Ask Mark Drury about deer hunting, and usually his response is the model for passion. He loves hunting whitetails and in turn it motivates and propels him.
This fall, however, deer discussions will many times leave Drury depressed.
Over the past year, Drury’s well-managed herd at his main farm in Clark and Decatur counties in south central Iowa has been decimated by the deadly virus epizootic hemorrhagic disease. His original fears of the extent of the EHD outbreak, unfortunately, have been surpassed.
“I lost 70 percent of my bucks on the main Iowa farm,” said Drury, who hosts and produces several Outdoor Channel shows with his brother Terry, including “Dream Season,” “Wildlife Obsession,” “Bow Madness” and “King of the Spring.”
“It’s worse than we originally thought. I just finished my camera surveys, and it’s just bad. That’s a herd we’re been managing for 15 years. We lost a bunch of nice, really big bucks.”
Drury had originally projected that the outbreak would cost him about 50 percent of his bucks on the farm.“I believe we were dealing with two different strains of the disease,” he said. “There was the acute strain where the deer died right away. But there was also a chronic strain, and those guys just couldn’t make it through the winter. You wouldn’t believe the number of bucks we found that shed their antlers and died this winter.
Nearly always fatal, EHD strikes deer in times of drought. A lack of rainfall drives deer to congregate near fewer remaining water sources, usually stagnant standing water. There, they can be bitten by a midge, the small flying insect that transmits the illness.
Most of the Midwest was struck by severe drought in the summer of 2012, and more than a dozen states reported significant deer die-offs tied to EHD.
Drought conditions have persisted this summer and Drury said he has seen additional EHD-related deaths.
“Drought is drought,” he said. “When Mother Nature doesn’t turn on the water … you’ve got to have that water.”
In terms of his profession, Drury has had to call an audible in order to continue to produce numerous quality hunts for television.“We lost about 30 or 40 percent of the deer on our Missouri farm, but we still should be able to have some hunts there,” he said. “We’re going to go down to Texas to hunt with some people I know down there. Just going to diversify a little bit.”
As for his philosophy for his deer herd management, that may have changed forever.
“In the big picture, it really reminds you who’s in charge,” he said. “It’s got me to wondering if the deer are really meant to reach the age we desire. It’s gotten to the point where a deer has to be 5 or 6 years old before it even catches our attention. And I wonder if our desire is almost impossible to achieve.”
Going forward, Drury said it is likely he will change his ideology with the herd he has been managing since 1998.
“We’ll probably be not so selective anymore, shoot more deer,” he said. “If we keep the numbers lower, there likely won’t be as much social stress within the herd.”
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