Heat hurts goose hunting, and could also prove troublesome for deer

A  late summer season heat wave has settled over the northeastern portion of the U.S., bringing hot days, warm nights and oppressive humidity. The coming weekend looks like it’ll see some relief, but next week is forecast to still be warm enough to bother anyone and anything facing time outside.

I know a few guys who hunted the September Canada goose opener Saturday, Sept. 1 and again on Monday (Labor Day). A few geese were taken but not many. Everyone I spoke with swore off any more hunting until this heat breaks, and sighting geese has become a rather rare experience as they seem to be contented to stay on or near safe water to fight the heat themselves.

There is one other aspect of hot, late-summer days that is not discussed often in Pennsylvania, and that is the possibility of biting midges carrying the EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease) virus, passing that viral disease onto whitetails they attack.

EHD can surface anywhere in the country, but according to researchers it seems to be more deadly for deer in the northern half of the nation, at least in the terms of small areas. More than anything else, that’s probably due to a lessened exposure for northern deer.

Frost kills midges, and if the first frost is early enough, the midge problem for deer is eliminated. Deer to the south live within a general area where frost — if and when it comes — is usually much later in the year. This is a significant factor with deer and EHD.

Deer that are exposed to EHD and survive develop antibodies that protect them from further bites from midges carrying the disease. From longer periods of frost-free weather, exposure for southern deer happens more often. That doesn’t mean it does not kill deer in the south – it does. But exposure over a longer period means more antibodies in deer populations from an increased number of survivors.

Often owing to the simple fact of many years without EHD exposure, records of deer deaths from the disease when occurring in the north show that some small areas of habitat, when exposed to the disease, can experience a huge decline in a deer population living within. The deer numbers in those areas eventually recover, but it takes a few years to happen.

A couple of other facts about EHD in deer: Infected deer are usually found dead close to water. This is because worsening symptoms include high fever, which makes them seek water before their demise. Younger deer suffer a higher mortality rate because of no antibodies. With all the talk of chronic wasting disease in deer populations, EHD is still, by a large amount, the most common whitetail disease, with infections occurring in late summer and early fall.

This news is not all bad, though. Outbreaks are usually confined to small areas wherever they occur, and the worst years tend to happen on a cyclic basis, not every year.

Although elk have been exposed to EHD, there has never been a confirmed case of the disease killing one. This is good news for the Pennsylvania elk herd, and wherever else they live.

Deer, like all forms of wildlife, face many obstacles in their lifetimes, and EHD is high on the list. To the many hunters who never really think about them until hunting seasons begin, you should perhaps consider how lucky you’ve been to harvest an animal that has overcome difficult odds to offer you that chance.

Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, Pennsylvania – Ron Steffe, Waterfowl, Whitetail Deer

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