Overall Activity Status: A warm, dry September is in the books, and some nice bucks were taken throughout the region. The bad news for farmers, ranchers and wildlife, however, is a regional forecast calling for more warm, dry weather. Whitetail movement across the West has been limited by warm temperatures, and in some parts of the region, so has deer survival.
Nowhere out West are whitetails reeling harder from successive warm, dry summers and rough winters than far Eastern Montana and Northeastern Wyoming, while whitetails are on the upswing across the rest of the two states.
Winter losses were severe in the northeastern portion of the western region over the last two years. Drought-ridden summer landscapes have compounded losses, concentrating whitetails around diminished water sources, leading to sporadic outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD).
The biting gnats that carry EHD have flourished during two consecutive late, wet springs, and warm Indian summers have allowed them to hang on late into the fall. The more dry it becomes, the more gnats and whitetails cohabitate around water. As reported here earlier this summer, Montana game managers estimate severe 2011 losses in the river corridors of far Eastern Montana, up to 80% to 90% in some areas. Rumors of 2012 outbreaks in Eastern Montana have so far been unconfirmed, but, to the south in the Cowboy State, gnats are biting and deer are dying.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department Information Specialist Robin Kepple says her agency wants hunters to know that an EHD outbreak is underway in Black Hills Country.
“Deer numbers were already very depressed in the Black Hills from bad winters…we don’t know the scope of the losses yet, but we have received a number of reports of dead whitetails…tag numbers have been reduced in the Black Hills.”
Kepple reports that this outbreak may be severe; however, it is not out of the ordinary. She also reports that she has heard of no other such outbreaks anywhere in her state but that nearby drought-stricken states like Kansas, South Dakota, and Nebraska have not been so lucky.
“The outbreaks typically continue until a hard frost kills the gnats that carry the disease.”
The forecast suggests deer may continue to die for a while. The bottom-line good news is that even during the most severe outbreaks of EHD, approximately 10% of whitetails are resistant to the disease, ensuring the survival of the herd.
Elsewhere across the Western Region, there has been no concrete word of any outbreaks, just limited deer activity due to unseasonably warm temperatures with almost no precipitation.
Fighting**: Sparring has been observed in states across the West.
Rub Making: Bucks at higher elevations in the Northern Rockies are more actively engaged in rub making than lower elevation whitetails like those in the Inland Northwest. Whitetails in Idaho’s Clearwater and Salmon River Country are still holding in summer patterns.
Scrape Making: None reported, but scrapes are expected as the month progresses.
Daytime Movement: Whitetails continue to move mostly during mornings and evenings, with cooler temperatures more likely to affect daytime movement than the waning moon.
X Factor: Deer movement continues to be dominated by weather, and it’s still dry and warm across the West. For localized EHD outbreaks like the one in Northeast Wyoming’s Black Hills, the only remedy is a hard frost, which will kill the gnats that transit the disease.