Are Whitetail Herds Bouncing Back From EHD?

The nation’s whitetails have finally caught a break from epizootic hemorrhagic disease (also known as EHD or blue tongue) this year. After multiple drubbings from the deadly, midge-borne virus—2007 and 2012 were the worst outbreaks on record, and 2013 wasn’t much better—the past summer brought welcome relief.

“There were certainly scattered cases across the country,” says Kip Adams of the Quality Deer Management Association. “But nothing approaching what we’ve seen in the last handful of summers. Hemorrhagic disease is always the worst during a drought, and for the most part, rainfall was fairly abundant this year.”

Ducking the EHD bullet is undoubtedly a good thing, but it might be a good idea to keep conducting rain dances in the summers to come.

“Recovering from these back-to-back outbreaks is going to take awhile in some areas,” Adams warns. “How quickly deer herds bounce back is largely a matter of two factors; how hard an area was affected, and the quality of the habitat.

“For example, in some areas of western North Carolina they lost nearly 70% of their deer herd, and the habitat is just not that great. It’s going to take 4-5 years—assuming decent fawn production and that no other outbreaks occur—for those deer to get back to the population levels hunters saw before 2012.”

Conversely, in places with prime habitat and excellent feed, whitetails can stage a pretty impressive comeback. “In areas like north Missouri and southern Iowa—both places where EHD had a pretty severe impact in some areas—hunters could see a dramatic rebound within a year or two,” Adams says. “Whitetails just have everything they need there, and with a couple good fawn crops, deer will bounce back in a hurry.”

The long-term outlook for hemorrhagic’s impact on whitetails is, however, a definite matter of concern.

“It just seems to be increasing its range,” Adams notes. “States like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin—places that had never seen EHD before—are suddenly getting it. For many years, hemorrhagic disease was largely a southern thing, and that’s just not the case any more.”