Last season, we all observed the effects of the nationwide drought on wildlife. Fortunately, we had one of the mildest winters ever to compensate and that resulted in very low winter mortality rates in game animals. Now this year, although somewhat better, we are still in a cycle of drought, and we can expect to see many of the things we saw last year with some new twists.
Available surface water will be at a premium this year. The major rivers running through the west are discharging about 1/3 of their normal volume. So, most of the head water streams and high elevation water holes will be dry. What does this mean for hunters? It means that many of the locations we’ve hunted game in the past will be devoid of life this fall. For example, The area I chose to hunt in Colorado this year had some great looking meadows with lots of small water holes around. A realistic assumption for this year is that those small water holes will all be dry, as well as most of the small headwater creeks.
I would not be surprised to see the elk down at very low elevations even if the weather is hot, the likelihood of finding water up high is going to be as slim as finding it down low. Also, they’ve probably exhausted much of the forage they would have had in the timber from meadows; acorn brush or whatever browse grows locally. I would be looking heavily at irrigated crops and hay land as opposed to alpine meadows for you early season hunters. An unfortunate side effect of irrigated land is that it is usually very difficult to gain access to hunt, but with a little luck and some persistence, you have a better chance at harvesting one of the biggest trophies of your life during times like this. Since even the oldest bucks will have to be on the move to find food.
Last year, I saw many bucks and bulls with only one good side of antler growth. I looked at a dozen bucks one day, trying to find one with a symmetrical rack. All I could find is 4x2’s and 3x1’s or single spikes. Without proper nutrition, we can expect the exact same thing this year. This is another reason to focus your primary attention at those agricultural areas that have available water. Keep in mind that public land with waterways that are getting heavy game traffic will likely draw the attention of many hunters. “Combat Hunting” usually isn’t my number one plan, and I avoid areas like that at all costs.
Here are a couple of ideas if your honey hole comes up dry. Look for places with tall standing marsh grass. These places were the last to have standing water, and may still hold a little. Also, don’t forget to check places that have high numbers of beavers. A beaver dam may be the last thing around holding any water. These are always good places to start in case you’re struggling to get in front of game.