Court Says Nonresident Hunter's Constitutional Rights not Violated

February 15, 2019 | Kitt Tovar

On February 6, 2019, the Iowa Court of Appeals issued a ruling regarding the right of an out-of-state resident to hunt antlered deer on his property. Because there was a rational basis to distinguish between in-state and out-of-state licensees, the law was constitutional.


A hunter owned 650 acres of land in Iowa which he used for hunting deer and other wildlife. The hunter was a resident of a different state. During the past six years, he was able to hunt deer on his property after obtaining the proper license. Four of the six years he received a nonresident antlered deer hunting license through Iowa’s lottery system. The other two years he received only a nonresident antlerless deer hunting license.

The hunter claimed he met the definition of “Owner” under 483A.24(2)(a)(3) concerning hunting and fishing licenses for residents. In the alternative, he claimed the differential treatment of nonresidents violated his inalienable rights and equal protection rights under the Iowa Constitution. The district court found the law did not violate the hunter’s constitutional rights, and the hunter appealed.

Hunting and Fishing Licenses in Iowa

Iowa law permits an individual who owns land in the state to hunt certain animals on their land without permits and others—specifically deer and turkey—with a license. Iowa Code § 483A. In that section of the law, “owner” is defined as “an owner of a farm unit who is a resident of Iowa.” (Emphasis added). Nonresidents must apply for an antlered deer hunting license. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issues 6,000 antlered licenses to nonresidents in a year through a drawing. If a nonresident landowner does not receive an antlered license, he or she is given preference for the antlerless license. In this way, in-state residents receive more favorable treatment than nonresidents, especially concerning a license to hunt trophy bucks.

Inalienable Rights

On appeal, the court found the law does not violate the hunter’s inalienable rights under the Iowa Constitution. The Iowa Constitution gives all men and women certain inalienable rights which include the right to acquire, possess, and enjoy property. See Gacke v. Pork Xtra, L.L.C., 684 N.W.2d 168, 176 (Iowa 2004).

The right to hunt is not protected by the inalienable rights clause because “landownership in Iowa is not accompanied by the right to hunt on one’s own land.” The legislature has extinguished such a right by giving the State title and ownership of all wild game, animals, and birds as well as creating an extensive statutory scheme to regulate the way in which certain species may be hunted. See, generally Democko v. Iowa Dep’t of Nat. Res., 840 N.W.2d 281, 287 (Iowa 2013).

The court also found the law to be a reasonable exercise of police power. To determine if a law is a reasonable exercise of police power, the court will weigh the overall benefit of the law against the restraint on individual liberty. Because the State owns all wildlife, including deer, the State may also regulate deer hunting. While the State could adopt a different system of regulating deer hunting, there is nothing about the current system which is capricious, arbitrary, or unreasonable. The current statute limits the amount of antlered deer to be hunted which allows the state to ensure there is a gender balance in the deer population.

Because the right to hunt is not protected under the inalienable rights clause and the law is a reasonable exercise of police power, the hunter’s inalienable rights were not violated.

Equal Protection Rights

Additionally, the court considered if the law violated the hunter’s equal protection rights. To do so, the court used the rational basis test, because the hunter was not part of a suspect class and a fundamental right was not involved. The hunter claimed the State must show how the law impacts the deer population in meeting the purpose of the law.

However, nothing in the law requires such data to be reported because if any facts can justify the law, it will pass the rational basis test. The State has a legitimate interest in maintaining the herd size and gender balance of the deer population, in addition to protecting wildlife in general. Because of this, the court found there was a rational basis to distinguish between licensees—residential and nonresidential—as well as types of licenses, antlered or antlerless.