By Curt Wells, Equipment Editor
If anything could be called a "blemish" on the 2003 elk forecast for North America, it would have to be drought. As I was compiling this forecast, many elk states, particularly in the Southwest, were suffering severe drought. Fortunately, the winter was mild, which was a godsend. With poor range conditions in some wintering areas, a tough winter could have spelled disaster.
If drought continues through the summer, it will affect elk hunting in several ways.
One, if summer range conditions and high-country meadows don't provide adequate forage for elk, herds will work down to lower elevations. That relocation will have a major bearing on where early-season bowhunters will find elk. If the elk are forced low enough they could mean end up on private lands, where poor access and crop damage could be problems.
Two, if hot, dry weather persists, wildfires could be severe. Every elk hunter with experience keeps an ear tuned to weather forecasts and fire reports throughout the summer. If your favorite elk ground burns up, your hunt will likely be transformed into a scouting/camping trip.
Three, hunting elk in hot, dry weather presents additional challenges beyond the usual high degree of difficulty. Hot weather reduces daytime activity, bugling tends to be less effective, and waterhole hunting becomes more effective. And, the task of caring for a downed elk in hot weather can be a huge logistical consideration.
Four, poor feed conditions can result in reduced antler growth and sub par trophy quality.
Despite the specter of drought (not all elk states/provinces are dry), bowhunters will find excellent elk populations no matter where they go this fall. ColoradoÃ‚'s elk herd is still well above management objectives, and no state or province is reporting declining elk herds, except where wildlife departments are reducing herds purposely through intense harvest.
The best advice is: Hope for rain, accept the hunting conditions you're dealt, then put some sharp broadheads in your quiver and head for elk country. It's the most beautiful place on the planet.