Hunting Iowa Wildlife with a Camera

Hunting Iowa Wildlife with a Camera

The early morning rays of sunlight sprinkling through the oak and hickory treetops began to reveal what it was that I had been straining to see.  Straining to see for the last half hour or so. Noise in the dark thicket of young oaks and bitternut hickory pole timber only about 60- yards distant.  Faint noise. Muffled noise. Hunters know the sound. Leaves stirring faintly by multiple footsteps, moving with a rhythm and a seemingly steady purpose, yet always circling back to where they started. Deer moving and milling about the thicket after coming back from the nearby grain fields.

That was my guess anyway. But was it two deer?  Three deer?  Maybe more?

It wasn’t long before a whitetail doe eased out and into a little opening in front of me. I fired multiple times immediately – six or seven shots within just a couple of seconds.

Then, suddenly, a buck appeared, like a ghost, out of the edge of the darkness and into the light, right behind the doe, looking squarely at me, eye’s piercing me like the sharpest arrow.  Like all giant bucks. He knew all along where I was. At least it sure seemed like he did. But, it didn’t matter. It was too late for him.

Like NBA marksman, Clay Thompson, my arms were already raised and ready for the shot. He didn’t know I was looking at him through my camera lens. Click, click, click, click…

I got him!  The wait — in the cold blind — had definitely been worth it.

Picture of an Iowa whitetail buck.


Wew..I had to stop and catch my breath. My heart and adrenaline, surging, even though I was just sitting there.    

Easy does it, I told myself. I got him!  That’s how it goes when hunting with a camera.  Sometimes, that is. When you get lucky!

Just like when hunting with a bow or gun, with wildlife photography, you work at it and when you are prepared luck seems to come easier.

And, I can assure you this, hunting with a camera is lots of fun. Great fun, for sure. Yet, for the life of me, I don’t fully understand why more people aren’t doing it? Sure, I get the fact that you don’t get to bring back any meat when hunting with a camera. No doubt about that. Not unless you stop at the grocery store on the way home, that is.  And that is the main reason why I hunt with a bow or gun, to bring back high-quality low fat and super healthy venison or other game for the family to enjoy. That doesn’t happen when I hunt with my camera.

So why do it?

Some people don’t seem to get it. Even people whom I would think would get it, like other hunters that I know and wildlife professionals.  In fact, just this past fall I was talking to a park ranger and he just asked me point-blank why take wildlife pictures? And, what do you do with the pictures?


Picture of a red fox.

Nothing like calling in predators in the winter! It’s fun hunting them with bow or gun. But it’s also great bringing home images for the wall with the camera!


Before I talk about that let me first say that when I go hunting with a bow or gun a HUGE reason lies in the thrill of the chase. 

Trying to outwit something on their own turf is addicting (and that is also why I love to fish).  When I hunt the fields and forests around me with a camera, I can still do this. Plus, with camera, I can always bring something home – memories in the form of pictures. Now, for sure, they aren’t always great pictures. But I get to bring back pictures of the animals I see to share with friends and family, nonetheless. This is huge.  Ring enough one up for wildlife photography!


It is awesome to be able to share the experiences that I have in the field with friends and loved ones who were not there. When I hunt traditionally, that is, with bow or gun, I often don’t bring home anything to share but invisible stories. I don’t always bring home meat that’s for sure!

And, maybe because I am getting older, it’s the sharing of the experience that is really deeply and genuinely valued and is so rewarding. The pictures I bring home every time I come back from “camera hunting” let me do that in a great visual fashion that people don’t have to imagine or believe. Now, I’ve got proof that really did encounter that monster buck! Much of the “trying to outwit something” reason that I hunt or fish, is a reason involving challenge. That is a huge part of why I go hunting — for the challenge of the endeavor itself – trying to bag that animal and/or even the challenge of the process (dealing with the weather, example). This is all kept as part of the camera hunting endeavor as well. You don’t lose these things with camera hunting. In fact, one could argue that hunting with a camera is even more challenging.  At least, it can be, at times!

Whitetail buck in Iowa.

This nice whitetail was out and about one November morning checking scrapes when I shot him with my Canon!


Let me quickly qualify that last statement – camera hunting can be as challenging as you make it because there is the constant challenge of creating a higher quality image than the previous one. That is a huge reason why I love camera hunting too. The challenge of trying to create not just a technically good image but a technically or even artistically great one!


And think of this benefit when hunting with a camera – there are NO SEASONS. You can “hunt” deer any time of year you wish. You say you’d like to go “hunting” month before the season opens – no big deal, go right ahead!  And, using a camera, you can now “hunt” most wildlife refuges, national and state parks!  Additionally, you don’t have any licensing expenses to deal with! Obviously, the door opens way up with great options when you pick up a camera to hunt with!

I realize that many folks just don’t think it will be “the same” as when hunting with a bow or gun. That somehow the “thrill” just won’t be there.

I think that is something you would have to decide for yourself. I can tell you that it is just what you make it out to be. Photographs, like fingerprints, are all different. And it isn’t easy producing great images on a regular basis– despite today’s fantastic equipment. In fact, one “keeper” for every half dozen shots is sort of typical. And, getting one “wall hanger” type of image might take you a few hundred shots. Photography isn’t as simple as pointing and shooting. At least, getting great images on a regular basis isn’t about that. But that is why I like it. Again it’s that challenge. If it was easy it would be boring and it would be hard to find the satisfaction of doing it. The thrill of accomplishment – finally being able to get a great image after all the lighting and setup challenges definitely exist. I think that is what allot of people may think. That hunting animals with a camera instead of with a bow or gun would be boring and maybe not satisfying. Again, it’s all about what you make of it. But I definitely don’t find that to be true at all. But wildlife photography is what you want it to be. If you like to push the limits, if you are like many hunters and love the challenges in the field, then there is a good bet you might also like the challenges of getting great images of the animals you pursue with a camera in hand. If you’re one that likes to push for things. You can push for an unlimited amount of challenge growth with wildlife photography.


And you are already on step 8 on a scale of 1-10 on what it takes to get that great image if you are a hunter –  that is, getting to know your subject and how to get close to your subject on a regular basis. As a hunter you already know how to accomplish this.


