A large outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, known as EHD, has infected more than half of the deer hunting units in the western part of North Dakota.
The total number of deer that have died due to the outbreak may never be known, but it has been severe enough to prompt the North Dakota Game and Fish Department to offer license refunds to more than 13,000 hunters.
"While we first received reports of isolated deer deaths in August, loss of deer to this disease appears to have extended through September and into October," said Randy Kreil, Game and Fish wildlife division chief. "It covers a large area of western North Dakota."
File Photo - - White-tailed deer take advantage of open ground to do some grazing. An unknown number of white-tails have died in recent weeks due to epizootic hemorrhagic disease.
Deaths from the disease have been discovered from the southern border of Williams County to the South Dakota border, affecting 11 of the 18 deer gun units in the west.
It is a huge area, much larger than the state's previous outbreak of the disease, which occurred in 2000. That outbreak was limited to four hunting units and 3,000 license holders.
Although deer hunters in the affected units in 2000 were offered license refunds, very few actually requested them. They opted instead to continue with the tradition of the hunt and to take their chances in the field. This year, however, may prove to be quite different.
"I know we don't have any deer. It's all over around here," said Sandy Flynn, a long-time ranch resident south of Alexander. "It started, I'd say, the first part of September. There's no deer. We did see two or three sets of twins by themselves. Who knows if they'll make it."
The disease strikes white-tailed deer severely. Not mule deer. Although mule deer may become temporarily ill from the disease, it rarely kills them. It is the whitetails that succumb to internal hemorrhaging and die rather quickly.
"EHD is spread by a biting midge. A deer that gets it will be dead in 48 to 72 hours," Kreil said. "It is a naturally occurring disease with no prevention and no cure.
"We knew we were overdue for an outbreak," he added. "With a warm, moist summer and fall, it was perfect conditions for it."
Outbreaks of the disease end when the freeze begins. Freezing temperatures put an end to the life of the pesky midge that carries and transfers the disease. That means it is very likely the outbreak will have come to an end several days prior to the opening of the deer gun season Nov. 4.
Whitetail license holders wondering about deer losses to the disease in their hunting unit are encouraged to check with local contacts. Those who choose to stay out of the field can submit their license to Game and Fish, along with a request for a refund due to EHD, no later than Nov. 3. Those who obtain refunds will have their preference points restored for future license lotteries.
Game and Fish had received reports of dead deer several weeks ago, but it was the opening weekend of the pheasant season that supplied biologists with a great deal of information. As expected, pheasant hunters walked habitat frequented by white-tailed deer. Many discovered dead deer and reported the same to Game and Fish.
"Lots of pheasant hunters and landowners were saying they are seeing the same thing," Kreil said. "I found two whitetail bucks dead myself in one location. This thing is pretty widespread."
Although some believe there are some minor differences, the disease is also referred to as "blue tongue." Infected deer often are seen with their tongues protruding from their mouths and they take on a pale or blue color.
Death by epizootic hemorrha-gic disease is hideous, characterized by fever, internal hemorrhaging and weight loss due to pain in the mouth. High fever that accompanies the disease forces deer to lie in water in order to cool down. For that reason, infected deer are often found in abundance near streams and other water sources.
Kreil said not all whitetails in the affected hunting units have contacted the disease. In fact, Kreil said, some areas have no
reports of deaths from the disease.
"The whitetail population has not been decimated and in many areas a good harvest is still needed," Kreil said.
According to Game and Fish, hunters do not have to worry about handling or consuming meat from infected deer because the virus that causes the disease is not known to cause disease in humans.