preserve “may cease to exist” without the injunction.

“The business will suffer by having to eliminate two-thirds of the species previously hunted by its customers,” Hoover-Grinde wrote.

A trial is set for September.

In the meantime, North Star Gameland will continue to offer its usual animals for hunting, and Hinegardner awaits the fate of House File 2400.

An uphill battle

“It’s a bit of an uphill battle ’cause it’s always tough when you’ve got a bill that affects a small number of people,” Fisher said, “and there’s a lot of misperceptions that have been spread around about what he does.”

Adding hogs to the list of “untamed game livestock” is a non-starter for other lawmakers, Fisher said, because of fears about “feral hogs coming up from Missouri.”

Hogs that live in the wild have been growing in numbers in the past 30 years in Missouri and have notable populations in more than 20 of the state’s counties, according to the University of Missouri Extension. They can pose considerable risk to livestock because of the diseases they carry.

“But that’s got nothing to do with North Star Gameland — they’re farm breeds,” Fisher said. “The only thing he’s doing different than probably hundreds of other farmers in the state is he gives people the opportunity to go out and harvest the animals themselves.”

Hinegardner said he will drop his lawsuit against the DNR if the legislation passes, even though it would mean he could no longer hunt hogs on his preserve. The animals included in the bill would still allow him to host hunts year-round, whereas deer and elk are usually hunted during the handful of months they have fully grown antlers. They shed them each year.

“It’s hard to visualize hunting something in a pen and make it sound good, but it’s not that way,” Hinegardner said. “You can’t go out and shoot across the area from one side to the other side. It’s a rugged, timbered area.”

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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