Picrture of a canada goose in flight.


I love shooting waterfowl with a camera (I love hunting them as well). But when the season is over and there are still lots of birds around — might as well go bring back some images to share or for the wall!



Do you know how to Shoot a Camera?


The type of camera I’m talking about using here is a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex).

You know, the great big cameras those guys hanging around the end zones and sidelines of sporting events have!  You know the ones. I won’t get into how to use a DSLR here because I don’t have the space for that. You’ll have to do some Internet browsing for that. There are guides and books on that subject widely available. If you’ve never used one, then it’ll take a little bit of study. Not that much, though. Rest assured, if I can use one so can you! If you want to get out there and do some wildlife photography, then I’m sure you’ll probably be excited to spend a little bit of time learning the basics of the camera itself. You can do it and it’s worth learning.

Probably the single biggest setting that I use in the field is called aperture-priority mode. This is where you get to decide how much focus you want for the photograph (example: just the eye’s and face or more corner-to-corner?). This setting lets you be the guide and the camera does the rest. It’s really not too hard!

Camera brands: There are several brands. The top brands today, as you may already know, are Canon, Nikon and Sony (in no particular order).  I use Canon gear but I have also used Nikon and both make top quality gear. Sony does as well. I’ll talk about Canon gear in this post only because that is what I’m most familiar with (not because they are better than any other brand.  Although, I must say I love my Canon’s!)


keep in mind that I am not a wildlife photography pro! I am just a guy, maybe like you, who has some knowledge of photography and has a deep interest in hunting. I’m just a guy combining the two!  

The reason I choose Canon is because I invested in one of their cameras a while back and then bought a couple of their lenses. Once I got vested into them, it was no turning back. And I haven’t been disappointed at all. They have a superb array of other items like lenses, teleconverters, etc., for the type of shooting that I like to do, which is, of course, wildlife.

If you watch a sporting event, you will see allot of big white lenses – these are canon pro lenses. I would say most pro sporting photographers shoot one of these three systems – and I would say more pro’s shoot Canon than anything else, followed by closely by Nikon.

Again, several companies make great gear and pro quality systems. I’m no pro that’s for sure but I just got into the Canon system a while back and bought some of their lenses so I’ve been sticking with them. Had I bought Nikon or Sony stuff previously I probably would be sticking with them.  It gets expensive to keep switching around once you invest in some of the gear of one brand.

Something to remember is that what you are really buying when it comes to acquiring wildlife photography gear, is not just a camera but a system that goes with it. Lenses are at the top of the list, of course, and it’s good advice to get good lenses and don’t skimp on quality here. The route I’ve chosen to go involving price point is sort of right down the middle. My cameras are basically “serious amateur” level and I try to find the best deals on the highest rated lenses that I can find. Again…one could go on and on about this. But I don’t have

The route I’ve chosen to go involving price point is sort of right down the middle. My cameras are basically “serious amateur” level and I try to find the best deals on the highest rated lenses that I can find.

Again…one could go on and on about this, but I don’t have space here to do that. You’ll want to read up on top choices for wildlife photography. The Internet is full of information on that.  It’s all about what system offers the best choices for the type of shooting that you will be doing.  There is a ton of information out there discussing the pros and cons of the different camera systems available today.

Type of Equipment: I like a camera that has a quiet shutter and one with great focus ability in low light; and, produces one that produces high-quality images with low grain, when doing deer photography, in low light conditions.  These are big demands.

The Canon 6D fills these needs perfectly.


Picture of a Canon EOS 6D

The Canon EOS 6D does a great job in low-light and with high ISO settings. It has a pretty quiet shutter drive, too. This makes it great for shooting wildlife in low-light conditions at close range.


The Canon 6D  is not a cheap camera, by any means. But it isn’t in outer-space, price-wise either (about $1500 for the body only currently on Amazon).   This camera sort of lies in the middle-end of the spectrum and would be classified as a “serious or semi-pro” type camera. It’ll work hard for you for years and years of service so long as it’s cared for.  And the 6D will is capable of producing images that could easily go on the cover of any magazine or that could be enlarged to poster size for that office wall!

With this, I’ll usually carry a 70-200 f/4 IS mm zoom ($599 on Amazon) with a 1.4x II extender ($195 on Amazon) and a 300 mm f/4 IS lens ($1350.00 on Amazon) that uses the same converter.   However — if I were just getting into wildlife photography at this level I would get the Canon 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II zoom lens (about $2,050 on Amazon).  I would get this lens instead of getting the other two previously mentioned lenses.  Why?  Because this one lens covers the same bases as the other two and also gives you 100 mm longer reach.  This is a new lens but has glowing reviews and is a pro-grade lens in all respects. The Canon 6D has been around for a few years now but it still is a very capable camera that produces pro-quality results (with practice). The Canon 6D works great for most whitetail photography and it’s auto-focus system and shutter speed is certainly adequate to get great shots of deer running or jumping a fence.

Canon 70-200 f/4 zoom lens picture.

The Canon 70-200 f/4 is a great all-around nature and wildlife lens for larger subjects that aren’t too far off — say 30 yards or so with deer. I prefer the IS version which makes it easier to hand-hold and get sharp images, especially in low light.


There are other cheaper alternatives for getting good lenses — choices from Sigma and Tamron, for example, that cover the same focal lengths as those just mentioned will get the same job done at a fraction of the cost.  You might want to do some research on these and look at some lens reviews.  These companies, and others make some top-notch glass but, generally, tend to fall shy of the quality that a camera company puts out on their own lenses.   I’ve had one Sigma lens and it was built like a tank and took some great photos.  I don’t think the brightness and overall “pop” of the images it produced were as good as my Canon glass, however.  With technology changing so fast, the margin of quality between the lenses that Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc., put out and some of the third-party lenses makers just mentioned is narrowing greatly.  In some cases, there may be no difference in quality.  Again…you may want to do your own research on this before buying a lens.


