Friday, April 23, 2021

Snow, a hindrance or help to hunters

| December 3, 2020 12:00 AM

Last Sunday ended Montana’s five-week general deer and elk hunting season. If there is one weather factor that can and does influence hunter success it is snow.

This year, snow, normally desired by hunters, probably raised havoc with hunter success.

Since Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks did not have their usual hunter check stations open this year, there is no current hunter success data to compare to past seasons.

Here is an example how snow affected my success last weekend.

Last Saturday, my wife and I pulled off a road to glass a meadow bordering a large creek.

We were mostly looking for a moose, but were also on the outlook for bull elk. My wife spotted a large animal coming out of the brushy creek bottom and move across a strip of grass between the creek and the timbered hillside.

It wasn’t a moose, but an elk. Then there was a second elk, a third and eventually a total of 10 elk. As best we could tell, all were cows and calves. Try as we could, we could not grow any antlers on any of those elk. Since we were mostly looking for moose, we moved on.

But as I re-thought that early morning elk sighting, I thought there could be a least one bull elk hanging with those cows, hoping for a little post-rut loving.

So, the next morning, I decided to hunt that herd of elk, hoping to find a bull with those cows.

At crack of dawn, I parked my truck and hiked into that elk habitat. But the snow loudly crunched under every one of my footsteps. Two days with afternoon highs of 40 degrees plus some sunshine had softened the snow. A night temperature of 18 degrees froze the crust.

So, my every step was crunch, crunch and crunch. There were elk and deer tracks everywhere, but the loud snow never let me get close to them. So much for my usual desire for tracking snow!

Ten days earlier, my friend Bert and I arrived at my farm by Malta. A several inch snowfall a few days earlier, coupled with typical strong Eastern Montana winds, created snow drifts up to three feet deep. Those drifts were so hard-packed by the wind, that I could walk on top of the snow.

But my truck could not stay on top of the snow drifts. I had to trudge 150 yards from the county road to my farm garage and fire-up my new tractor to plow the driveway before we could drive into the farm yard.

With limited places to drive because of the snow drifts, the next morning we drove down the county road, just west of my farm, to see if the deer we saw the night before were still around.

We spotted 10-15 does and fawns on a high ridge about a mile away. Then we spotted two big mule deer bucks between us and those does. The bucks were headed for the does.

I told Bert that those deer would likely end up in my deer coulee. We could drive my pickup across my hay fields because the short grass didn’t favor drifting.

We drove to a vantage point where we could view down into my deer coulee.

After a few minutes of glassing we spotted several deer feeding in the bottom of a side coulee.

There was a high side ridge between us and the deer, which would allow us to approach those deer without being seem. We eased out of the truck, snuck down a side coulee and hiked to the ridge that should give us a good chance to be close to the deer.

The wind was in our favor. So that helped our stalk. The last 100 yards of the stalk, before topping the ridge, had shallow snow that was crusted and somewhat noisy.

As we poked our eyeballs over the ridge, the deer had heard our approach and started to move away from us. Bert spotted a big buck, laid down and made a great 225-yard shot. The big buck toppled over. Then the work started.

After helping Bert field dress the deer, I hiked back to the truck and drove back to my farmstead to get my 4-wheeler to retrieve the deer. Normally, it would just be a 5-10 minute drive to get the deer.

But intervening snow drifts got my 4-wheeler stuck several times. Luckily, I was smart enough to pack a good snow shovel, so with some snow shoveling, and over one hour of time, I finally got my 4-wheeler to the deer.

So, snow can be a friend or foe when it comes to hunting success. My plan to fill one more eastside doe tag, to complete my winter meat supply, ended my planned whitetail buck hunting after Thanksgiving.

I made a good shot on a fat doe. When I approached the dead doe, I saw she was really a he, a fork-horned buck. Those big mule deer ears had hidden its rack as I got ready to shoot. So, I had to use my general deer tag on that small buck.

My plan to rattle for whitetail bucks after Thanksgiving was just wishful thinking. Perhaps next year.

With most of hunting season behind us, its time to clean and oil our guns and get ready for the hard water fishing season.

I hope you had as much fun hunting as I did.