Great Plains: Rebuilding the Deer Herd

Things are quiet on the Great Plains as we count down the days to deer openers in Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas. After a disastrous 2012 season that saw drought and disease decimate deer herds across the region, hunters this year seem cautiously optimistic about what's ahead. I liken it to a rebuilding year for a sports team that lost its marquee players -- no one is quite sure how things will turn out, but everyone is hoping for the best and there's just enough glimmer of hope to keep fans, or in this case hunters, coming back.

One of those hunters is South Dakota's Spencer Neuharth, who is excited about the fall, despite a recent emergency appendectomy.

"Not checking trail cameras and shooting my bow will drive me pretty crazy, but I should have plenty of reports for you this year. Hunts will definitely be challenging since most of the areas I hunt are still recovering from EHD. This coming week of 90 degree weather should put the crops back on schedule to be out early. I was getting worried we would be seeing corn fields at the end of October yet."

That rise in temperatures across the Great Plains follows what had been an unseasonably cool summer for much of the region, which slightly mitigated the effects of the ongoing drought. A look at the U.S. Drought Monitor shows the western half of the southern Plains is still suffering from extreme and severe drought, with northwest Kansas gripped in what experts call "exceptional drought." Farther north and east, timely rains have boosted crops and cover, which should help fawn survival rates in those areas.

In fact, a look at that Drought Monitor should be an indication of how the 2013 season will shape up across a region where last year's success varied widely. As deer numbers recover from the great plague of 2012, hunters may have to celebrate small victories, but, as Neuharth's pre-surgery trail cam photo shows, there are still bucks out there to be had.