I don’t have to tell you it’s been a wet year across whitetail country. Just two weeks ago the East Coast was socked again with Hurricane Irene and don’t even ask farmers in Iowa how they fared this spring.
All of that water is good for vegetation, but it can also lead to an outbreak of one of the Midwest’s most tragic whitetail diseases: epizootic hemorrhagic disease or EHD. This disease thrives in moist conditions where stagnant pools of water are prevalent and that’s almost anywhere in whitetail country this season.
The outbreak begins picking up speed in late summer and rockets in early fall when conditions are right. I was reminded of it this past weekend while attending a promotion at the Billings, Mont., Cabela’s store. Several hunters were already finding evidence of dead deer near water, with the smell of rotting carcasses leading them to the scene of the crime. One gentleman told me of his finds while scouting along the famed Milk River in northeast Montana.
Yesterday the New York Department of Conservation announced that 100 deer were found dead in Rockland County. Test results showed they died from EHD.
Hemorrhagic disease is the most highly visible viral disease affecting whitetails and shows up in nearly every major whitetail nook. Spread by a tiny two-winged midge, EHD can kill an infected animal within days, if not sooner. Affected animals acquire a high fever and hemorrhage internally, often seeking water for fever relief. This is the reason many carcasses are discovered near reservoirs, creeks and rivers. A killing frost, knocking back the midge population, halts the spread of the disease, but hunters often stumble across numerous carcasses during hunting season in EHD hot areas.
Except for the extreme northeast and northwest corners of the whitetail range, EHD affects deer from Texas to Montana and from the Carolinas to Pennsylvania. It has not been detected north of Pennsylvania and northern Wisconsin and Michigan are EHD free to date. EHD was first officially documented in New Jersey in 1955, but suspected outbreaks were reported as early as 1901.
Although chronic wasting disease gets most of the attention these days, EHD actually knocks down local populations of deer with shocking results. It can cut a population by 50 percent or more in a major outbreak and that has me thinking. Why don’t we put more emphasis into solving the EHD crisis that has proven to decrease the whitetail population with lasting effects?