Back to the camera:  The  Canon 6D has been around for a few years now but it still is a very capable camera that produces pro-quality results (with practice). It works great for most whitetail photography and it’s auto-focus system and shutter speed is certainly adequate to get great shots of deer running or jumping a fence.


zoomed in view of Canon 300 f/4 lens


The 6D is a full-frame camera with no built in “lens multiplier” effect. You might want to read up on that if desired. The bottom line is that this is a great camera for low-light, deer photography at close or semi-close range with the lenses mentioned above. There’s no doubt you could get a 500 mm or even a 600 mm lens and shoot deer at longer ranges. But with a 300-400 mm lens and a 1.4X or even a 2X converter (lens multiplier), one can capture some great shots out to 60 or even 70 yards or so.

Canon 1.4x teleconverter

An extender is placed between the body of the camera and the lens and effectively “zooms” in the subject by the specified amount.

So we are pretty much talking about photographing deer just out past long bow hunting range with this setup.  If you wanted to be able to shoot deer at longer ranges with excellent results with this camera you would need that 500 or 600 mm lens which will amp up your equipment acquisition costs a few thousand dollars!  If your main goal in wildlife photography is to shoot fast-moving subjects, in general, such as birds in flight or lots of running and jumping – or other – fast action shots of wildlife, then a camera that shoots faster than the 6D would be better (the 6D shoots at 4.5 frames per second, top-end, which would seem to be fast enough, but the faster the better for really fast moving subjects!)

My Canon 60D (not the 6D but the 60D) is certainly adequate for some of this type of shooting but the Canon 7D – which I don’t have – (shoots up to 8-frames per second, fps) or the 7D Mark 2 (upgrade to the 7D in both image quality and speed of shooting – up to 10 fps with Mark 2) would certainly be better. If I had to choose, I would get the 7D Mark 2 for my main wildlife camera.  But, I would still use the Canon 6D for those times when “quiet shooting” and shooting in very low light is of paramount importance. Such as when shooting within 25 yards out of a blind.

Something you might want to read up on would be about the “crop factor” some of these cameras have – the 60D, 7D, and 7D Mark 2.  These cameras “crop” the image by way of the design of their smaller sensor. The result is that the image seems closer than it really is. So when using any suitable lens on these cameras the result is magnified by 60% (example a 200mm lens on a crop-factor camera effectively becomes a 320 mm lens; a 100 mm lens becomes a 160 mm lens., etc., etc.) What this means is that you can get by with a shorter lens on these cameras because your camera automatically makes it acts like a longer one – this helps with long lens expense, big time!

If you don’t need as big of a lens, then you don’t have to spend as much money (typically, lens cost goes up with lens length).  So a crop-sensor camera – or crop factor camera – gives you more reach than does full-frame camera like the 6D. I won’t examine this too much more in this post. For sure there are pros and cons of each. For the wildlife shooter, a top-notch camera like the 7D Mark 2 with the built-in crop factor is hard to beat in most situations.   (Some pros who must have the ultimate in top-notch image quality stay away from crop factor cameras.  Also, most landscape photographers do as

Some pros who must have the ultimate in top-notch image quality stay away from crop factor cameras and just use cameras with full-frame sensors, like the EOS 6D.  (There may be a slight drop in overall image quality when using a crop-sensor camera vs. one with a full-frame sensor).  Also, most landscape photographers avoid crop-sensor cameras as well, because it limits their ability to use the widest angle lenses that they prefer because of that particular photography style. I hope that you are not confused by any of the “tech”

I hope that you are not confused by any of the “tech” talk above. Getting started shooting a DSLR is really not that hard. And the fun part is chasing the animals with one and bringing back great images.

It’s a constant challenge but that is where the fun lies.

Seasons? What seasons?

A refuge – who cares!

Now is as good of a time as any to get started at this. But let me warn you – shooting wildlife with a Canon is addicting! Have fun!



A little Tech Talk and some Money Saving Ideas:

Okay, let’s talk reality here.  What’s this going to cost?


Full-Frame Camera:


Canon EOS 6D:  $1500.00 on Amazon  (this is an awesome camera for low light shooting and has a really quiet shutter too)


Crop-Sensor Cameras:  (have a 1.6 X lens multiplier effect on the image)


Canon EOS 60D:    $850 on Amazon (or get a used one there for under $400)

Canon EOS 40D:  Not discussed in this post BUT I have one and this older camera model produces great results!  It isn’t made anymore — I don’t believe –but they still sell them.  I think you can get one for around $200 on Amazon.  It’s a crop-sensor camera and would be an awesome starter camera.  It may shoot slower and not focus as fast as the newer “kids on the block” but it’ll kick out magazine and poster quality shots if you do your part and hold it steady and shoot with a quality lens!


You can spend more on a crop sensor camera too, of course!


If I wanted a top-end wildlife shooting machine, and I do, I would save up and get the Canon EOS 7D Mark 2  (and I hope to)!


Canon Eos 7D mark 2

One of the top wildlife cameras available today would have to be the Canon EOS 7D Mark 2. Image courtesy By A.Savin, CC BY-SA 3.0,


The 7D Mark 2 sells for about $1500 on Amazon and fires away at up to 10 frames per second and has super fast autofocus ability, as well.  It is a fairly new camera and is a substantial upgrade of the older EOS 7D (now discontinued by Canon but you can still buy them on Amazon for about $850.).  This was/is a great camera, as well, but performance-wise the newer Mark 2 version reportedly beats it in just about every respect (I don’t know, because I have not shot either one.)  The choice is yours!


When it comes to getting a great wildlife lens.  I would be one and done these days! That is the new Canon 100-400 mm f/4-5.6 IS 11 zoom would be my main choice if I were just gearing up.  This lens is all you would really need!  The reviews I have seen on this newer and updated design of the old version of this lens are pretty fantastic. This lens runs about $1700 on Amazon and you can still find the older model for about half that.


Canon 100-400 mark-2

The Canon 100-400 Mark 2 is an updated of the older version and is reported to be better in all respects. This would make the ideal one-lens-does-all wildlife lens for many people!

Canon 100-400 f/4-5.6 zoom lens

The original Canon 100-400 L Lens. Not as good as the newer version but is still a great all-around wildlife lens and has been used by pros to produce magazine quality images for years. It’s still available and is about half the cost of the new design.


Keep in mind that when it comes to saving money, it is a better idea to save on the camera and invest more into the lens! 


