On December 1, 2013, the Deer and Elk Hunting season officially closed here in Montana. Initially there had been some rumors of a damage hunt due to low numbers of animals taken, but the season ended with no official extensions.
It looks like over most of Montana the number of deer obtained during this hunting season was down. Elk was about the same. In Regions 1 and 2 (in Northwestern and western Montana) the numbers of deer were equal or above last year’s take. Here in the eastern and central regions of Montana, the deer were hit hard by the EHD virus spread by biting midges, so fewer deer were seen.
EHD (Epizootic hemorrhagic disease) is seldom seen in Montana so it’s affects are more noticeable. In the southern states, the disease is more common and it’s thought that the deer have developed immunity to it. Although EHD can also infect Mule Deer and Pronghorn Antelopes, there aren’t as many fatalities noted. Numbers indicate that typically 25-50% of the existing deer population is affected. Since our whitetail deer populations were at or near record high numbers, this disease is very noticeable.
The virus is spread by biting midges, also called sand flies and no-see-ums, mainly in the late summer and early fall. These insects reproduce in mud and standing water. Our hot summer lowered water levels and created more muddy areas, better breeding grounds for these insects. The first frost kills the midges but not the larvae, which burrow into the ground. It will be interesting to see if next year there is another episode of the EHD virus.
Hunters may have come across deer that have exhibited symptoms of this disease. The disease causes extensive hemorrhaging, including the oral and nasal tissues. The deer may have excessive salivation, nasal discharge, respiratory difficulties, tender hooves, an arched back, and fever. Some animals have had such a high fever that they have been near or even immersed in fresh water, supposedly attempting to regulate their high temperatures. Hunters have reported finding dead whitetail deer in or near ponds and even floating in rivers.
Humans are not affected by EHD even if they handle the infected deer, eat the infected meat, or are bitten by the midges. However, it’s not recommended to eat any meat from an infected animal, since they may have also acquired other infections which may be harmful.
Let’s hope that there truly was only a 25-50% decimation in the whitetailed deer in Region 4 and that next year the deer hunting is back up to normal levels.
Hope you had a great hunting season wherever you are. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy, prosperous New Year with many more great hunts to come!
(Information for this blog came from Montana FWP website, Wikipedia, Great Falls Tribune, Missoula’s MT Standard, and Billings Gazette newspapers).