Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Virus outbreak likely to affect few bowhunters

Springfield — In the days before archery deer season opened, a number of hunters around the state were heard contemplating what they might find in the woods once Oct. 1 finally arrived.

More correctly, they were curious about what they might not find.

A well-publicized and somewhat expected outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease struck much of the state following a severe summer drought. By mid-August, landowners, farmers and hunters began reporting dead deer – en masse.

Whether the EHD outbreak has an effect on bowhunting participation this year won’t be known for months. Sales have remained steady over the past five years and last year DNR sold 217,653 archery permits. That was about 2,000 fewer than in 2010 and about 4,000 fewer than in 2009. In 2007 – the year of the last major EHD outbreak – DNR sold 209,825 archery permits. The next year, in 2008, that number jumped back up to 216,075.

Even if fewer hunters take a bow to the woods this fall, and despite the EHD numbers, DNR expects little effect on the archery deer harvest. Bowhunters took 61,974 deer during the 2011 archery season, a slight decrease from the 63,570 taken in 2010. The Illinois record of 66,093 was set during the 2005 season.

Exactly how many deer have fallen victim to the virus, which is spread by biting midges, is hard to pinpoint. In early September, DNR announced that more than 700 cases in 51 counties has been confirmed. At the end of

September, the number of counties with EHD cases has risen to 73. The number of dead deer reported to DNR was likely to top 1,000.

Tom Micetich, DNR’s deer project manager, said it was too soon to compare the 2012 outbreak to the one in 2007, when DNR received reports of just under 2,000 dead deer in 57 counties.

Micetich said EHD “hotspots” in the state can be difficult to identify.

“Typically, outbreaks tend to be localized with a very patchy distribution across the landscape,” he said. “This occurs because environmental and habitat conditions play an important role in producing just the right mix of virus, high gnat populations, and susceptible deer. Heavy losses may occur in a particular area, while adjacent properties may be virtually unaffected. While deer may be dying on your property, your neighbor may not find any.”

An example of the kind of reports that came in last month included one from along a stretch of the Kaskaskia River. A group of people found 26 dead deer and reported   the finding. Some of the deer were tested by animal control officers and found to have EHD.

Unique to past EHD outbreaks in Illinois, a number of reports – more than 200 – came from Cook County. In past years, few EHD cases were reported in the northern section of the state.

Illinois is not the only state experiencing EHD. Cases have been documented in Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana and Ohio.

Micetich noted that there is no effective treatment for EHD. A good frost typically ends the outbreak.

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