You could opt for a used Canon 40D or 50D (not discussed but a slight upgrade of the 40D and still available used) for under $300 and one of the Canon 100-400 mm lenses just discussed.


Other Stuff:


You’ll want to start looking into tripods if you do much shooting.  Although, with today’s camera’s and the internal stabilization systems that they use, it is much easier to get high-quality photographs without a tripod than it used to be.

Plus, the digital quality has gotten so good that one can shoot in very low light these days without the need for a tripod either.


I say without the need for one…that is not to say that you wouldn’t get better photographs without support — because you would!  However, sneaking around the farm with a tripod is just plain cumbersome and non-fun! So, I rarely take one these days except for low-light shooting out of a blind or something similar.


A bean-bag is almost a necessity.  They are inexpensive and allow you to really get a good stable shot with your camera.  

Use one balanced on the edge of your half-rolled down truck or car window when you drive around a refuge or park.  This will support your camera almost as well as a tripod when you have to stop suddenly to take that picture of that monster buck along the edge of the road!




Iowa Fence Law — A Peek Inside

Iowa Fence Law — A Peek Inside

When pondering Iowa fence law, my mind drifts back to a client and I busting through some thick nasty cover one sultry day a few July’s back, swatting flies as we walked, and checking out the fenceline on a 120-acre farm along the Des Moines river, in Iowa.


“This fence is pretty rough,” he said, as we paused at the top of a little ravine.


Your right this fence-line can barely be called a fence-line, that’s for sure.  I answered back.


From the looks of things, no livestock had been on either side of that fence in a long, long, time.


And it appeared that neither landowner really cared about the condition of the fence anymore since neither seemed to have livestock to contain.


“What are my obligations for the fence,” my client asked.   “Am I required to make the fence better or build a new fence if I buy the place”?






A look into The Iowa fence law code:


(The Iowa fence law code is very old and some of it dates back to the late 1800’s and earlier!)


If you are an Iowa landowner then you may already be familiar with Iowa fence law.


The law is rather out-dated and there are plenty of folks who disagree with some or all of it (especially those that don’t own livestock, it seems.)


The law states that existing border fences be maintained by both landowners and that the expense shared by both adjacent landowners.


Additionally, if there is no border fencing, and if one owner decides to have one, then that person can demand, by written request, the adjacent landowner to build a legal fence.


“Respective owners of adjoining tracts of land shall upon written request of either owner be compelled to erect and maintain partition fences, or contribute thereto, and keep the same in good repair throughout the year.” (a)






Who Pays for the Fence?


In determining how to apportion fence responsibilities under the statute, many landowners have traditionally applied the right-hand rule: two adjoining property owners, facing each other at the center of the fence along their shared property boundary, each agree to build the right half from the center of the property to the end of the property line. While this is an acceptable practice, it is not based in statutory or case law. Thus, it is not a required method of allocation. ( Iowa Fence Requirements: A Legal Review By Kristine A. Tidgreni July 27, 2016 )


Let’s go back to the question of my client.


Does he need to make that poor, below-code, fence-line better if he buys the land? Even though neither side owns or runs livestock?


He may need to make that border fence-line better – it all depends upon what the adjacent landowner desires.


For one thing, if the adjacent landowner requests a fence then it needs to be a legal fence. (If neither neighbor cares about having a fence then there is no statutory requirement to have one).


A legal fence means it must meet the minimum criteria the established by the Iowa code.
Iowa fence law code.


What if the adjacent landowner desires, an even better fence than the Iowa fence law code has established as the minimum allowance for a legal fence?  The Iowa fence law provides that all partition fences may be made tight by the party desiring it, and when that party’s portion is so completed, the adjoining landowner must follow suit. ( Iowa Code § 359A.19.)   A tight fence must be “securely fastened to good substantial posts, set firmly in the ground, not more than 20 feet apart.” (Iowa Code § 359A.20 )





All tight partition fences shall consist of:

1. Not less than twenty-six inches of substantial woven wire on
the bottom, with three strands of barbed wire with not less than
thirty-six barbs of at least two points to the rod, on top, the top
wire to be not less than forty-eight inches, nor more than fifty-four
inches high.
2. Good substantial woven wire not less than forty-eight inches
nor more than fifty-four inches high with one barbed wire of not less
than thirty-six barbs of two points to the rod, not more than four
inches above said woven wire.
3. Any other kind of fence which the fence viewers consider to be
equivalent to a tight partition fence or which meets standards
established by the department of agriculture and land stewardship by
rule as equivalent to a tight partition fence.






You may wonder if you have a duty to build and or to maintain a boundary partisan fence if you do not own livestock?


It would seem that the answer would be no.


But the real and legal answer, it seems, is yes.


In Iowa, landowners with livestock have a duty, by law, to fence their livestock in so that they don’t run at large. (lawful duty to fence livestock in)


However, adjacent landowners who do not own livestock are obligated by law to maintain their portion of any boundary partisan fence. (lawful obligation to keep livestock out)


This means that even if you do not own livestock and you do not maintain a sufficient and legal partition fence then you have little to no recourse for any possible damages that may be caused by livestock escaping onto your land.


The livestock owner would likely not be held responsible for damages if you do not maintain a legal partisan fence to keep his livestock out.


The law is pretty crazy in this regard if you ask me. But that is the way it is.


But that is the way it is.


It is sort of like saying, I’ve got this pit-bull here in my yard on this leash.


But he is big and mean and nasty and he may break that thing and dash off. If he comes into your yard and mauls you, I can’t be held responsible because you didn’t put up an appropriate barrier to stop him.


I realize that sounds like a silly and extreme example but it is based on the same logic as the Iowa fence code is using in regard to livestock.


What do you think?


The Iowa fence law code does establish a nice base point at which boundary line disputes and rights of ownership can be corrected and maintained.


Disputes between neighbors regarding boundary fencing are resolved by fence viewers who are township trustees – either 3 or 5 registered voters of the township – that have been given special power to resolve fence-line controversies. They do not have the authority, however, to resolve legal boundary issues.




Property Ownership


There are ways in which property ownership rights can be established and transferred based simply upon where the partisan fence is located.


