I hate to be the one who breaks it to you, but Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) isn’t the only threat our beloved whitetails are facing. Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) is killing deer all across the country.
For those who aren’t familiar with the term, EHD is more prevalent in areas experiencing drought and receding water. The disease is spread by a small biting bug called a midge fly. Midge flies congregate near remaining water sources during these times without rain. Deer also depend on these few remaining water sources. Consequently, deer and midge flies cross paths, resulting in the spread of EHD.
The disease seems to affect the older end of the age structure more so than the younger. Therefore, it can especially wreak havoc on populations being managed for trophy bucks. It can set hunters back as many as three to four years, if managing for the oldest and most mature animals.
As for this year, it’s striking down deer in areas of Illinois that are all too familiar with the disease. Doug Dufford, Illinois Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Disease and Invasive Species Program Manager, confirmed the rumors floating around the Internet.
“We have been getting reports of EHD,” Dufford said. “The highest levels of infections seem to be in the west central part of the state. Adams County is the highest. Neighboring counties Hancock, Henderson, and McDonough also are showing cases. The northern counties of Stephenson and Winnebago are feeling its impact, too. We have a few scattered reports in the southern part of the state.
“We even have a herd of cattle that went down in the northwestern part of the state,” Dufford said. “It doesn’t traditionally affect cattle unless the disease is fairly new to an area.”
Hunters are feeling its affects in areas throughout the state. Tim Wells, with Relentless Pursuit, recently became aware of a giant buck that died of EHD on a farm where he has hunted in the past. The deer was found by his friend, Steve Dugan, on a property near Highland, Illinois. That's not far from the hotspot reported by the IDNR.
Dugan was crushed when he found the deer lying dead on the land he hunts.
"It made me sick," Dugan said. "I'm guessing it was around a 190-inch deer. This EHD, there is no cure for it. There's no way to combat the disease. When they get it, they're dead."
Wells was upset to hear the news, too.
“EHD has been around for quite a while,” Wells said. “I can remember when I was a kid seeing dead deer everywhere and smelling them. That was 35 years ago. This disease is terrorizing our deer populations. It seems like EHD is beginning to mutate and get stronger. It seems to be hitting deer harder in recent times."
There’s no doubt Illinois has been ravaged by the disease in recent years. But there is a silver lining.
“[EHD] is prevalent within the hotspot,” Dufford said. “But it’s still not as bad as in 2012 and 2013.”
So it isn’t as bad as 2012 and 2013…yet. But it’s worse than 2014. And Illinois isn’t the only place EHD is hitting home. States such as Missouri, North Carolina, and Kentucky are also feeling the impact.
According to Kentucky taxidermist, Sam Coffey, a hunter named Ryan Bratcher located a dead buck near Leitchfield, Kentucky, with foam coming out of its mouth. Coffey said the deer was examined by Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources Conservation Officer Steven Nelson.
Jared Hanley, wildlife biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife, sent the deer off to be tested and confirmed the report.
“This deer in Grayson County did come back positive,” Hanley said. “It was a 2½-year-old deer.”
As for the rest of the state, most reports are coming from the northeastern and central parts of the state. Owen, Woodford, and Anderson Counties are seeing the most cases of the disease.
Not everyone experiences EHD firsthand. It is a very localized disease that shows up somewhat randomly. One thing I can assure you: Those who have experience will tell others that they don’t want it where they hunt. It can decimate a herd in a matter of hours.
It’s a very serious disease with very real affects on the state of deer hunting throughout America.
Get the latest deer hunting news, tips and tactics in your inbox!
Whitetails make the hunting world go round. Josh Honeycutt, deer hunting editor and "Brow Tines and Backstrap" blogger, knows a fair bit about killing mature deer. He was raised up hunting the river bottoms of Kentucky. And he still hunts there—among other places—to this day.
Follow along as he shares his adventures, experiences and knowledge of the white-tailed deer.