2014 Southwest Drought vs Elk Antler Growth

Image credit goes to Blake Chapman.

2014 Drought Impacts on Elk Antler Growth in the Southwest.  Image credit to Blake Chapman.

2014 Elk Antler Growth? THE SKY IS FALLING!!!

I am not the average person when discussing the Southwest Drought impacts on Elk Antler Growth.   It’s one of the topics I obsess over, in fact, I take BIG TIME pride in providing factual information.

If you are still reading, I promise this entire article is based on data, facts and my experiences in following this for over a decade!

Southern Utah Bull I hunted in 2013. Image credit to TJ Morgan.

Southern Utah Bull I hunted in 2013. Image credit to TJ Morgan.

When we talk about the Southwest, I am talking about Arizona, New Mexico, Central/Southern Nevada, Southern Utah & Southwest Colorado.  Almost all of my in the field experience comes from Arizona, so I am not going to pretend to be an expert in other states.

From my experiences in Arizona, the worst elk antler growth drought years over the past 13 years are listed below:

  1. 2002
  2. 2006
  3. 2007
  4. 2013
  5. 2000

Apples-to-Apples: lets start with the facts from the above drought years compared to 2014.

2002 was the worst drought year on record for Northern Arizona & much of the Southwest.  Monsoon was late & week as well.

2002 was the worst drought year on record for N. Arizona & much of the Southwest.

2006 was pretty dry in much of the Southwest, but we did get a good Monsoon season in Arizona.

NV, UT & CO were in good shape in 2006, but  I had a tag in the block units of AZ.

2007 looks pretty similar to 2014 from the data.   I hunted in Arizona's Unit 7W and it was hard to find a bull that wasn't stunted on his backend.

I hunted in Arizona’s Unit 7W and it was hard to find a bull that wasn’t stunted on his backend.  NM was in better shape in 2007.

2013 is also similar to 2014.  Southwest Colorado is in much better shape.

2013 is also similar to 2014, except Southwest Colorado is in much better shape.

November-January of 200 were good months for precipitation, but the late winter and spring was super dry in Arizona & New Mexico.

The late winter and spring were super dry in Arizona & New Mexico.  I had a tag in Arizona’s Unit 7.

“The Monsoon will help…” 

Keep in mind, the Monsoon generally has little effects on Elk Antler Growth, at least for that season.   The Monsoon season generally arrives in mid-July and 95% of the bigger bulls will already be finished growing.

This is footage of a bull I filmed on July 10th of 2013.  He and all of the other mature bulls in the area were basically finished growing.  He had a pretty good backend for 2013!!!

the Previous year’s Monsoon impact on elk antler growth?

Last year, much of the Southwest saw a very welcomed above average Monsoon season.  This helped fill catch water, provide some hold over feed and helped the deep rooted browse plants.  With that said, I do not believe this fact will overcome the long period of dryness much of the Southwest saw this season.

Never stop learning…  Base everything on data, facts & real experiences, not memory or hear say.

Over the past 2 years, I have found and started collecting data from the Western Regional Climate Center.  They don’t have all of the archived maps stored online, so you have to save everything as you get them. I recently went through and compared last year’s maps to this years and I found ONLY two months which are significantly different, with regards to precipitation.

November 2012 vs 2013 is a noticeable difference in precipitation.

Noticeable difference in precipitation.

2013-vs-2014-Drought

Noticeable difference in precipitation.

So, what is my conclusion?

I believe the Southwest is overall going to be in better shape than last year.  I think Arizona and Nevada will be the exceptions, because they are slightly drier than last year at this point.  New Mexico, Southern Utah, and SW Colorado are wetter than they were last year at this point.  The data doesn’t lie!

B&C Elk are not possible in 2014?

If I had a tag in Arizona & Nevada, I would NOT immediately start down grading my trophy expectations.  If I was going with an outfitter, I would talk with them in August, to get a better feel for the type of bulls they are seeing.  If I was hunting on my own, I would rely on what I saw during my scouting efforts, in order to dictate what caliber of bulls I pursue.

I hope you found value in this drought report and I wish you the best of luck this fall.

-Craig Steele

Drought Image Credits to:

  • Western Regional Climate Center
  • High Plains Regional Climate Center

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