If a boundary fence exists and both sides don’t dispute it’s location for a period of at least 10 years, then that it becomes the legal boundary (boundary by Acquaintance). This is important because even though a boundary fence exists this does not mean it is on the real legal boundary or that it is on the exact location that a survey of the land would reveal. But after ten years, if neither landowner disputes the location of the partition fencing, then that becomes the legal border regardless (Iowa Code § 650.6)


This important for landowners to realize because often certain sections of border fencing is placed for convenience.


Fencing by convenience is not uncommon at all, and in fact, is done all the time, especially on rough and rugged terrain.


This is done to make it easier get around something when fencing off the border – perhaps the real line is close to the edge of a rock bluff or goes across a creek with big, steep hillside, for example.


In these cases, a landowner may place fencing just off to the edge of these places or slightly off and around the edge of these areas to more conveniently run the fence and, thus, dodge the obstacle.


If you are a landowner and have any questions regarding your land borders, I suggest going to the courthouse and looking at your plat-of-land. (county auditor).


Again, is not uncommon to have at least some portion of a fence-line, to be run by convenience, especially on large or “rugged” farms. If you find such to be the case on your farm, you should notify your neighbor right away, in writing, that you have knowledge of the real border in those areas and that the partition fence is not on it.


The are other ways ownership rights can be dictated and transferred by way of Iowa fence law code.


Something similar to Easement by Acquaintance is Easement by Prescription


With Easement By Prescription, both owners have knowledge that a border fence exists in the wrong area but they continue to use it as though it is placed correctly. If both sides continue to use the borders as the “real border” for a period of 10 years or more, then ownership rights can transer by means of easement by prescription.  (When a landowner “uses another’s land under a claim of right or color of title, openly, notoriously, continuously, and hostilely for ten years or more” an easement by prescription is created. Iowa Code § 564.1.)


Adverse Possession:


Finally, misplaced fences could result in land acquired via “adverse possession.” Adverse possession is a similar doctrine to an easement by prescription, however adverse possession is obtained by occupying the land, not simply using it. (Iowa Code § 564.1.)



This covers some of the basics regarding Iowa fence law to get more details you should download


Iowa Fence Requirements: A Legal Review By Kristine A. Tidgreni July 27, 2016  (button at the bottom of this post)






Something fishy with Iowa fence law:




Picture of a fence across lake.

Sometimes a partisan fence runs right through the middle of a pond or lake.






In Iowa, landowners own the bottom of any lake or pond bed that sits on their land. In certain instances, the boundaries between adjacent landowners may run through a portion of a lake or pond.


Can a landowner put up a fence that runs through a lake or pond and on their property border, and fence other’s out?




However, many owners choose to make different agreements that allow all owners of a shared lake to enjoy the whole water source. (b)




a: Gravert v. Nebergall, 539 N.W.2d 1184 (Iowa 1995).
b: Fence Feuds: A Two-Sided Story
posted by Shannon Holmberg | Jul 16, 2015




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Cost-Share Money For Iowa Landowners!

Cost-Share Money For Iowa Landowners!

Did you know you there is a really good chance you can get LOADS of money for FREE?

Did you know that you can get cost-share dollars for some or all of your various Iowa wildlife projects? 

That’s right – money for nothin’!

You may already know that cost-share money is available each year to Iowa landowners to various sorts of things.

Projects such as tree plantings, timber stand improvement, wetlands establishments, etc., are all eligible for significant cost-share money paid straight to the landowner.  Typical cost-share percentages range from 50-75% of the total cost to establish the approved project.

Picture of someone planting a tree. Cost-share money is readily available for this practice in Iowa.

Tree plantings provide valuable wildlife habitat as well as to help provide clean water and air for everyone. They can also become a valuable economic component for the landowner.

This can add up to some huge savings in cost, particularly when doing large projects — we are talking thousands of dollars of savings!

What are the cost-share programs in Iowa?

One cost-share program is called REAP.

This is an acronym for Resource Enhancement and Protection Program. REAP is great for funding timber stand improvement projects and tree plantings.  Payment rates are very good: up to 75% of the projected project cost.  (the district forester must examine the site to determine the suitability of the desired project for the site and provides the landowner a dollar number that the state would pay for the project on a per-acre basis)



Typical REAP requirements the project(s) is to be completed within a year.

Completed projects are then approved by the state district forester or wildlife biologist for the particular region of your land within the state.


REAP cost-share funding allotment diagram.


A Stewardship Plan for the landowner is typically required and is drafted by the area biologist or forester.

 A management plan is also required. 

These are typically also drafted by these professionals.

Or, should you decide to hire a private conservation improvement service or a forestry consultant, they may draft a plan for you (so long as their plan is approved by the state forester or biologist.  The private consultant or service works in conjunction with the state-employed professionals to ensure the project is completed according to the approved site plan)


All of this may sound sort of confusing, at first, but it’s really NOT that bad!  Believe me, if I can figure this stuff out, so can you!


Another cost-share program is EQIP.


This is an acronym for Environmental Quality Incentives Program.  This program allows cost-share funding for various forestry and wildlife related projects as well.

The EQIP programs allows cost-share funding for many of the same types of projects as the REAP program does.  One major difference is that the EQIP program has a continuous signup period.  With priority given to the applications that come in first — first-come, first served.

For 2017, there is priority ranking to all applications received to Oct 21.  There is a second priority cutoff of March 17.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t apply after these dates.  You can apply at any time.

A second major difference between EQIP and the REAP programs is that EQUIP rates are typically lower than those through REAP.

Why would anyone choose to go with EQIP instead of REAP then, you ask?

For one reason, money is pretty much always available through EQIP.

REAP cost -share funding is granted on an annual basis to Iowa with counties getting funded, typically, in late summer.  Many counties run out of REAP funding by early spring or earlier.  So if your county is out of REAP funding when you like to do your project, then you can always sign up for EQUIP instead.

Both programs require management plans.  These can be drafted by the project biologist, forester, or professional company hired to complete the project.

Still, other cost-share and income producing programs exist for Iowa landowners.


Most everyone has heard of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) .

Many people envision a vast sea of grasses sweeping across the landscape when thinking of a CRP field.

