RAIN, GAME AND GRAIN (July 8/13)

In June there was around 40 percent more rainfall than the same period last year, with an above average number of cold and windy days.  May wasn’t much better; earlier in May there were a few days when the precipitation came down as short-lived snowfalls.

In past years when we had similar spring weather, grouse and pheasant numbers often were down in the fall.  My hunting records indicate some sort of relationship between the spring weather and my hunting success.   In other words, a good spring weather-wise, a good fall upland hunting season; a bad spring weather-wise, poor hunting in the fall.

Now, not being a biologist, I’m only guessing that inclement weather during the peak nesting period for grouse and pheasants resulted in fewer birds in the game coverts.  I’m speaking solely of my own hunting efforts; perhaps overall the poor nesting weather in May and June had no effect on how much game I found while out with my bird dog.   It may simply have been bad luck and a lack of effort on my part.

However, since 1960 I’ve been keeping notes on every hunting day I’ve been afield; and notes as well on every day I fished in the same period.  In my notes I recorded the weather through winter and in the fishing and hunting season.  With these records, it was a simple matter to determine what kind of hunting success I had following a cold, wet spring and summer.

Now, as I said, I’m a layman.  My record keeping, in other words, is by itself probably totally useless to trained biologists.  Nice to have, yeah.  But wildlife biologists rely on a lot more data than mean temperatures and amounts of rainfall when assessing wild game populations or explaining why a hunting season has been good or bad.

Anyway, I’d guess – note that I said “guess” – that the weather to date hasn’t been favourable for nesting grouse and pheasants; and likely not all that favourable for nesting waterfowl either.  I saw some early broods of mallards that were decimated by the cold, rainy weather in early May.

On pheasants and grouse, most information sources will tell you that cold, wet weather through the nesting season is tough on nesting birds and on hatchlings.  But how cold and wet does it have to be before game bird nesting is affected?

This question is difficult, if not impossible to answer. However, there’s an indicator of how extensive the cold and wet the weather has been through spring and it is corn planting.  Generally this is a reliable barometer of the extent of cold, wet weather and by extension, an indicator as well perhaps of how much game bird nesting might be affected.

The international conservation club, Pheasants Forever, sometimes refers to the planting of corn in pheasant belts as an indication of how weather might be a factor in nesting success.  Late planting due to bad weather, for example and possibly nesting will be affected.  Normal planting and perhaps weather won’t be a factor in nesting production.

“Really,” you’re saying to yourself.  “Sounds far-fetched to me.  It can’t be that simple.”

Okay, you’re probably right.  But just to see what effect the spring weather had on corn crops here, I contacted the local farming guru and  newspaper columnist, Glen Ells.  I ask Glen if the weather through May and June affected planting.

Most of the corn was planted on time, Glen said.  “I’d say the weather so far hasn’t hurt the corn crop.”

From this we can take it the cold, wet weather earlier may not affect game bird nesting at all, even though I speculated it might.  Let’s hope the corn barometer is right.

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