Greg Koelker

Koelker

It is Nov. 8. The Big One is just a couple weeks away. The annual Wisconsin gun deer hunt will open on its traditional day on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. About 700,000 blaze orange attired nimrods will take to the Wisconsin woods to meditate, and try to fill their souls with time spent in the woods or memory making in deer camps with family and friends, or for some over a deck of cards in some the bar up north or down south. By all estimates, a whole bunch have the chance to fill their freezers with venison.

We have seen lots of new ideas about deer harvest since I started gun deer hunting back when Nixon was president: 3-Day Any-Deer seasons to 9-Day Seasons, bucks only, Go Wild, Dr. Deer, county deer advisory councils, earn-a-buck, no more backtags, bonus tags, no more tags for harvested deer, no more party permits, cell phone and/or electronic registration, management units changed to county borders, rifles approved for use statewide, some weapons can be transported uncased, elk are in the north woods, cutting up a carcass in the woods to facilitate transport is legal, mentored hunts, bans on feeding and baiting, special holiday hunts and more, CWD testing, the spread of CWD, dumpsters put out to collect bones and to help prevent CWD, gun deer hunting has become much safer, red plaid hats and coats have been exchanged for blaze orange clothing, blaze yellow clothing, blaze pink camo clothing, new rules about shining deer at night, handgun hunting, and a separate muzzleloader season. I could go on.

In 2019, much of the talk in hunting camps and war councils will be a new deer viral disease—epizootic—hemorrhagic—disease—virus, aka EHD. Rumors abound about EDH: many thousands of deer are dead! The disease can jump species! They say that EHD will eclipse CWD in the annals of Wisconsin deer management! I don’t think so, at least not from what I have learned so far about EHD.

I live near the Mississippi River in a coulee south of La Crosse. Some of my neighbors have found some dead deer this summer — 20 or more. I have not. Still, EHD is out there and depending on the weather from August until late October, it is killing some deer.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran stories about about EHD back in 2012 when dead deer were showing up in areas/counties east of here. How long has it been around? I talked with DNR biologist Dan Goltz of Viroqua and he says that there were even a handful of cases before 2012; 2012 was a drought year and that EHD event was centered east of us near Portage. Over 300 deer were suspected to have died. Then it went it away or so it seemed.

According to Goltz, “2019 has been our next big event.” Goltz says that in Crawford County the first confirmed case of EDH was found near the Kickapoo Indian Caverns. “The tricky thing is that we have to collect the lung tissue right away after the animal dies, like within a day,” to get a good lung sample to test for EHD. “We suspect 200 to as many as 300 deer have died from EHD in Crawford County, but we confirmed only 8 for certain,” says Goltz. He added that, “Those numbers seem like a lot, and it will affect some areas, but really, they are less than 2 to 3% of the deer in Crawford County.

Goltz estimates that in Vernon County, near Chaseburg, 30 to 50 deer have died from EHD this year. Goltz told me that in addition to Crawford County and Vernon County, EHD has been found in La Crosse County, Richland County, Sauk County, Grant County, and Iowa County. He added that the Iowa State Department of Natural Resources estimate as many as 1,500 deer have succumbed to the disease across the Mississippi.

Goltz says that Wisconsin is on the northern edge of the range of the midge that carries the EHD. He added that, biologists feel that, “Individual deer can develop an immunity or resistance to the virus — but our deer don’t have that yet,” says Goltz.

Goltz surmises, “One of the contributing factors to the severity factors of this event is that the life cycle of the midge (think small fly or even No-see-ums maybe) requires really damp organic soil. The midge lays its eggs in that moist soil. I think with the flooding and receding water this summer we have really good environmental conditions for the midge.” Goltz added that, “After being bitten by a midge that is carrying EHD, there is a six to ten day incubation period. Then a deer will develop symptoms within 12 hours and die within 36 hours.” Some may live longer, but for most whitetails if they have EHD their rapid demise is inevitable.

I asked biologist Goltz if there anything to be done? He replied, “Wait for cold weather; the first hard frost and most of the midges should be killed.” Goltz says, “I suspect that some deer that were bitten could have lived as the the virus incubated (in them) and may be found a week later than the last killing frost.”

If a hunter suspects that a deer might have EDHV, can one eat the meat? “That’s a good question. There is no known risk to humans from the EHD virus,” replied Goltz.

I asked if I found, say a big buck in a creek or pond say, apparently dead from EHD, can I collect the antlers? Goltz replied, “Check with your warden.” (I emailed Warden Shawna Stringham, and she replied, “If you find a dead buck that is not a road hit deer, you would need a seizure tag from myself or Trevor Tracey — in this area anyway).”

I asked whether hunters will notice lower deer numbers in the EHD areas. Biologist Goltz says, “I think it’s gonna be kind of localized, some farms and land owners around Stueben found 30 dead deer on their place. Depending on where you are, the impact could be hard on your hunting. The marshy areas along Coon Creek were hit hard.” Still Goltz said that with the numbers of deer that most counties have, EHD kills are a small fraction of the population.

There have been some rumors that this is the viral disease blue tongue. Goltz said that, ”Blue tongue is in a similar virus, but what we have this year isn’t blue tongue.”

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, “The DNR has confirmed that epizootic hemorrhagic disease virus (EHD) is present in multiple southwestern counties this fall. This virus can cause mortalities in white-tailed deer . . . The suspect cases are based on observations of multiple dead deer or otherwise healthy looking individual deer found dead near or in water. New reports are received daily and new samples are collected for testing where available,” There is a table of counties with reported and confirmed EHD on the DNR website that will be updated weekly as new reports and sample results are available.

I also asked Biologist Goltz whether he thought hunters can put the remains of EHD killed deer in the CWD dumpsters. He replied, “I think that would be fine.”

In my opinion, for what it’s worth, Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease virus is a threat to our deer herd, but nothing on a scale like CWD. Some polls show citizens think that Chronic Wasting Disease is going away and/or at least not getting worse. The pros say otherwise. My advice is, be proactive and get your deer tested for CWD this season. Tracking the spread of EHD AND CWD is important.

Many of you might enjoy Deer Hunt Wisconsin 2019. It will air starting Nov. 14 online at: https://www.youtube.com/deerhuntwisconsin

Until next time, get out — if you haven’t shot your firearm for gun season, you may be getting a little short of time to get anything corrected that takes a gunsmith. Ellen and I saw a doe and two young bucks flirting with the doe behind our tobacco shed one morning this week and Eli’s cousin Jared from Michigan anchored a 9-pointer in the Corner Woods last Sunday morning. They planned to butcher it that day and Jared plans to take the meat on his flight home to Detroit as part of his luggage. Tis the season. Enjoy.

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Greg and his wife Ellen Koelker are retired and live on Grouse Hollow Farm near Stoddard.

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