[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”4″]W[/su_dropcap]ith one of the driest years on record, the Pacific Northwest is looking at potentially some of the toughest hunting conditions in decades. Fire restrictions and private land closures coupled with access restrictions to federal and state lands may make it tougher than ever for hunters to fill their freezers this season. I don’t mean to be Mr. Negative, but I have personally never seen things quite so tough in my lifetime.
What is going on? It’s simple: times are changing. First of all, the weather has thrown a major monkey wrench into where and how we will hunt this season. State agencies throughout the Northwest have declared 2015 “the worst drought on record and 98 percent of Washington is included.” Virtually, every county throughout the region will qualify for some relief funds solely due to weather. “Weather patterns in the region show a strengthening El Niño with warmer water and weather,” said Nick Bond from the office of Washington State Climatologist. This is not great news for many outdoor enthusiasts and will make for tough times ahead.
With that being said, there are still a few bright spots. Brian Wolfer, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist from Springfield, Ore., says, “With no snow cover, there was plenty of winter forage and the south-facing slopes greened up early. This was good for the elk, but it made our herd-composition surveys difficult. The elk should have entered this spring in good condition.”
Wolfer made sure to point out that a prolonged drought could be a different story and would more than likely start to impact populations.
This will be a key ingredient for success this year, and if you haven’t figured out where you might want to hunt, you better start doing some research. It is possible that many locations will have restrictions due to severe fire danger. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting hotter, drier weather for the Pacific Northwest – and California as well – during the weeks leading up to hunting season. But it’s the weather; anything can happen, as we all know.
“We measured several inches of rain in late May, which resulted in very good forage conditions across the district,” says biologist Craig Foster in Lakeview, Ore. “Now with things turning hotter earlier, grasses and forbs will dry and forage quality will drop. If the hot weather persists, I expect to see the few elk we have start using higher elevations or northern slopes to beat the heat and find the best feed. Usually when it’s really hot they spend most of the day bedded and feed early in the morning or late in the evening. This isn’t very different from any other summer, but the amount of time laying around in the shade increases with hotter weather. No matter where you are in the country, the weather patterns have shifted and we must adapt accordingly.”
When it comes to preparing yourself for hunting, make sure that you hit the range several times with your rifle, muzzleloader and archery equipment. If you can’t be in the woods scouting, you might as well get into top shooting form and practice. Shoot at different yardages and at different times of day. People tend to forget that equipment performs differently in relation to temperature and elevation. Acclimate yourself accordingly with your weapon of choice. You might be asking, what does he mean? Every hunting situation produces its own unique set of variables. Practice on windy days, in low-light conditions or in the early morning when it’s cool and foggy. You will find that your confidence level rises when presented with real-life hunting scenarios. The game of success is at least 75 percent mental. Visit some archery 3-D shoots, train-to-hunt challenges, long-range rifle or local competitions to hone your skills.
There is a pretty good chance that you will have to hike and hunt farther from road systems and trails to find your prize this year.
Big game species will frequent the cooler slopes of mountain ridges as they seek out secluded creek drainages with water sources. Find the water in late September and October and you will have increased your odds of success. Many of these locations can be found a ridge or two over from high-traffic areas. Another option for overcoming some of the restrictions this year would be to get into the backcountry. These hunts are difficult and require even more physical excertion and effort. All the more reason to be in the best physical condition.
Eating healthy is very important, and drinking plenty of water along with a balanced vitamin intake can greatly help you hike that extra mile. I like to use Muscle Milk and MTN OPS vitamin and energy supplements during the season. While it is never too late to start a healthy fitness regime, it makes even more sense to stay in shape throughout the year.
So what does this all mean? It means that the places we are familiar with and have hunted in the past may not be accessible this season or even available at all. Making alternative plans and knowing the restrictions in place for your area is top priority. This may be the year you book a guided trip on private lands where access is allowed. Believe me, it is tough to spend the extra money on a hunting trip, but this year, more than ever before, I am more than willing to throw some greenbacks at Mother Nature. If she’s going to throw me a curve ball, I’m going to take my best swing at what she is offering. ASJ
Author’s note: For updates on current land restrictions here are some links: