The Grim Results of EHD

Update: Nebraska isn't the only state on the Plains that's taking a hit from EHD. South Dakota officials have announced they are reducing the number of deer tags for several units where deer herds have taken a hit from the disease this summer. From the news release:

"As the department continues to monitor the outbreak of EHD over the next couple of weeks, we will provide additional recommendations to the Game, Fish and Parks Commission at its October meeting to address East River deer units," said GFP Secretary Jeff Vonk. "Currently, the department plans to recommend that the commission remove all unsold licenses in Bon Homme, Hutchinson, and Yankton counties and make significant reductions to leftover licenses in Brule and Charles Mix counties for the second draw of the East River deer season. Between now and the next commission meeting, we will continue our surveillance efforts with the possibility of additional license reductions.

"Reports of dead deer are coming from across the state, and in some instances landowners are telling traditionally hosted hunters that opportunities will be limited," Vonk said. "With that in mind, GFP is notifying deer hunters that they can voluntarily return a deer license for any season prior to the start of that respective season and receive a full refund."

You can read the complete press release, along with information on returning tags for refund here.

In the past few Rut Reports I've touched on the news that Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD), or Blue Tongue, is a major concern among Great Plains hunters this fall. While the Central Platte River region of Nebraska seems to be the epicenter of the ugly disease, nearly every one of my contacts across the Plains states of Nebraska, Kansas and the Dakotas has mentioned finding dead deer while pre-season scouting.

The photo of the skull on the tailgate comes from extreme northeast Colorado, near where the lower South Platte River enters Nebraska. Hunter Kurt Kaiser found the dead deer in early August just 20 yards from his treestand, and laments losing such a great buck. Kaiser and his brother-in-law Matt Highby also hunt in western Nebraska, where they've been regularly finding evidence of the disease since mid-summer.

"EHD is still hammering the deer by Bridgeport," Kaiser told me earlier this week. "Looks like another big die-off last week. Matt found 6 or 7 that died during the last 10 days on Saturday. We're hoping the reason for not seeing the mature deer is that they're in the corn because of the drought, and not all dead."

Another Nebraska hunter, Klint Andreas, e-mailed me the photo below. He discovered the dead buck where he hunts in the north-central part of the state.

"Found this guy in the middle of an alfalfa field in Arnold last weekend," said Andreas. "EHD has finally made its way there. [The landowner] said that he has found about 12-15 dead deer in the last month or so. Talked to another guy there and he has been seeing the same thing."

It hurts to see such great bucks dead, but the real effects of EHD will be seen later this fall and in seasons to come. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has been battling an exploding whitetail population for the past few years, and officials there have been getting an earful from farmers complaining about crop depredation. In response, NGPC instituted liberal seasons, bonus doe tags, and other hunter-led management goals in an attempt to get the herd under control.

With EHD, it looks like Mother Nature may have taken care of that herself. Estimates given by the NGPC currently put the die-off around 2,200, which hunters are saying is way too conservative. Still, officials haven't taken any steps such as reduced seasons or tags for this year, putting hunters in a wait-and-see mode until November rifle season.