Hunting when it’s dry

With June coming in like a lamb and leaving like a thirstier lamb (Routt County saw only 0.01 inches of precipitation the entire month), hunting conditions could well be like they were last year: dry.

This means everything from low flows in area rivers for fishing and potential fire restrictions when camping to affecting big game movement and behavior.

“If it stays hot and dry, elk and deer will hold up longer in the shade and not want to come out until it cools off,” says Dave Keller, a guide for Silver Creek Outfitters out of Steamboat Springs. “They might not be moving much during the day.”

He adds that game also might try to get to water more, especially during bow season. Sub-par moisture also might affect the growth of feed. While spring rains kicked high-altitude feed into high gear in April and May, herds occupying lower lands might move more than usual. “But there should still be good shade around, so the grass should be fine,” he adds.

If the dryness continues, he adds, hunters also might have to beware of the noises they make when tracking. “It’s noisier with dry growth underfoot,” he says. Another potential factor is scent control. Heat means sweat, whose scent is harder to hide.

Hot, dry weather also changes where and when elk and deer herds feed and sleep. That means paying attention to the top forage locations — which might not be someplace you’re familiar with, forcing you to adapt just like the wildlife.

“Dry conditions can make it challenging when things are different from what hunters are used to,” says state big-game biologist Any Holland, of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, adding that many hunters have grown accustomed to hunting in wetter seasons. Changing tactics, strategy and even hunting areas can be helpful — especially if water sources are scarce.

“People hunting in drier areas will have to find waterholes,” maintains Grand Junction taxidermist and hunter Darryl Powell. “If it stays dry, animals will be moving longer distances to find water.”

Hunters are advised to look for a water source, whether it’s a spring, river or pond — someplace where forage can grow and animals can survive. Parks and Wildlife biologist Brad Banulis encourages hunters to scope out year-round sources, especially perennial streams. Where you find water, he says, you’ll find a food source.

While wildlife officials aren’t too worried about the season, especially with late season rains customary, if the dry spell continues, says Mike Porras, public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Northwest Region, it could negatively affect both forage and hunters’ chances of finding elk. “If it continues into fall, it may present challenges to hunters regarding elk distribution,” he says, adding that if fires come into play they could even close some units, as occurred in 2002. “But we’re still expecting a successful hunting season.”