As you can see by this map, much of whitetail country, from Texas to Michigan to Pennsylvania, is abnormally dry to moderate drought. A few pockets in the Midwest are extremely dry. Here in the Virginia Piedmont where I live and hunt, we’re 7 inches short of normal rainfall, and the corn and beans are parched and only inches high in many areas.

How will these dry conditions affect the deer herds, and how might it affect the hunting this fall?

First, in areas where there is insufficient moisture, crop and native plant growth is stunted, and the plants lack the nutrition that deer need for prime health. Biologists point out that drought conditions make new growth on shrubs harden faster than usual, limiting a deer’s ability to eat and digest it effectively, thus animals will not build up necessary fat reserves during summer and fall. Having adequate body fat is one of the key factors determining whether deer will survive a tough, especially bucks that lose some 20 percent of their body weight during the rut.

During drought conditions in the spring, fawns are born smaller and grow more slowly than during normal and wetter periods. If fawns do not reach a sufficient size and weight prior to winter, they too will not have enough energy reserves to make it through, especially if the winter is severe.

For does, drought can lead to poor body condition and result in the following possible outcomes: stillborn fawn births, low fawn birth weight, poor newborn fawn survival, inadequate milk supply to nourish a fawn. Sometimes, a doe will carry a fawn full-term and raise it, but the newborn fawn is much smaller than a fawn born in a non-drought year. Smaller, weaker fawns are less likely to survive their first winter, especially if conditions are harsh.

During drought years, bucks will not have surplus nutrition to grow antlers as large as they might in a non-drought year. The nutrition that bucks do get from poor feed is channeled into their bodies first so they can survive. They will still produce antlers, but not as big as they would grow during a year with good precipitation.

Let’s pray for rain.