By Dan Carlson
Weather is going to play a huge factor in big-game hunts across the American West this fall. It is, of course, always a factor but trends established in 2014 have continued through 2015 and that may pose added challenges for those pursuing game in many areas.
For those of you scoring at home since I started writing for Eastmans’ last year, my hope is that you’ve come to expect and receive a level of forecast accuracy not readily available in other hunting media. As we continue to earn your trust and build forecast credibility, please recall articles you’ve seen here and in Eastmans’ magazines warning of persistent heat and drought through fall in the Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies, predictions for ample precipitation and weather to develop habitat in the Central Rockies optimal for antler and horn growth and improving conditions through the year in eastern Arizona and New Mexico to open good opportunities for hunters in those locations. There is still every indication from long-range climate models that these predictions will come true. Let’s do a quick review, beginning with temperatures this fall.
Strong El Nino conditions in the eastern Pacific Ocean should continue into 2016, resulting in temperatures much milder than average in all of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, California, most of Montana and the northwest halves of Wyoming and Utah. Low snowpack last winter and hot, dry conditions this summer will keep fire danger very high in many of these same areas through fall hunting seasons, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Little variation in the pattern is expected September through November so if we peg the forecast for October as a base, most places west of a line from Las Vegas to the northeast corner of Montana can expect temperatures this fall to average two to four degrees Fahrenheit above average.
That might not seem like much, but consider that’s an average over a 90-day period. There are bound to be some average and even below average days in that timeframe, so the potential is there for some hunts in really warm weather across the Northwest and Intermountain West. Scent control, moisture-wicking base layers, cover scents and noise suppression will be high on the list of considerations.
High Plains hunters can expect fall temperatures to average one to three degrees below average while hunters in Colorado and northern New Mexico should look for temperatures to be near seasonal averages. Now let’s look at precipitation.
El Nino patterns favor above average precipitation across the south half of the U.S. with below average rain and snowfall in the north but no two El Nino events are exactly the same. This year’s pattern suggests there is little chance of a hunt being rained or snowed out in Washington, Oregon, Idaho or Montana. But there is a good chance hunters south of a line from Reno to Salt Lake City to Denver and east through the Plains will see more rain and snow than average this fall. That’s good news for parched areas of Nevada, Utah and western Arizona but hunts east of the Continental Divide in Colorado and New Mexico could get cool and wet, especially during mid- to late-season hunts. Snow could start accumulating in the higher elevations of Colorado and New Mexico in October.
Earlier this year, I wrote that weather outlooks would prompt me to put in for tags in Colorado if I was able to hunt the high country this fall. From a weather standpoint, Colorado looks to be THE place where weather conditions will be optimal for game and hunters alike this year.