Most of these fields would be considered general signup projects.

This is where the United States Department of Agriculture pays landowners to plant approved fields to grassland habitat to protect those acres from erosion.  These general sign-up periods happen from time to time and often seem to occur at the spur of the moment!

It’s a good idea to continually monitor the Iowa Farm Service Agency’s website or stay in-tune with your county FSA office for updates on the CRP program and any sign-up periods.


picture of a grass field. Cost-share dollars are available at different times to plant CRP fields of native grasses.

Field of Conservation Reserve Planting grasses


Landowners are generally allowed a percentage of the establishment cost to plant these fields — typically up to 50%

This saves the landowner thousands of dollars and helps him make his land way more valuable, too, from wildlife and recreational value perspective, as well! It’s a big win-win!

CRP programs pay the participant on an annual basis and contracts are either for 10 or for 15 years.

And, there is WAY more to CRP than just the continual sign-up program.

From bee pollinator grass and flower plantings, to food plots, wetland establishment and tree plantings.  If you own land and desire to help your wildlife and the environment  – and your recreational land value – then you need to investigate deeper into the various CRP practices that exist.

At last count, there were 42 different CRP practices that eligible Iowa landowners can sign up for on a continuous basis.  That means, there is no sign-up period for these programs.  You can go into your county FSA office and apply for these programs at any time.

There are various wetland conservation programs that are available to landowners as well.  The various contracts and options of enrollments are numerous and somewhat complicated.  You can dig into that information as desired.

And there is also something called the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSR).

Through the CSR landowner,s can acquire cost-share dollars to help with prescribed burning, upland wildlife management, wetland habitat improvements, crop tree management to increase mast (fruit and nut) production, tree plantings and more!

You can even use CSR to create wildlife movement corridors, for wildlife watering management and for help with leaving standing crops available to deer and other wildlife.  You can even get cost-share funding to improve monarch butterfly habitat.

Of course, there are stipulations on using the CSR:  you have to first qualify and be approved.

Just like all the other programs.  With the CSR program, there are income limitations on individuals to qualify for cost-share dollars and there are other stipulations as well.  But it is a program worth check out!



10 Reasons Why You Should Own Land

10 Reasons Why You Should Own Land

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As an Iowa real estate broker, I get calls like it at least once a week.


Do you think now is a good time to buy land“.   Or, “why should I invest in land instead of the stock market“.


I also get statements.


I sure wish I’d have invested in land 10 years ago when it was so cheap, I’d be retired today!”


Or, like this one.  “If I just would have bought that farm a few years back when it was for sale — look at what it is worth now!


Hind sight is always 20/20.  What will we be saying 10 years from now when we all glance back to the present day?  The same sorts of things?


You might be thinking that land prices have esculated so much over the past decade or so that it’s too expensive to buy now.


It’s true — land prices have gone up, in general, over the past decade. But that is a good thing not a bad thing, as a land buyer.  After all, if land prices trended downward each year than it wouldn’t be such a great investment.  The fact the land prices generally trend upward over time is a reason to buy land not to back awary from land.


In Iowa, the last few years, land prices have actually slipped from what they were just a few years back — because commodities like soybeans and corn have dropped in value.  So make no mistake about it: investing in land is like investing in anything else, there is performance risk, it might not go up.  There are no guarantees in land investing.  


But if you believe in using history as a guide to the future, then you should believe that a land investment could be a good one.


Land prices rise and fall, for sure.  


There is a finite supply of land.   As the world populatinon continues to climb, competetion for this resource will go up. That means price will go up.  Maybe not now, or tomorrow, or next month, but they will go up — and they will go down!  

Make no mistake about it — investing in land, like any other investment, is often a roller-coaster ride.  But if your in it for the long haul — as you should normally be with land — then things look good for the future.



Here are 10 reason why, I believe, land is a great investment:


1).  They just aren’t making any more of it!


As we stated above, land is a finite resource.  Based on the law of supply and demand, it just makes sense that as the number of people increases so too does the demand for available resources.

And, since they aren’t making any more land these daysprices should increase, over time.

Makes sense, right?


2).  Land Doesn’t Break!


picture of broken water pipe with X.

Lots of investors get into rental properties and housing, in general, to create wealth.


Housing is a great wealth builder.  And so is land.


The nice part about land compared to housing, though, is that it doesn’t break.   It’s a simple characteristic of land that makes it so appealing — land just sits there asking for no favors and requires little to no maintainance.

Nothing really happens to it.  

That’s my kind of property!



3).  Land is a “Hands Off” investment.


Since land doesn’t break, and for the most part, there is nothing to do.  It just sits there.  Quietly. Asking you for nothing.


That’s a great thing: land is not constantly falling apart, like housing does.


Land is sort of boring this way.


But boring is good.  Because it frees up your time to do other things you would rather be doing like fishing.


Of course, there are things you may need to do with some types of land — such as putting up border fencing.  But, in general, land is much more of a hands off or “laissez faire” investment than comparable options in the world of real estate such as housing.


Iowa land value chart

4)  Land values don’t normally swing wildly.  

Ever own some shares of stock and find out a short time later that they dipped in value — I mean really dipped in value!


This is pretty common. Shares of individual company stock swing up and down, short term, like a paper airplane in the breeze.  Land doesn’t do that on a normal basis.  


On a normal, day-to-day basis, the value of any individual land parcel general stays pretty constant.  (of course, things could happen to change the value of any individual piece of land quickly — like a notice of a new airport being discussed in the local paper, a notice for a new mall on the edge of town, or a hog confinement coming to the land near you.  


Things happen and prices of anything can go up or down fast.  But, in the grand scheme of investments, land prices generally stay pretty constant, compared to many others.  And, in Iowa at least, land tends to progress upward over time.  (Note: chart/diagram above)



5).  Land is easy to finance –  and you get the “power” of using other people’s money.


There is no doubt about it.  Using other people’s money, albiet, from a friend, relative, bank or otherwise, carries risk and can create stress. You want to be careful any time you borrow money and be sure of your finances before you do.  You want to be able to pay it back each month without undo stressing yourself or your loved ones.


