This time of year when the eight letter word “football” fills many people’s thoughts, ours thoughts as deer hunters, predator hunters and trappers should dwell on another eight letter word, “scouting.” Here in the farm country of the Midwest, game movement patterns sometimes change from year to year and even from season to season because of annual crop rotation, weather extremes and habitat changes, among other things. Although many good hunting and trapping hotspots produce game and fur year after year, many do not because of these factors.
Annual crop rotations play a big part in the daily lives of wildlife. Where we used to hunt deer in southern Meade County, the terrain is rather bleak and the main crop by far is wheat. There’s always some hay around for deer to feed on, but the tender green wheat is their mainstay. Changes in wheat field locations from year to year sometimes mean changes in deer patterns, and thus in the way we hunt them. Here around McPherson County annual crop changes have only minor effects on deer patterns because there’s always an edible field crop of some sort near a deer’s chosen home range, but crop changes here do sometimes effect wildlife movement. For instance, tall crops like corn and silage offer excellent cover for deer and coyotes as they travel. Movement of those crops probably won’t change where these animals hunt, feed and bed, but it will often change the way they travel to get there.
Weather extremes, namely droughts and floods change wildlife patterns dramatically. Floods have a very temporary effect as they dictate where wildlife can and cannot travel, feed, hunt and bed during those times of high water. When the waters recede, life soon goes on again as usual. Drought on the other hand can have a long lasting effect on wildlife patterns as they are often forced to relocate nearer to the few sources of water.
Habitat changes probably have the most effect on wildlife patterns. Removing overgrown tree and fence rows, bulldozing old orchards, tearing down and cleaning up old buildings in overgrown woodlots and even building a new home on a previously empty and overgrown lot all change travel ways and hunting areas of local wildlife. This summer acres of trees were removed from the property next to our deer blind. I know deer will continue to travel through there still, but removing all those trees destroyed a major deer bedding area, so it remains to be seen how that will all affect our deer harvest.
So what to do? It’s called “mud on the boots!” Physically getting out into the areas you plan to hunt and trap before season is the only way to compensate for man and natures changes. Trail cameras are one good way to do help you with that. Hanging a couple near trails will soon show you if the trail is used, by what and how often. Another good way is scouring the area for tracks. Be it deer, raccoons or coyotes every critter has four feet and wherever you find tracks you can bet the animal belonging to those four paws was mighty close! Tonight before completing this column I drove into and walked some new property I have permission to trap. I was becoming disappointed at the few coyote tracks I was seeing…until I crossed over a brushy overgrown lane into another field and suddenly found more coyote tracks than I’d ever hoped to see. I had walked that field this summer and found nothing, proving my point about seasonal wildlife patterns.
In this age of digital trail cameras and GPS technology the best and most reliable scouting tool available to the hunter and trapper is still the farmer and land owner. If you have permission to harvest game on their land they are usually more than happy to talk with you about where and when they see that game, especially deer and coyotes.
Just like we have to find new ways to travel around construction projects, or choose a new place to shop when our favorite grocery store closes, so wildlife must adapt to the ever changing world in which they live. So to remain successful harvesters of that wildlife, we must occasionally get “some mud on our boots” and adapt our harvesting strategies to their changes…Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors.
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected].