2014 Southwest Antler Growth-Drought

2014 Drought & Precipitation Update

2014 Drought & Precipitation Update

I have been getting  calls, emails & messages from several people with MAX Arizona elk points; regarding Arizona’s current antler growth situation. I know this is a huge concern for many of you  (especially non-residents) who have been applying for 15-20 years and will possibly only draw 1 quality elk tag in their life time.

I understand your concerns, so I want to layout a fact based article.

Let’s start with this…

Elk Antler growth in the Southwest is extremely difficult to predict on a year like this and at this current point in time.  It’s not as simple as saying, “it’s been dry for 40 straight days, so it’s going to suck.”  That’s called reading headlines and not doing your homework, so let’s get to the facts.

Nutrition, Genetics & Age class are the 3 basic formulas for making big elk, deer or whatever.

Genetics are more historically driven than both the other factors, so we won’t even touch on that subject.

Age class is typically controlled by the state game & fish agencies or landowner management programs.  I am not going to discuss exact data or science on managing for age class, but this is typically influenced by tag/permit numbers (or selected animals  being harvested).

Nutrition is where the precipitation factor comes into play with regards to antler growth.

Precipitation outlooks are super unpredictable, but precipitation can have big time affects on the overall antler growth, from one year to the next.

The above map illustrates two 3 month precipitation time periods, which I believe have impacts on the start of the antler growth season in the Southwest.

These months are critical for soil moisture, holdover feed, ground coverage, catch water and for current browse conditions.

I really believe these two time periods help set the tone for the overall antler growth season, but the next 3 months (February, March & April) are the MOST critical precipitation months.

2013 Southwest Antler Growth Starting Precipitation Maps

2013 Southwest Antler Growth Starting Precipitation Maps

2013 was an average antler growth year for much of the Southwest. Rest assured, Big bulls were taken in Arizona, Utah & Nevada during the fall of 2013.

Eastern & Central Arizona carried most of the wait for Arizona, with regards to big bulls hitting the dirt.

Southern Utah’s best units did not disappoint most lucky elk tag holders in 2013.

2013 Southern Utah Bull

My 2013 DIY Public Land Southern Utah Archery Bull.

2012 Southwest Antler Growth Starting Precipitation Maps

2012 Southwest Antler Growth Starting Precipitation Maps 

2012 Precipitation maps looked very similar to where we are at currently.

The Southwest did see some good precipitation during what I call the critical time period (February-April) which helped relieve the dry month of January. Some absolute giants where killed in Arizona, Utah & Nevada in 2012.

Big Backend

A bull with a big backend. I filmed him in Western Arizona in 2012.

Arizona Big Backend

Unit 9 Arizona Bull with a big backend. Guided by Jay Scott & Darr Colburn.

2011 Southwest Antler Growth Starting Precipitation Maps

2011 Southwest Antler Growth Starting Precipitation Maps

2011 was a good year for antler growth throughout much of the Southwest.

As you can see, Utah & Nevada received lots of precipitation from November-January.

Arizona came on late, but finished well during those critical months.

Arizona Giant Bull Elk

2011 Arizona Unit 10 Giant Bull! This hunter was guided by Lee Murphy.

2010 Southwest Antler Growth Starting Precipitation Maps

2010 Southwest Antler Growth Starting Precipitation Maps

2010 was what I call a GREAT antler growth year in Arizona.

I was lucky enough to draw an Arizona Archery Bull tag & ended up killing a 374″ bull.

As you can see by looking at the above maps, Arizona & Southern Utah were really getting wet during November-January.

414 Gross Archery Bull

Logan Anderson killed this giant 414″ gross Arizona Bull in 2010.

2009 Southwest Antler Growth Starting Precipitation Maps

2009 Southwest Antler Growth Starting Precipitation Maps

44" Antler Growth Gain

In 2009, I filmed Logan’s bull while scouting for my wife’s hunt.

2009– average to slightly above average antler growth year in the Southwest.

Logan Anderson’s bull put on roughly 44 inches, from 2009-2010. This is an example of Age, Genetics & Nutrition combining for one MONSTER antler growth surge.

2008 Southwest Antler Growth Starting Precipitation Maps

2008 Southwest Antler Growth Starting Precipitation Maps

2008 was very similar to 2010. These type of years are no brainers when looking at antler growth, even when it’s this early.

Arizona & Southern Utah were in great shape going into the spring.

Here is a big old 6×6 I filmed during the 2008 Arizona Archery Elk Hunt:

2007 Southwest Antler Growth Starting Precipitation Maps

2007 Southwest Antler Growth Starting Precipitation Maps

2006 Southwest Antler Growth Starting Precipitation Maps

2006 Southwest Antler Growth Starting Precipitation Maps

2007 & 2006 are what I call, BELOW average antler growth years for the Southwest.  

It was EXTREMELY dry from November to January.  It didn’t get much better during the spring, especially in 2006.  Many of the bulls had short backends and these are NOT the types of maps you want to see if you have a bunch of points and you draw a tag.

With that said, Arizona, Nevada & Utah have some of the best genetics and age class in the world.  Not every bull will be down 15-50 inches, but most will be shortened up on their backends during year’s like ’06 & ’07.

In 2006, I had an Arizona Archery Bull tag and this was the biggest bull I saw on my hunt:

2005 Southwest Antler Growth Starting Precipitation Maps

2005 Southwest Antler Growth Starting Precipitation Maps

The APEX of Antler Growth!

2005 was the most UNREAL precipitation & antler growth season for the Southwest.  Storms lined up from August 2004-April 2005.

My wife had her first elk tag in Arizona & when I started scouting in June, it was like the MONSOON had already came.

We saw several bulls in the 380+ range on her hunt and a number of 350+ bulls, it was the BANNER year.

Here is a video clip of 1 of the monster bulls we had an encounter with:

The Bottom line for 2014.

It’s not 2005,  nor is it 2006.

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Office issued this Precipitation Outlook for February-April.

There is a 40% chance that most of Arizona & New Mexico will receive below normal (average) precipitation over this time period.

Utah, Nevada & Colorado have equal chances of below normal, normal or above normal precipitation.

February-April 2014 Precipitation

February-April 2014 Precipitation Outlook

May-June are typically dry months in the Southwest & the big bulls will already be 60-80% grown out by the first week of June.

My Current Thoughts: 2014 is shaping up to be a year of below average to average antler growth in the Southwest.

With that said, these outlooks are not fact, they are just educated guesses.   Here is a short email I just received from the NWS Climate Office, with regards to their current outlook:

We are reasonably confident, although there is always high uncertainty in climate outlooks as compared to short-term weather forecasts. The majority of our climate indicators are consistently favoring below average precipitation in the southwest U.S. This includes relationships with ocean temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, short-term climate numerical models and recent trends. 
So we continue to favor elevated odds of below-average precipitation in the southwest.
This pattern is often observed during La Nina events but we are not officially in a La Nina event so it makes the current situation very interesting.

No matter what, there will still be some big bulls hitting the dirt in the Southwest this fall.

-Craig Steele #LiveIt #ORGhunt