Columns/Opinion, Environment, Local Sports, Opinion, Other Local Sports

SAMUEL: Drought and heat causing wildlife problems

MORGANTOWN — The hot November days have really impacted the bow deer season. Bucks are rutting and does are ready, but the abnormal hot weather has impacted their movement in the day.

 Harvests are being made, but those big bucks just aren’t moving much during the day.

One rule of thumb: I always used the temperature at night. When the temperature got below 45 or so, I found that buck movements in November increased and sightings did, too.

 I had friends in Kansas two weeks ago hunting on private land where big bucks are common, yet the hot weather really limited the sightings of bucks.

 Same for friends hunting Ohio. Peak of the rut will be November 11-20 or so. It always is. If the heat continues, the daytime sightings of bucks will remain slow. This past week it’s been chilly in the mornings, and that should help deer movement. Then there is the full moon, and all kinds of theories about that affecting buck movement.

 But November only comes once a year, so if I’m a bowhunter, I’m out there in early mornings and late evenings, no matter what the moon phases and no matter what the temperature is.

Drought is affecting species as well.

 Not so much in West Virginia, but in western Montana, black bears fatten up for the winter hibernation by eating berries.

 That whole region extending to South and North Dakota has had very little rain all year. You’ve probably seen the news on the water levels in the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Lowest ever.

 That drought has literally wiped out the berry crop and black bears are moving into towns to find food.

It’s the same story we have everywhere when bears come to town. When your garbage cans sit out with lids that aren’t secure; when your bird feeders are out; when dog and cat food is at the bottom of your porch steps, then the bears will come.

 That’s especially true when there is little food in the woods. Bears need to eat a lot to get ready for winter, so they go where they find food. It isn’t all that unsafe for humans, but interactions occur and the Montana wildlife agency is warning people to be extra careful.

Last year summer temperatures in the Northwest soared to triple digits. The temperatures in the southwest over the past 20 years are the highest on record.

 Water sources dried up. Plants in the wild died. And of course fires were out of control. Two summers ago the water temperatures in the Sacramento River got so warm that 97% of the juvenile Chinook salmon died.

 A tree ring and soil moisture study in the Southwest showed that 2020 and 2021 were the two driest years in the past 300 years. These are just a few of the examples of how the drought is affecting the West.

We know that over the long term global temperatures have warmed. Has this impacted West Virginia?

 Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association shows that the number of very hot days (over 95 degrees) has been below average since the 1990’s. Night time temperatures above 70 degrees or higher have not changed much over the years, however, they were higher than normal during the period of 2015-2020.

Will we continue to see these climate things, and warmer Novembers in West Virginia? Who knows, but the cold front that hit us Friday should help get these bucks moving during the day. So, good luck out there and be safe.

Dr. Dave Samuel is a retired wildlife professor from West Virginia University. His outdoor columns have appeared, and continue to appear, in Bowhunter magazine and the Whitetail Journal. If you have questions or comments on wildlife and conservation issues, email him at