Big Game hunters are taught at an early age to hunt the big 3; food, water and cover. Although during rut this strategy changes to chasing that big buck, the process has not changed for early season archery. Northwest Indiana has always been the exception to the big 3 rule. Until this year Northwest Indiana for over 2 decades has had enough food, water and cover for Whitetail Deer. Majority of hunters would scout patterns of deer while they move from one spot to another. These deer movements would, for the most part, stay consistent and unless the deer were spooked or being run by coyotes the deer would stick to these movements. Hunters would merely have to adjust to wind direction and adapt to deer patterns.
So what has changed? This year Indiana has seen record rain fall. So far, the crop loss has been significant. Over 300 million dollars in crop loss so far and this number will definitely go up.[i] Due to this there will be fewer crops for deer to eat. High bypass-protein and high-calorie crops like soy bean are at a total loss in some areas. Moreover, the sandy soil in many areas, like Northwest Indiana, has caused wash outs changing the landscape. This season’s pre rut deer will be looking for high-calorie foodstuffs and will be more mobile and change patterns frequently to different areas as they become dryer. Like other ruminants, the Whitetail Deer will be looking for trace elements; minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients. [ii] Many deer, just like their relative the cow, will forage for pine needles. This is especially true for all ruminants when there is a deficiency in their diet- pine needles seems to be a universal choice among them.[iii]
Deer are not just eating to feed themselves but to feed the microorganisms that live in their four chambered stomach. The tremendous rain has made certain vegetation less available that aid these microbes. For example, ground moss in many areas has been destroyed due to flooding. Ground berries that contains nutrients needed to keep gut PH at a premium is also scarce. Deer will be spending considerable amount of time looking for food sources to replace these shortcomings. It is important to look for these areas and plan on hunting them. Moreover, looking in areas that will have new food opportunities for deer as the water recedes.
Cover is another issue to look at. Deer have no problem walking through water or swimming across a lake, but they do not want to bed down in it. Many areas typically hunted are still under water or saturated. Deer will go through these areas to forage but they will not stay. Due to this new saturated environment typical bedding areas may not be used any longer. Another current phenomenon to look at is the past 2 winters. One before last was particularly rough. So cold the Great Lakes froze almost froze completely over. [iv] The last winter, although better than the previous, was still extremely cold. These last two winters have killed many trees and other vegetation that would have usually provided cover for whitetail deer. This year’s extreme rain that follows another extremely cold winter has made it very difficult for much of that ground vegetation to be an abundance as it usually is. So now for the first time in quite a while Northwest Indiana hunters can actually look at hunting specific cover for deer since there is less of it.