Elk Forecast 2011 : Perfect Conditions for Antler Growth

I just found out I drew a Wyoming mule deer tag. I'm also headed to the Cowboy State to hunt elk with a crossbow for a Record Quest hunt.

Am I stoked? Naturally. But one reason I'm especially pumped is that this year is shaping up as an epic one for antler growth. Across Elk Country, a heavy snow pack transitioned into a wet spring. I've never seen so much heavy grass cover in the foothills. In higher elevations deep snow is being replaced by blankets of lush forage.

All those groceries are feeding the antlers that are surging from the crowns of bucks and bulls.

There are a couple of dark spots on this otherwise bright picture. The first is that the long, bleak winter across the West took its toll on animals. I'm hunting deer in the Wyoming Range, the very place where Wyoming game managers typically document significant mortality following cold, snowy winters. And the segments of the population most vulnerable to winterkill are yearlings and older bucks.

Then there's the ongoing drought in the Southwest. Here's a graphic that shows just how severe the drought is from Arizona to South Carolina.

But from Colorado north, this is one of the wettest springs on record. You can run your own precipitation tables by visiting the very useful National Climate Data Center.

I crunched my own numbers, and here's a snapshot of conditions across elk country:

West
-Precipitation from December through May: 14.94 inches
-Long-term-average precip from December through May: 12.35 inches
-28th wettest spring on record

Northwest
-Precipitation from December through May: 21.18 inches
-Long-term-average precip from December through May: 17.01 inches
-10th wettest spring on record, wettest since 1997

Southwest
-Precipitation from December through May: 5.16 inches
-Long-term-average precip from December through May: 5.56 inches
-Driest spring since 2006

And here's a look at specific states:
**
Wyoming**
-Precipitation from December through May: 9.18 inches
-Long-term-average precip from December through May: 6.28 inches
-Wettest spring on record

Montana
-Precipitation from December through May: 10.93 inches
-Long-term-average precip from December through May: 6.68 inches
-Wettest spring on record

Idaho
-Precipitation from December through May: 13.47 inches
-Long-term-average precip from December through May: 11.19 inches
-10th wettest spring on record

Colorado
-Precipitation from December through May: 6.95 inches
-Long-term-average precip from December through May: 6.99 inches
-A very average spring
**
Utah**
-Precipitation from December through May: 9.17 inches
-Long-term-average precip from December through May: 6.04 inches
-Wettest spring since 2005
**
New Mexico**
-Precipitation from December through May: 1.86 inches
-Long-term-average precip from December through May: 4.19 inches
-Driest spring since 2006

Photo: Mongo