Montana EHD Update, Part II: Outbreaks Broad, But Not Intense

I hate to follow up a post about disease and herd loss with another one, especially when whitetail deer populations and hunting opportunities are still excellent throughout much of the afflicted state, but the scope of the Montana EHD outbreak is broader than I previously reported.

Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (MFWP) and sources on the ground confirm what the blogosphere has rumored for months: losses have been widespread but not especially heavy throughout southcentral, northcentral and possibly west central Montana. I reported earlier this week on outbreaks in the northcentral part of the state as well as on a smaller outbreak near Missoula confirmed this week. Excerpts from two MFWP news release describe the situation:

“South central Montana is experiencing a widespread outbreak of hemorrhagic diseases that are killing white-tailed deer, antelope and possibly elk. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife biologists say the naturally occurring diseases are more widespread than they have seen before, but are not particularly intense in any one area.

“Bluetongue disease has been confirmed in both an antelope and a white-tailed deer in the area between Hardin and Custer. FWP has fielded reports of dead elk in that area, but have not been able to collect a carcass that is fresh enough to test. Biologists also suspect that epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD, may be responsible for some white-tailed deer deaths.

“Reports of dead white-tailed deer and antelope are widespread across the region, including further west and south than have been seen before. Biologists have fielded reports of dead animals along the Yellowstone River as far upstream as Springdale, along Rock Creek as high as Boyd, along the Stillwater River to Absarokee and along the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone to the Wyoming state line.

“While white-tailed deer will not disappear from Region 4, there will be fewer animals on the landscape. If hunters have secured a place to hunt in north central Montana they shouldn’t be scared away.
Whitetail hunters, however, may want to consider focusing their efforts elsewhere, like the eastern portion of Region 4 near Lewistown, or in Meagher County.
There is also good white-tailed deer hunting to be had in eastern Montana. If sticking to the central part of the state, a hunter might consider higher mountain valleys.

For hunters the concern has been, will there be any whitetails left? The answer is yes, there will be deer left. That’s partly because Region 4 has been at high, if not record, whitetail deer densities.
However, there will be fewer whitetails in areas with EHD and that may affect where a person hunts.”

MFWP could have added much of western Montana to the list of strong alternatives, especially for big mountain bucks whose escapement typically exceeds that of more open-country whitetails.

In scores of camping and lodging-based trips to Montana over the last 30 years, I’ve been snowed out, rained out, been freaked out, seen rivers blown out, but I’ve never had a bad time. EHD can’t touch a blown-out Montana trout stream for erasing all dreams of success. It may hit whitetails harder than all other North American big game species, but enough survive. According to research cited by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks in a recent news release, fewer that 25% of deer and antelope are typically affected in Montana hemmhoragic outbreaks, rarely up to 50%.

What appears unique about this year is the that losses are more widespread than normal, but that severity of localized outbreaks isn’t exceptional given MFWP’s experience dealing with the disease. The best news in the weather forecast shows lows in the mid 20s, even in the valleys. These temperatures improve the odds that this weekend will spell an end to the biting midges and other insects that transmit the disease.

My next post will turn south to western Wyoming, where good intel suggests bucks are becoming more active.