Hunting the Desert
Hunting the desert can be quite a challenge even for the most experienced hunter and impossible for the unprepared. Living in the desert, I’ve hunted it my entire life and have become somewhat successful. Over the next few articles, I’m going to share a few tricks that I have picked up along the way that will increase your odds and give you a better understanding of what to expect.
Water is vital in the desert and during the summer months when temps soar up to 130 degrees deer are daily visitors to natural and manmade water catchments. This is the time of year when bobcats, coyotes, and deer all seem to get along around the drinker and wait their turn in line to quench their thirst. This is a good time to set trail cameras to get an idea of what you have in the area. Generally, deer won’t be but a few miles from water during the summer so you will want to use caution as not to spook your game. The added stress can be deadly for any desert dweller in the extreme heat. Since desert bucks of the southwest are generally way behind in antler growth compared to their northern counterparts, you may not get a good gage on antler growth until September – October. Most mature bucks will start to strip their velvet toward the end of October, and by now the temps have started to see the 70s at night and high 90s to low 100s during the day. During this time the bucks will begin to stretch their distance from water out to 4-5 miles. Once the temps start to see the 70s and 80s for the high, bucks will start to put some miles between them and water stretching it out to 10 miles or better at times. This may not seem too far, but with an estimated one deer per square mile, you’re now looking for a needle in a haystack.
Do Your Homework
I often get asked, “how do you seem to stay on top of what’s going on out there?” Well, I can tell you it’s not always easy, and you have to do your homework “EVERY YEAR!” I often hear the statement “ Man if I only had the time that you have” This is funny! I’m a normal guy with a normal job that takes up 10 hrs of my day. Next, I hit the gym for an hour or two a day. After that, I try to spend an hr a day behind my bow. Then it’s family time. It doesn’t seem like I have too much time at all. This is where the tricks come into play and will save you a ton of time if you already have some general knowledge of the areas you’re hunting. DOPPLER RADAR! In today’s advanced age, Doppler radar is in the palm of your hands and readily available on your cell phone. A simple screenshot of a passing storm over your area is a huge advantage especially if you stay on top of it and catch the majority of the rain events so you can start building a database. This will help you key in on the food source. Since I have so many areas that I like to hunt from time to time this helps me eliminate areas and key in on spots without ever leaving my house but of course I’ve already done some groundwork in years past, so I have knowledge of what I’m looking for in vegetation, terrain layout and the genetics of the game I pursue the possibility of harvesting that big mature buck.
KNOW YOUR DIRT! Have you ever wondered why deer were in one place but not the other even when the layout of the land was similar along with the same amount of vegetation or less? Or why deer seem to like to rut in a particular spot year after year regardless of vegetation? Well, I can answer that question, it’s because of natural mineral in the rock. The desert is full of mineral deposits in certain areas. Deer love and depend on them during pregnancy, the rut, and dry years when there is excessive stress on the body. I have seen a buck leave his doe in the middle of the day and run a mile to eat rocks. You’ll want to pay attention and look for mineral deposits or areas where water has pooled throughout the years past at the base of mountains. You will notice that after a pool goes dry deer will continue to dig in the dirt even if there is standing water close by and this is because they are after the mineral that was left behind. If you’re a person that likes to sit and wait for game to come to you, then I can tell you this is better than sitting man-made water especially if there has been rainfall and there is moisture in the dirt. Even if you have other hunting styles, keying in on these areas will drastically improve your chances.
WRITE IT DOWN! I spoke earlier of a database, and I’ve been using this practice since 2003. Every time I go into the field I write down what I saw or what I didn’t see in a diary when I get home. Let’s face it, most of us live busy lives, and a lot goes on in a year or two, and we tend to forget things. (IT HAPPENS) I like to record sightings, location, temperature, cloud cover, time & date, moon phase, pressure, and on a yearly platform, I record the (ENSO) phase. This along with my saved doppler images helps me pattern deer that otherwise can’t be patterned. I like to keep track of deer that are living and deer that have died and what year how they died. This helps me keep a better eye on gene pool and what years have potential to produce big bucks due to the quality of year the fawns were born on and the buck that potentially sired them. Every piece of the puzzle adds up, and if you are consistent and disciplined in your practice it becomes very easy to keep up with, and you will eventually unlock every secret your area is hiding. (Keep in mind that these tips are for deer that live off the land and not the local farmer).