Deer Seek Shelter As Storms Roll Through West Region

Overall activity status: Before sheets of rain for several days forbade target practice, North Idaho's Rich Lindsey was zeroing in his rifle while this doe and others looked on curiously. This behavior is a sure sign general deer and elk seasons have not yet started, but they get underway soon enough, Oct. 10. Lindsey, a Priest lake fishing guide, says more does and a decent four-point hung back in the woods in the protection zone afforded by his property. Protection or not, behavior like this in North Idaho is a good way to end up in the cook pot.

Feed-to-bed is still the name of the game out West since no serious rutting behaviors have been reported in any of the six western whitetail states, but reports of increased daytime activity have come in from Washington, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Oregon. Early fall storms have been sweeping across these states, and daytime observations have become more common. Fall has come early and hard to the West, but Colorado is its own story, and conditions are stabilizing after a violent end to the summer.

After record flooding and tragic losses of life and property in Colorado this September, whitetails are far down the list of topics most folks want to talk about. But after touching base with Jack Cassidy of Cassidy Outfitters, it became clear that flooding is affecting whitetail behavior in an unusual way right now. There's so much standing water that harvesters have not yet cut the corn.

In southeastern Colorado, home to the West's biggest whitetails, standing corn means whitetails never need to leave the protection of corn circles, which offer abundant superfood, water, and shelter. Cassidy says farmers are eager to harvest and will likely get the job done very quickly as soon as conditions improve. When the corn comes down in Southeast Colorado, the bucks come out in search of scarce cover. Cassidy's hunters take to the field in late October, at which time my blog posts will likely light up with corn-fed monsters shot near the heavily private Arkansas River Valley.

Very good numbers of fawns have been observed here during early summer, due in part, Cassidy says, to his predator control program. He says hunters passed on many bucks topping 150 inches last year, including some much larger specimens with many broken tines. With excellent buck-to-doe ratios in Southeast Colorado, the bucks' racks suffer when they go to war with their many large rivals.

Next post we'll look to Wyoming's whitetails, where a storm just dumped several inches of short-lived snow in parts of the state. Forecasts call for warmer, drier, stable conditions across most of the West.

Yesterday in Washington State, I saw two sets of triplet whitetail fawns and lots of twins and singles in the woods near Newport, Wash. They stood out like sulking albinos in their soaking-wet, slightly spotted coats in contrast with their mothers, who looked noticeably more comfortable in their darker adult coats. Many reports from the state's whitetail stronghold - Pend Oreille, Stevens, and Spokane counties - suggest whitetail numbers have increased for a fourth successive year after rough winters in 2008 and 2009 took a heavy toll on populations.

Fighting: Sparring has been reported among young bucks all fall, but not in the past few days due to storm activity limiting viewing. No serious fighting has been reported so far.****

Rub making: Bucks have rid themselves of velvet across the West and are continuing to harden antlers. No specific reports of rubbing came in over the past few days, but torrential rains and wind perhaps played a roll.****

Scrape making: None reported

Chasing: None reported

Daytime movement: Whitetails have been seeking shelter in the teeth of storms across much of the West although observations of increased daytime movement was a major theme from sources.

X-Factor: Fall showed up early, punched summer in the stomach, and inundated much of the West with needed precipitation. Right now, the biggest key for hunters is to stay dry and warm in the field and to get after whitetails as their movement spikes on the tail end of these wicked fall snow and rainstorms that are quieting the landscape as I type. Last year at this time, the West was crispier than hippie cereal. The woods and fields will be much more silent for general deer seasons this October.