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Last updateThu, 19 Nov 2015 8pm

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HD and acorn supply may be reason for fewer deer sightings

Last week I did a short piece on the fact that many hunters are seeing far fewer deer this season than last. Some hunters are wondering if too many deer have been harvested. Others have mused that the hemorrhagic disease (HD) outbreak was worse than we thought, and still others felt that the incredible acorn crop was to blame.

In all actuality, the fact that fewer deer have been seen seems to be the case of the latter two reasons. I spoke briefly with Matt Knox, our Deer Project Manager for the state. He said that King George County harvest levels appear to be approximately 25% lower for archery and muzzleloader seasons. However, the first week of general firearms season was on par with last season.

I also chatted via e-mail with Todd Engelmeyer, our regional wildlife biologist who handles DMAP and other deer related issues for us. He stated that the HD calls to their office have been average to a little higher than average. But where there has been hemorrhagic disease it has been more severe. Engelmeyer also attributes the lower archery harvest to the very high mast crop we had this season. The harvest and DMAP data will tell the story a little clearer come January.

It does appear HD had more of an impact than we first thought.

It is interesting to me how the acorns not only were a bumper crop but also how they seem to be lasting a long time this year.

I walked around my property a few evenings ago and tried to sneak up on a few squirrels to put in the game bag. The acorns gave me away! The crunch could not be avoided.

As I stated in previous columns, when we have a lot of acorns, then the deer literally do not have to move to eat. If they are not moving, they are not being seen. I have not seen near as many deer in fields or along the road or lying in the road hit by cars this year, either.

However, several farmers that I know in the area and landowners are now reporting, or commenting, that they have found deer carcasses in or near water sources, which is common to HD outbreaks. I found even more people stating this since the last edition ran.

According to VDGIF, the disease outbreaks are frequent, and the distribution can be spotty or spread evenly. The last major outbreak seems to have happened approximately 10 years ago. Generally the disease will kill less than a quarter of our deer.

However, there have been times when nearly half have succumbed to the disease. The deer population, however,  always bounces back.

Given the numbers of yearlings we have been observing this year we should be in good shape next year provided we don’t have a harsh winter that hurts the fawns that are to be next year’s mature deer.

By the time this article is published, the die-offs from HD should be over. A few cold mornings kill the midges that transmit the virus that causes the fever in the deer. The deer that survive fight their way back to health but often there are tell tale signs of the disease. One sign is a peeling or sloughing hoof. The high fever causes the growth to stop on the hooves, which are like a fingernail of sorts.

I fielded a question about the disease passing from livestock to deer or from deer to livestock since both animals can be infected.

Although both animals in the same area can be infected there is no evidence or proof that one animal passes it to the next one that I can find online or in any of my textbooks or reference materials. The VDGIF website said the same thing.

There is nothing we can do but wait for the herd to rebound. There are still ample deer in the woods but it may take a bit more work or a different approach to take one home this season, given the amount of easy food for them and the likely lower numbers of deer in the woods.

Meanwhile, next summer if you find dead deer, please report it to VDGIF as they do like to track the disease and study the outbreaks. Last, if you get a deer this season, rest assured that HD survivors are not contaminated with anything that will harm humans.

If the deer appears healthy it should be safe to eat. As always, exercise precaution when field dressing deer and cook the meat through.

MARK FIKE

 

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