We finally got one good rain last week, but it was still a very dry September.

In fact, I recorded only about 2 inches the entire month, far below the 3.5 inches we usually receive. That puts me at 39.8 inches for the year, about 7 inches above this area’s historical average.

That’s a far cry from this time last year, when I had recorded almost 55 inches.

Dry Septembers are not all that unusual and dry Octobers are even more common. Back in the 1970s and early ’80s, I remember several years when the Game Commission almost delayed the opening of hunting season because of the dry conditions.

Often, however, we get a couple of tropical systems in September that bring our monthly rainfall totals up. This year, we didn’t.

But lack of rainfall is only part of this year’s problem. Temperatures soared in August and September and baked the ground, which is so hard that I was not able to get my tomato stakes out of the ground until last week.

The heat and lack of rainfall played havoc with this season’s late hay crop. Several farmers reported getting only a 10–20 percent harvest for their second cutting. Late corn and soybeans also suffered and pasture became so sparse that a number of farmers began feeding hay in August.

If we get ample rain in October, the pastures may come back, some but not much. Most cattlemen will likely be feeding hay by the first week in November again this year.

Because of the short second cutting, many farmers have been mowing marginal fields that ordinarily would have been bushhogged because of poor quality. I’ve even seen a few fields of broom sedge cut and baled. Anything to fill the cows’ bellies, as the old saying goes. Sweet feed can always be added.

It is going to be a late fall. I had one reader email me last week saying she had seen no flocks of blackbirds migrating south. It occurred to me that I hadn’t either. Usually, grackles are on the move by the first week in September, but not this year. The cooler weather this week may get them going.

There is an abundance of squirrels this year, so many in fact that they have run out of holes and are building nests in oak trees, something that usually happens when there is an over-population. During such times, they will also try to find a way into attics, so take note if you live in a wooded area.

Speaking of animals, remember that by the middle or end of this month, the deer rut will begin and there will be lovesick bucks and doe crossing the highways as soon as darkness sets in—or even before.

Hitting a deer at 55 mph can do an awful lot of damage to a vehicle. I try to cut down my speed at night and keep my lights on bright whenever possible, always looking for eyes on the side of the road.

Sometimes nothing helps. Once I stopped for two deer that were crossing the highway only to have a third leap off the bank and onto the hood of my car. I have also read about several instances where large deer came through the windshield and killed drivers. Be careful.

For years now, the Game Commission has been insisting that coyotes do not kill deer, but two weeks ago, a friend posted a video on Facebook of one of these predators taking down a one-third grown fawn just beyond his backyard. Coyotes do help control the deer population.

Another friend showed me a photo (and video) of a 500-pound black bear that was shot and killed in a backyard just outside the town of Warrenton. The bear reportedly charged the man who immediately went inside, got a rifle and shot the bruin, which weighed 450 pounds field dressed.

There are bears everywhere these days and they have been tearing down bird feeders in my neighborhood all summer. Usually, they are harmless. Still, I would keep my distance.

One final note. Forty years ago tomorrow (Oct. 9, 1979), we had 3 inches of snow at my house. The leaves hadn’t fallen and I lost about 100 trees on a wooded hillside on my land.

While we were roasting last week, parts of northwestern Montana had up to 5 feet of snow.

Yes, winter is coming.

Donnie Johnston:


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