Northern deer hunters thank El Nino

The walk home empty-handed after a day of deer hunting is always long, but it makes it a lot easier when it doesn't involve trudging through piles of snow in zero-degree weather.

That experience is something hunters in the northern United States are starting to get cozy with. Warm winters have been the norm in new millennium, and the hunters aren't complaining.

"Minnesota has experienced warmer weather than normal, which makes the deer hunting a lot easier," said Mike DonCarlos, Wildlife Research and Policy Manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "A lot of hunters are hunting later in the season because it's a lot more comfortable sitting in a blind when it's 40 degrees compared to when it is zero degrees."

But hunters might want to enjoy the moment because a warm December might be giving way to a colder January.

Carmeyia Gillis, who is with the NOAA's National Weather Service, said the United States experienced an unusually warm December because the jet stream across the Pacific Ocean extended east and created stronger west-to-east flow across the Pacific and U.S.

This resulted in the country being dominated by air masses originating over the Pacific instead of from the polar regions, which translated into above-normal temperatures for much of the northern half of the country.

This pattern is consistent with El Nino conditions in the tropical Pacific, but the pattern over the Pacific appears to be changing. That change will result in colder temperatures in the western part of the country, but it's uncertain if they will continue to progress eastward in mid- to late-January.

As long as the temperatures stay warm, it will favor the hunters. Not only does the process become more comfortable, but the deer population increases as well because the weak are not dying off in the cold temperatures. In order to counter the deer population, DonCarlos said his department has to regulate the harvest appropriately.

DonCarlos said harvest control numbers come from research and science, but in the end the hunters benefit because they get to harvest more deer.

"We haven't really had a severe winter since the late 1990s," DonCarlos said. "We have to adjust to that."

Tom Micetich, Deer Project Manager of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said hunters are enjoying the same conditions in The Prairie State.

"We are harvesting a lot of deer," Micetich said. "We're a little behind last year as far as numbers go, but last year was a record year."

And where the deer are, the hunters also will go, especially if they're not freezing their tails off..

"We have more hunters sitting in the blinds longer," DonCarlos said. "I know it's been a lot easier on me."