Perfect conditions can mean vastly different things. Perfect conditions for deer hunting would include several days of rain followed by the first really cold spell. However, this summer provided perfect conditions for something else. Across North Carolina, the hot dry summer followed by the onslaught of rain from storms such as Irene provided perfect conditions for flies and gnats. These insects are the carrier for the virus that inflicts hemorrhagic disease in deer, cattle, and sheep amongst other animals.
Hemorrhagic disease encompasses two sub-infections, known as epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) and blue tongue disease, is well known in hunting circles and has been spotted throughout North Carolina this season. An infected deer may lose its fear of humans, as it becomes obsessed with finding water and shade in order to combat one of its top symptoms of high fever. Symptoms such as cracked hooves, bloated, thin, weak, or severely underweight deer, especially if it has suffered for an extended period of time are common. Swollen lips and tongues with a blue color, hence the name blue tongue disease, may be seen but are not necessarily present. Often dead deer will be found near rivers and bodies of water.
The last major outbreak was in 2007, with five notable outbreaks since the 1980’s.
Deer presumed to be infected and harvested by hunters should not worry, as the meat and hide are still safe to eat and use. The disease cannot be transferred to humans. The only passage of the disease is through midges (flies and gnats). The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is requesting any deer displaying such symptoms, or found dead or dying, be reported to the Division of Wildlife Management at (919)707-0050 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
As mentioned in many arguments as a reason to hunt, diseases that can damage herds such as hemorrhagic disease are primarily found by hunters and outdoorsmen. In 2007 for instance, an outbreak of blue tongue disease was initially spotted by hunters scouting land near the Asheville area. Hemorrhagic disease has been known to strike deer populations with as much as a 30% mortality rate in the herd in local areas. You can see why it is important to be reported. If a deer survives through the disease, it develops immunity to future outbreaks.
Counties affected by hemorrhagic disease this season include western counties such as Yancey and Cherokee, and northeastern counties such as Halifax, Edgecombe, Northampton, Bertie and Gates counties.
Bill Howard writes a weekly outdoors column for the Wilson Times and Yancey County News and the bowhunting blog site GiveEmTheShaft.com. He is a Hunter Education and International Bowhunter Education instructor, lifetime member of the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, Bowhunter Certification Referral Service Chairman, member and official measurer of Pope and Young, and a regular contributor to North Carolina Bowhunter Magazine.