Overall Activity Status: When Wind River Whitetails’ Teresa Reinhart went to pull trail cameras on the afternoon of October 3rd, she battled a wicked wind to secure pictures of new, even bigger deer showing up on film, like this fat-necked bruiser. Rubs and scrapes were “everywhere,” according to Reinhart. And she had to hit the brakes mid-day for deer–including bucks–crossing the road after the cold snap amped up deer movement, as it appears to have done across the region based on scattered reports after the mid-week cold snap.
Even here in Richland–the warmest place in Washington that enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year, temperatures at night dipped into the 30s last week. Across most of the West, nighttime temperatures dropped well below freezing. Not much precipitation accompanied the cold, but high winds ushered it in.
The wind tore through the Wind River Valley near Riverton, Wyoming, as it often does, and it got cold, but not nearly so cold as in Beulah. Temperatures in the EHD-stricken northeast corner dipped mercifully into the teens and are set to stay well below freezing through Saturday. With the gnats likely dying en masse, I suspect Wyoming Game and Fish will tell me next week that the wicked EHD epidemic is over, but I can’t confirm that yet.
Reports of dead and dying deer will first have to stop flooding into state officials, but 17 degrees certainly meets the criteria of a hard freeze.
Even in an Indian Summer like the one we’ve experienced in 2012, a significant storm system and colder temperatures typically arrive during early October. But this one yielded little precipitation to alleviate the extreme fire conditions in Washington State, where a statewide burn ban is set to remain in effect until at least October 15th. The cold is great news for the muzzleloader elk hunt for which I am set to leave, but bad news for my fireless elk camp high in the Blue Mountains. Twenty-five-hundred feet of elevation below my camp in some of the state’s best whitetail habitat near Dayton, Washington, where I’ll bird and deer hunt this fall, landowners report super-active and abundant whitetails. In 2008, EHD ravaged deer around Dayton. The fecundity of whitetails is easy to see four years later.
With the very recent shift in the weather, it’s not yet clear if the bucks have abandoned their bachelor groups, but it seems likely. New reports should yield some perspective on the extent to which the nip of fall has affected deer, which have been holding in summer patterns throughout the Inland Northwest and even most of the Northern Rockies.
Tonight doesn’t feel like summer. My wife just cranked up the furnace for the first time this fall.
Still, the West is dry right now, drier and more drought-stricken the further East one looks. A best-case scenario would allow me to report next week that significant precipitation had soaked the crispy landscape, but forecasts call for warmer temperatures next week and little to no precipitation.
Fighting: Bucks out West won’t fight for does for at least another month, but they are actively sparring. Boulder Creek Outfitter’s Matt Craig reports a client took an exhausted buck on October 10th of 2011 that still had its antlers locked with its dead sparring partner.
Rub Making: Reports of rub making have been coming in for weeks, and it’s likely that this cold snap will have ignited the rub making activity even in the region’s most temperate whitetail habitat.
Scrape Making: Reinhart reports lots of early scraping activity on the Wind River. By mid month, scrapes should be turning up all over the West, perhaps a little later here in Washington.
Daytime Movement: Cold nights and a waning moon have deer moving during the day with increased frequency.
X Factor: Cold is helping to stimulate deer and perhaps to end the Black Hills EHD outbreak, but the landscape is parched and begging for a saturating rain or early snow showers.