But, as long as you are careful, financing real estate with other people’s money can be a real boon to your pocket book.


Assuming the land you purchase carries some sort of monthly return back to you — this could be income from crop ground rental, a hunting lease, government subsidy payment such as CRP, a timber sale, etc.,  — you come out ahead of other investment vehicles that don’t pay cash back to you each month.


And, any return you get back from any land income sources can be used to pay for the monthly/yearly interest on the loan and you may even make a return over and above that amount that allows you to pay down the principle too.


Using the power of borrowed money “leverages” returns in your favor over time, assuming a gradual increase in the value of the land. This enables you to buy more with less money out of your own pocket.


This allows you to use any excess cash toward other things like more land purchases, home maintaincence, family things, or a fishing trip. This is something that is often forgotten but shouldn’t be.  By not having to pay “all cash” to buy land you get to keep more cash in your pocket for necessities, goodies, or other investments. 



6).  Tax Advantages


While land itself cannot be depreciated over time to help reduce your tax burden, improvements to the land can (such as fencing, driveways, tree shelters, and buildings).  You’ll need to discuss this in detail with your tax manager or accountant.  But land does have some potential advantages here over other investments (such as common stock).


Also, Iowa has the Forest Reserve Program.  This enable owners of forestland to take the land off the tax roll!  That’s correct: you pay zero real estate taxes!



7).  Enjoyment of Use



The fapicture of couple walking on land.ct is, it’s hard to find much fun use out of a stock certificate.


With land, you can use it.  You can enjoy it.  It’s sitting there, quietly, waiting for you and your family to get some use out of it.


What can you do?  You can hunt, fish, hike, bike, walk, run, ski, camp, build, etc.  You can do wildlife photography.

You can just go “reflect”.  The point is that you can enjoy it however you desire.  It’s hard to enjoy using a stock certificate!


8).  Government Programs



Land has all sorts of options in regard to programs that help you to not only pay for the land but to make it better.


Did you hear that right?  The government will help you pay for your land through these programs and to make it better!

In Iowa, the Resource Enhancement and Protection Program (REAP) provides funding to help landowners make various improvements to wildlife and wildlife habitat on their land.


The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is another program that provides millions of dollars to landowners across the nation to protect sensitive tillable acres from massive erosion and to enhance the wildlife habitat in these areas.


There are LOADS of other programs available to landowner as well.  Such programs can make the land more valuable to the landowner.  These programs also enhance the wildlife habitat as well as create, protect, and promote vital wildlife ecosystems.  These programs help the whole nation by enhancing soil and water quality for everyone to benefit from.



9).  Land Can Create Multiple Streams of Income For You.



Picture of money.

In the form of cash rent from farming, hunting leases, government program payments (CRP, REAP, EQUIP, etc.,).


These cash streams are like housing tenants that provide income to you each month.  The only differnce is these “tenants” don’t break down your property!

Ring up another victory for land investing!


Wind turbines, cell towers, oil drilling, etc., are some other potential ways your land could literally be handing you cash on a regular basis.


Of course, the income any particular piece of land has the ability to produce depends on lots of factors.  Every land parcel and location is different.  You’ll just have to analyze the potential of each parcel of land you find.




10).  Land Creates Wealth



There is no doubt about it.


By buying land at the right price, with good financing, and by creating cash flow with all the cash flow creation opportunities that we’ve already discussed (crop rental, various leases, gov. programs), it’s not hard to create solid long-term wealth through land investing.


I am not here to tell you that any land deal is a great land deal because it isn’t.  You have to shop. You have to buy right.


You have to get to know the in’s and out, as you do when investing in anything.  But I am hear to tell you, it’s not that hard and that you CAN do it.  People have been investing, and profiting, and building wealth with land for ions…it’s nothing new.

But, still, so many people don’t do it.  It’s amazing.  So many people have just their family residence as their biggest investment.  You can do better.  You can gain more wealth.  Wise land investing could be just what you have been looking for!


I wish only the best of luck to you and your endeavors!

What is This Thing Called CSR?  (corn suitability rating)

What is This Thing Called CSR? (corn suitability rating)

His name was Brad


It was one of those first-thing-out-of-bed and my hair-is-still-wet from the shower phone calls. 


You know what I mean. 


A still I’m very groggy and I-haven’t-had-a-cup-of-coffee yet phone call.


“I just came back from Iowa and I am really excited about finally being able to buy some land out there,” he quipped excitedly.  He was calling from out of state – way, way, way – out of state.   And had just come back from a successful Iowa deer hunt. 


Sounds great, I said.   I’m glad you had a great hunt.  How much land are you looking for and in what part of the state?


“I’m looking for about 200 acres with a good mix of tillable and timber for hunting.  I’m looking to spend up to $400,000 tops, and preferably, less.” he continued.  “I need some good tillable to support my mortgage payment on the land; I need to get a really good rental rate of those acres to an area farmer.”


I really need to have something that brings in at least $20,000 per year in income,” Brad said. “I’m really excited about this and I’m ready to buy right away if I can find what I am looking for.”  


“By the way,”  Brad continued.   What is this thing called CSR that a friend told me about the other day and what does it have to do with the value of land”?


We talked and talked for probably an hour-and-a-half and we covered a lot of bases in regard to his questions.


In the end, though, long story shorter, Brad did not end up buying any land at all – something in regard to a family situation popping up, I guess.   But his call got me thinking of all the questions regarding Iowa’s CSR index  — or corn suitability index — that I’ve had over the years.  

The CSR index is unique to Iowa and I’ve found that many folks don’t really know what it is.  So, I thought it was due time to shed some light on that.



Corn Suitability Rating examined:


The Corn Suitability Rating (CSR) was established in 1971 by Iowa State University as a means to rate the productivity of Iowa tillable soils.


With this system, soil are segregated in a meaningful way based on similar physical properties and are arranged into mapping units.  Corn suitability rating (CSR) is based upon these different soil mapping units (smu’s), average weather conditions for the area, and upon the frequently of use of the soil for row crops. 


Corn suitability rating’s range from 5-100.   Five being soils that are severely limited in being able to be row cropped.   And, with 100 being soils with few or with no physical limitations on being row cropped, having little or no slope, and that can be continuously row cropped. 


