A dry season: Elk hunters should be prepared to search for water

Elk hunters should be prepared to search for water

Elk love water, and this fall elk hunters hoping to fill the freezer will have to get good at finding water, also. A summer of dry conditions may change the way you hunt elk.

The letter came last week and inside was the much-awaited blue license for the 2012 elk season.

However, that application was made way last winter, and now the conditions call for a change of plans.

But where do you go when it’s hot and dry and the weather shows no signs of changing between now and November?

Over the last few years, when water was plentiful and streams high well into August, big-game hunters got a bit spoiled.

Camp out near a water hole? Forget it. Then, water was everywhere and the animals spread out across the map.

This year, however, you’re going to have to relearn how to hunt, dry conditions and all.

“Yeah, I’m a bit concerned about the dry conditions,” Grand Junction taxidermist and long-time hunter Darryl Powell said. “This lack of water and forage can have a lot to do with antler growth and overall animal health.”

Powell has several things going for him this fall since he drew blackpowder elk and moose tags for Grand Mesa. The moose tag is the only muzzleloader license available this year for the Grand Mesa herd, and it took Powell 15 years of applying to get it.

Powell noted that most of the 200 or so lakes on Grand Mesa still hold a lot of water from 2011, which makes overall conditions on Grand Mesa 180 degrees away from places where water is less bountiful.

“Man, there’s a lot of water up there, so it really shouldn’t change how I hunt that much,” Powell said. “But guys hunting in drier areas, like the Bookcliffs and other places that don’t have a lot of water, will have to find a waterhole and sit on it all day.”

It’s not a complete change for many hunters who already are familiar with scouting the miles of dry country around the Western Slope.

But that dry country is even drier this year, and animals are moving a lot more frequently and longer distances to find water.

“As hunters, most of us are only able to see a snapshot of animal distribution resulting from forage conditions, hunting seasons and other human activity during the season or seasons we hunt,” said state big-game biologist Any Holland of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “That can make it challenging when things are different from what we’re used to.”

And this hunting season is shaping up to be very different from recent hunting seasons. Conditions heading into early July were the hottest and driest in a decade, which means this year you’ll have 10 years of hunting habits to contend with.

Parks and Wildlife Montrose-area biologist Brad Banulis encouraged hunters to scope out year-round water sources, such as the perennial streams running through the canyon country of southwest Colorado.

“Hunters will find there are perennial streams in our units where over-the-counter license are available, but these canyons can be steep and extremely rugged,” Banulis said. “These are areas that elk use for escape cover, but this year that may also be the most reliable water.”

Most places where you find water you’ll also find food, since by midsummer it was obvious most forage was growing close to water.

One thing hasn’t changed: This year, like every year, where you find food and water, you’ll find elk.


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