As bowhunters prepare to head afield (if they're not already there), zeroing-in on their favorite deer-hunting haunts, the good news is the fatal and cyclic deer malady, epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), has not been as widespread and devastating as some recent years, especially in the whitetail-rich Midwest and Mid-South.
Predominantly, this year's major outbreaks of the virus transmitted by a biting midge have been centered in the upper plains states of North and South Dakota and into Montana.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Michigan State University Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health reported EHD confirmation in some Muskegon County whitetail last week, the first county to confirm EHD this fall. But it's nothing compared to last year's massive outbreak affecting southern Michigan when hundreds of deer in at least 30 counties were hammered and the DNR implemented some emergency reduction of antlerless tags.
In fact it was reported that many Michigan hunters opted to stay home last year or travel elsewhere to try to fill their tags and freezers.
In western Montana last week, more than 100 dead whitetail were discovered in the Missoula Valley.
A press release dated Sept. 30 reports that whitetail in Montana's Region 4 have apparently been hit the hardest, and bowhunters who planned to hunt there may want to head another region or to the eastern portion of Region 4.
In the Dakotas, EHD impact this year has been significant enough that agencies have reduced the number of deer tags available to hunters in some areas.
After monitoring EHD-associated whitetail die-offs in the northwest part of the state, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department announced a reduction in the number of hunting licenses available in the affected area.
GFP has adjusted the number of deer hunting licenses available in northern Perkins County, and 41 unsold two-tag antlerless whitetail deer licenses will be eliminated from Perkins County north of South Dakota Highway 20 issued as West River Deer hunting unit 53A-19.
And in North Dakota, state wildlife official have decided not to issue the remaining 1,000 antlerless deer tags for units 3F1, 3F2 and 4F in the southwestern part of the state, where there have been ongoing reports of extensive whitetail mortality caused by EHD.
To the south, the cause of death of dozens of elk found in one spot in northern New Mexico remains under investigation.
Biologists for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish found at least 100 dead elk in a ½- to ¾-mile area within the same 24-hour period. Tissue samples and water samples from the area were taken and delivered to the state Veterinary Diagnostic Services laboratory for analysis.
"At this time we're looking into all possible causes, including epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD)," said Kerry Mower, the Department's wildlife disease specialist. "What we do know from aerial surveys is that the die-off appears to be confined to a relatively small area."
EHD - often referred to colloquially as "blue tongue" - is manifested in whitetail, elk and pronghorn antelope and is typically detected in late summer or early fall. The virus is spread by a biting midge and causes extensive internal hemorrhaging. Many animals exhibit no clinical signs and appear perfectly healthy, while others may have symptoms such as respiratory distress, fever, and swelling of the tongue.
Due to a high fever and internal bleeding, infected deer often are found sick or dead near water. Usually, the first hard frost of the year kills the disease-carrying flies and marks the end of the spread of EHD.
The disease does not affect humans, and hunters are not at risk by handling infected deer, eating venison from infected deer or being bitten by midges carrying the disease. Nevertheless, it's probably best to pass on a whitetail in its final throes of EHD.
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