As you can see, basically, the higher the CSR unit of the land the more valuable, from a production standpoint, it is to the farmer and to the landowner in general.


Iowa farmland value by productivity chart

Something else to note about the CSR index is that it has gotten more accurate over time, as the overall knowledge base and classification of soils has become more refined.

The New Corn Suitability Rating:


In 2013, Iowa State University came out with a new version of CSR called the CSR2.  You might deem this the new and improved CSR index. 


Well, sort of.


The major difference between the old CSR and the new CSR2 has to do with rainfall.  That being, the CSR2 value does not include a rainfall correction factor, built in, as did the old corn suitability rating. 

It seems that, over time, rainfall rates have generally increased across Iowa so that having the correction factor was not needed. 


Interestingly, that, in general, at least, CSR2 values tend to be higher in north-central and in northwest Iowa, than CSR values.  For the rest of the state, the two indicators are very similar. 


Keep in mind that with both indexes these assumptions exist:  soil management units are adequately managed, are artificially drained when required and that there is no land leveling or terracing.


(Note: part of the above was taken adapted from Sassman, Buras and Miller – “A Comparison of Iowa’s Original CSR index to the new CSR 2 index.  Dept. of Agronomy, Iowa State University).

Will the new CSR2 index affect my real estate taxes? 


In general “NO”.  


Here’s how the county assessor deals with CSR in relation to establishing real estate taxes.


Chart of Iowa county assessors. How land is taxed.

As you may imagine, from our discussion so far, CSR values are directly tied to land values. In fact, The two are generally directly related.  I say generally because this is not always so clearly defined as we’ll discuss in a second.


Iowa farmland prices in relation to CSR.  (Sometimes CSR in relation to land prices is discussed as dollars-per-CSR point in relation to price per acre.  For example a price of $100 per CSR point on X number of acres that have a CSR value of 60:   Equals 60 points x $100 per point == $6,000 per acre)



2013 land value by csr point top sales chart

Segmentation of Acres impacts production and valuation using just CSR Index:



When a  farm is segmented, as so many recreational tracts are, the relationship between CSR value, as may be examined as CSR points-per-acre becomes less clear. 



Example: A

A large crop field with easy access means it’s easy for the farmer to get in and out of to plant and to harvest.  Lots of acres in one place also means the farmer does not have to relocate his equipment to a different location to do the same things.  This saves him time and money.


Example:  B

Suppose we have the same amount of acres as in example A. That is, the same amount of acres but they are broken up or segmented into several smaller fields.  Separated, perhaps, by a creek crossing, parcels of timber, or a few miles distance between the fields. These things mean the farmer will need more time to plant and more time to harvest the same amount of acres as in example A.

It also means more expense because of the travel between fields with big equipment.  Segmented fields also have more edge.  This is great for wildlife, especially deer.  But it does mean that these fields will receive more browsing pressure and predation from animals.


Smaller fields, in Iowa, tend to get heavily browsed by deer.  

And, also, turkeys eat lots of planted seeds. Animals like raccoons, squirrels and, even beaver, eat seed and damage crops too. These things all play against the market and production value of smaller individual fields vs bigger fields with  identical CSR values and the same amount of acres.  


As can be seen in this comparison, two farms, each having identical acres and identical CSR indexes, can have very different real values to the farmer and, hence, to the landowner.  In the market place, these acres would also have different market values. 


So, using CSR values as a direct pricing mechanism when buying and selling can be a bit tricky and subjective. 


Basing the value of acres using just the CSR index alone is not really enough. 

One also needs to take into account these other factors such as field size, ease of access, animal browsing potential, edge component, and total recreational potential (This is not discussed here but we’ll hit this topic in a future blog post.  Do note that the recreational market value potential goes up with field segmentation, in general.  Just the opposite of valuation using of such fields using just the CSR index).



Looking at a Soils map:  The Letters mean Slope


Something else you will see on soils maps are letters after the soils designated classification number.  You see something like 13B.  The number refers to how the soils is classified by mapping unit and the letter refers to the slope of the land.

Part of topographical map showing soils and slopes.

B == 2-5% slopes

C== 5-9% slopes

D==9-14% slopes

E==14-18% slopes

(no letter designates little to no effective land slope)

As you might imagine, CSR and land the slope of the land have an opposing relationship.  That is, the more the land slopes the lower is the CSR value.

And, therefore, usually, too, the lower is the value of the land, from a pure crop production valuation standpoint.  (Not necessarily from a recreational value standpoint).

Stay tuned to our blog, as I’m sure we’ll discuss market valuation from a recreational value perspective – instead of just an income perspective — as it relates to CSR indexes of tillable acres.


Lastly, you might check out this video on soils and soil properties.



Soil Properties Video  (outside link)

No Real Estate Taxes with Iowa Forest Reserve Program

No Real Estate Taxes with Iowa Forest Reserve Program


Do you own a parcel of forestland in Iowa?

Maybe it’s a solid 100, 150, or even 200 acres.  Maybe it’s just 5 acres.  Maybe you have a farm with sections of timber scattered about.  (as is, most commonly the case).


 Are you tired of paying real estate taxes on land?  (Dumb question right?)


We’ll you don’t have to pay taxes on Iowa forestland acres!




Yes, you heard me correct.


If you do own some Iowa forestland and don’t want to pay taxes then, of course, you can’t just stop paying your real estate taxes.


There is an application.  Iowa Forest Reserve Law (brochure)  


But, in general, the rules are minimal and to many Iowa landowners the benefit of not having to pay real estate taxes on their forestland acres far outweigh the rules and stipulations that must be followed to reap the tax saving’s benefit.

To sign up, go to the county assessor’s office in the county in which you own the land.   Take a map of your property with you and circle all the areas you would like to enroll in the Iowa Forest Reserve Program.


Here are some of the basic criteria:

  • Must be at least 2 contiguous acres.

  • Must be at least 200 trees per acre (forestland), or 70 trees per acre (fruit trees).

  • must keep livestock out of the area.

There are some other minor stipulations as well regarding the Iowa Forest Reserve Program be sure to check those out on the link page above.  (from the Iowa DNR)