While recent reports from Big Sky country suggest disease is taking a toll on whitetail deer populations in the foothills and river valleys of Region 4 (north-central Montana), whitetails are doing very well throughout the vast majority of the huge state. This Region 3 whitetail dandy comes courtesy of Keith Miller of Montana Whitetails. His client arrowed the buck a few days ago during the end of an unsettled weather pattern that affected deer movement throughout much of the West. Weather conditions are now stable throughout most of the region.
Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) appears to have hit portions of Montana hard. The lethal virus wreaks havoc on whitetails until frosts kills the transmitters: tiny biting midges and other biting insects. During periods of prolonged drought, EHD outbreaks become more likely as deer concentrate near shrinking water sources — along with disease-carrying insects. Wide reports indicate EHD is continuing to kill deer throughout north-central Montana due to mild temperatures throughout most of the state. The earliest chance of a hard frost to knock down midges and mosquitoes for the year appears to be during the coming weekend, when temperatures will dip into the 20s for overnight lows.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks indicated today that at least 400 deer near Missoula have now been reported dead from the disease. This is by far the furthest west in the state the disease has been confirmed this season. Reports from around the state, including MFWP, suggest whitetails are doing very well almost everywhere. For those with hunts planned in north-central Montana, remember that even after an EHD outbreak, many deer survive, and populations were robust before the decline. Opportunities are excellent throughout most of the state, and hunting is still viable in places where the disease has struck. Two drainages close to each other can fare entirely differently during an outbreak.
Whitetail hunters might pray for the cold to put an end to EHD for the year, as well as for the onset of freezing weather, shorter days, and the pre-rut and early rut behaviors we should start seeing over the next few weeks. With general deer seasons open or opening throughout much of the West, we should start seeing some big whitetails being harvested.