Frigid conditions cannot arrive soon enough for the nation’s deer hunters.
Reports of epizootic hemorrhagic disease have risen to more than 2,000 cases in Michigan and wildlife officials are eliminating unsold deer hunting licenses in parts of South Dakota in response to an outbreak of the infectious, often fatal virus.
The disease has attacked deer herds throughout many portions of the Midwest after this summer’s brutal drought conditions. Midge flies, which carry EHD, typically bite deer while they congregate around stagnate pools of water. There is no known vaccine or cure for the disease, but previous outbreaks have ceased abruptly after a hard frost.
"We're getting new reports of dead deer daily," Chad Fedewa of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources' Flat River Field Office told the Iowa County (Mich.) Sun Sentinel.
Typically, white-tailed deer develop signs of the illness about 7 days after exposure. Eight to 36 hours following the onset of observable signs -- including blue-tinted tongue or eyes, ulcers on the tongue, sloughed hooves, high fever and swelling of the head, neck, tongue or eyelids -- deer pass into a shock-like state, become prostrate and die.
Fedewa also said the disease has been found in 25 counties in Michigan, totaling 8,500 dead deer since Oct. 2. More than 2,000 reports have come from Ionia County in central Michigan alone. About 1,000 reports have been filed in Kent County, 500 in Montcalm County and 300 in Clinton County.
Michigan’s bow hunting season began last week.
Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources has decided not to regulate this year's harvest seasons, but Fedewa said hunters should expect some changes in next year's seasons due to EHD and the steady decline through the past several years. He said he anticipates the Deer Management Unit to be split into several to manage the southern half of the state's lower peninsula.
"We still expect the numbers [of deer deaths] to be high, but the nature of the virus is patchy," Fedewa said. "Some areas are worse than others."
Humans cannot contract the disease and there is no harm in eating deer infected with EHD. With the addition of Florida last week, EHD cases have been reported in at least 16 states this fall.
In South Dakota, the unsold deer hunting licenses are being eliminated in Bon Homme, Hutchinson, Yankton, Clay, Union and Charles Mix counties in the southeastern part of the state as well as southern Perkins County in the northwestern part of the state. Hunters who already have licenses are being given the option of turning them in for a refund.
"The deer die-offs reported have been local in nature for many areas and not evenly distributed across each county," Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Jeff Vonk said in a statement. "Because the impact of EHD can vary, it is essential that hunters check with their local landowner on the status of the deer herd on properties they hunt.
“Reports of dead deer are coming from across the state, and in some instances landowners are telling traditionally hosted hunters that opportunities will be limited. With that in mind, GF&P is notifying deer hunters that they can voluntarily return a deer license for any season prior to the start of that respective season and receive a full refund.”
Last month, Game, Fish and Parks officials reduced the number of deer licenses in some hunting areas in the western part of the state because of the disease.
"It might take a year or two," to restore the deer population, Yankton County Conservation Officer Sam Schelhaas told the Yankton Press & Dakotan newspaper. "We might need to cut back on the tag numbers and restrict some hunting. We need to back off for a few years. But deer are resilient. With the help of sportsmen, and getting everybody involved, we can get back (the deer) numbers."
“We are grateful for the cooperation we have received from landowners and hunters,” Vonk said. “We have a common goal of doing what is best for our deer herd, and we will continue to evaluate additional reports and take further proactive measures if necessary.”