I recently returned from bowhunting elk in Idaho. Several friends have been asking, “how'd you do?” My answer goes something like this. “I had a very successful trip, but it's not the kind of success I can eat.”
That brings quizzical looks until I explain that I didn't kill an elk, but I had one of the most refreshing getaways I've had in a long time. Eight days of camping in the mountains, where I seldom heard anything but natural sounds — now that's the stuff mental refreshment is made of.
I'd get up before daylight, eat breakfast, make a lunch, and I wouldn't return to camp until after dark.
My Idaho friends, Everett and Dorthea Hagen, made sure I ate well. They provided the food, and what good food it was! Venison, elk and ruffed grouse, fresh vegetables out of their garden, and wild huckleberry cobbler — no one has ever eaten better.
If I were a Type A personality, I wouldn't have been successful, but since I am not, I was.
The reason I didn't get a shot at an elk? I couldn't pattern them. First of all, the place I hunted was covered in thick vegetation. When I have hunted elk before, I could get on a high point and find them with binoculars — not here.
The timbered draws were a little more open, but elk were no longer using them. I found several wallows with heavy sign in the draws, but nothing fresh. It was obvious they were using the wallows heavily a couple of weeks earlier. But, during my hunt, the elk seemed to be in a fall shuffle. They had abandoned their summer and early fall patterns and hadn't yet established new ones. When I would occasionally find fresh tracks, they were simply passing through.
Most game animals develop movement patterns. They take the most convenient routes to food, cover, and water, and they tend to bed in the same general areas. When habitat conditions change, they change their pattern.
They may even change their core area, or the area within their lifetime range where they spend their time.
When I conducted deer research for example, I was able to document core area shifts. They would occupy a few acres for up to a month, then shift their concentrated activity to another part of their range when habitat conditions changed.
During the few days while they were shifting their core area, their movement tended to be random (sometimes called a shuffle). After a few days though, they tended to settle down and develop a daily movement pattern.
Before a hunter (particularly a bowhunter) can bring meat home consistently, he/she has to figure out the daily pattern.
Buck patterns during the rut are tough to figure out, because they don't know themselves where they are going. They follow their nose, constantly looking for estrous does. The only hope is to pattern the does, then wait for the buck to come along.
After I returned to Tennessee, I began to try to pattern deer. The rut hadn't begun, so as usual, I expected to quickly pattern a few deer. But, again, I found it difficult. Where I have hunted, acorns are not very abundant, but nearly every oak had dropped some. Instead of deer regularly coming to a few trees, they seemed to feed randomly.
They don't have to move far to feed, and consequently they don't move much. And because each oak has a few acorns, deer may not return to an individual tree.
About the only hope for patterning deer in a year like this one (except in field crop situations), is to find topographic funnels. And while this is possible in big woods hunting, it's difficult.