That’s especially true after the 2011 season, when expert biologists and state wildlife officials across the U.S. were hesitant to say much about the prospects of a solid year and then, in the midst of that skepticism, hunters turned around and delivered impressive numbers on all fronts. Harvest numbers were high, especially for big game like elk and deer.
Where does that leave us for the 2012 season? Fear not, we’re here at Game & Fish to help ease your worried mind. We’ve compiled a list of our best reasons why 2012 will be a better year for hunting that 2011.
A Mild Winter
What was a drought and may cause some issues in many states, like Texas, translated into a mild winter for the Midwest and West. According to Idaho Fish and Game, the mild winter actually helped struggling elk, mule deer, and whitetail populations, with survivability reportedly up 10 percent over last year.
“Overall things are looking pretty good,” big game manager Jon Rachael recently told the Idaho Fish and Game Commission.
Colorado Division of Wildlife officials are saying the same thing about the mild winter, which is an important factor for one of the top elk hunting states in the U.S. Biologists in Oregon, another top 10 state for elk, are reporting strong, hearty herds that should lend to a another high-yield season for hunters.
Out of the Drought
When drought hits hard in top whitetail states like Texas or Kansas, worried looks fill the room. And rightly so. But if there’s any consolation to that scenario, Texas and other drought-affected states across the U.S. have seen a lot more rainfall recently because of the onset of hurricane season, leaving many wildlife officials optimistic about whitetail herds.
According to Bob Hood at Game & Fish, the increase in rainfall the last six months has helped drought-affected areas by spurring on winter wheat growth, other winter grasses and causing trees to bud as early as February—all of which have helped whitetail herds recover from the sparse conditions from previous years.
Opportunity Aint’ Lacking
Sometimes the biggest obstacle to a successful hunting season is a shortage of opportunity. Tags can go quickly and space is always limited. That doesn’t seem to be a problem this year, for two reasons. First, states like Colorado are still offering over-the-counter elk tags and have had plenty of leftover licenses well into September, so there’s ample opportunity to get in on a great hunt. Second, a lot of people heard “drought” and shied away this year, which means less bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way to the field.
Rise of the Whitetails
States like Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Ohio continue to impress with the sheer number of trophy bucks they’ve produced, none of which are down from last year, according to Doug Howlett of North American Whitetail. That makes for an impressive 2012 forecast, giving hunters every opportunity across America’s heartland to bag a bruiser buck. Even lesser known states like Ohio, which produced nine trophy entries on Boone & Crockett’s top 50 lists in 2011, appear to be on target for another banner year. That’s great news for whitetail hunters optimistic that this could be their trophy year.
So far, so good. As hunting season began in many states this month, we’ve already seen some potential record breakers, like Jeff Iverson’s 245 inch non-typical Minnesota buck. If only to drive you crazy, there’s at least that hope that your record buck is out there waiting.
For Dove of the Game
Everything’s bigger in Texas, including dove populations. As one of the most popular birds to hunt in the largest dove hunting state in the Union, it’s good news for hunters when Texas Parks and Wildlife reports record numbers throughout the state—this year above 40 million. According to the Columbia Tribune, Missouri figures to be in the same great shape despite hostile drought conditions. Even though farmlands in general have suffered because of a lack of rainfall, managed and irrigated lands have sustained a majority of the dove populations, which are still thriving.
There were major concerns that areas like the Illinois River Valley would be hard hit by the drought, but biologists familiar with the area say conditions may actually help promote wetland sustenance. In addition to that encouraging piece of news, reports show an epic year may be in store for 2012, as ducks reach record numbers in central U.S. and Canadian breeding grounds. If all goes well, Central Illinois could see a huge portion of those migratory birds come waterfowl season.
According to P.J. Reilly of Wildfowl Magazine, “In the annals of waterfowling, duck hunting sages often wax eloquent about the supposed glory days of the sport in the 1960s and 70s. Forget that. The glory days are now. There are more ducks winging across America than anyone under the age of 80 has seen in his or her lifetime.”
Birds of a Feather Flock Together
One of the things dry conditions have done, according to Skip Knowles, editor of Wildfowl Magazine, is force birds to congregate in certain areas, which should make for happy hunting in what figures to be an epic year. Limited resources of water and healthy land mean more birds in one place, which means a potential heyday for whichever hunter finds those sweet spots.