2017 EHD Tracker: Deer Disease Reported in SE Kentucky

KY EHD 2017It’s that time of year again when hunters and wildlife managers nervously wait and see if Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease will hit their region, and if so how bad of a deer-killing year it will be. EHD, which is transmitted to whitetails by biting midges, typically occurs from August through October, until the first frost in an area kills the midges that carry the disease.

Let’s hope this year’s first reported case of the disease, in Kentucky in July, is random and not a harbinger of bad things to come across the U.S. later this summer. This is the first reported outbreak of EHD in the Bluegrass State since 2007.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife officers say a dozen sick and dead deer have been reported in Floyd, Knott and other counties in the southeastern part of the state in recent days, and they are on the lookout for more. They ask the public to report any deer that looks sick or acts strangely. Call them if you find a dead deer, which if infected by EHD will often be found in or near a pond, creek or other water source.

Anywhere across the U.S., hunters should immediately report potential cases of EHD to the appropriate wildlife authorities.

Here’s some new information I learned from the Kentucky report. It’s imperative to call the state wildlife authorities ASAP if you see a sick or stumbling deer, or find one that looks as if it just recently died. Apparently a blood sample from a deer to confirm the presence of EHD is good for only one hour after the deer dies. But you should still report a deer that has obviously been dead for hours or days, because wildlife specialists can GPS where the deer was found, and cross reference that with other GPS pins to determine the size and scope of the EHD outbreak.

The Kentucky Department Fish and Wildlife has an excellent page that explains EHD and whitetails.

How NOT to Shoot a Button Buck

button buckThere are few among our BIG DEER army who would shoot a button fawn buck on purpose, but every one of us has accidentally done it. We have an antlerless tag and drop a fat “doe” to fill the freezer…we walk up to the deer and go, “Uh, oh,” as we see its nubs and male parts.

It’s an honest mistake that anybody can make, and that’s why harvesting a young buck with less than 2” of antler is legal in most states (check your regulations).

But you obviously never want to shoot a button. These pointers from the Michigan DNR will help you differentiate an adult doe from a buck fawn, so you won’t mess up again.

–Check body shape. A mature doe’s body is rectangular, with a long neck and face. A buck fawn is square-shaped and has a short neck and face.

Study heads with binoculars. A doe’s head is normally more rounded on top between the ears, and a buck’s head is flattened near the base of the antlers.Obviously look for little nubs too as you glass.

–If you spot a single deer ambling around looking lost consider this: Button bucks are often alone, while adult does tend to travel with other deer. But plenty of does walk around alone too.

–If possible, wait until 3 or more antlerless deer are together (maybe feeding out in a plot) then after glassing, harvest one of the larger animals.

–If two juvenile deer are alone without an adult doe, one will probably be a button buck. Normally the young male is larger than the female and could be mistaken for an adult doe. Look closely with binoculars for the antler bases and nubs of a button buck.

–Wait until the deer are standing or moving slowly. It is easier to identify sex and age when deer are not moving too fast.

–Shoot with good visibility. Poor light and heavy cover make it difficult if not impossible to determine a deer’s sex and age.

How Bad Was The Mule Deer Winterkill?

mule deerI recently attended the 2017 North American Deer Summit, where Jim Heffelfinger of the Arizona Game and Fish Department reported on the status of the mule deer across the American West. Jim said that while mule deer went through tough times in recent years, the good news is that muley populations have been trending up, and are stable or increasing slightly in most states.

But Jim did point to the hard, snowy winter of 2016-17 in some regions of the West, saying that “will lead to a dip in deer numbers this year in some states.” Well, turns out it will be quite a big dip in places.

U.S. News and World Reports has just published a compilation of how last winter impacted mule deer herds in 7 states. Here are some findings that jump out:

South-central Colorado saw high fawn mortality… estimates are that only 20 to 25 percent of fawns survived in the Gunnison Basin, mainly because of a large snowfall event…mule deer hunting licenses in the basin have been reduced by 60 percent for bucks and 80 percent for does.

Idaho saw its third worst winter for mule deer fawn survival in the past 18 years… But mule deer numbers across the state are still healthy enough to withstand the loss as long as next winter is milder.

Above-average losses of mule deer fawns were recorded in northern Utah, where only 10 percent of one herd’s fawns survived… The losses occurred despite the state’s efforts to provide food supplements to the deer. Snow depths exceeded 150 percent of normal in some areas.

In Wyoming, mule deer and antelope west of the Continental Divide suffered significant losses, probably the worst in more than 30 years… Many areas saw up to 90 percent loss of deer fawns and up to 35 percent loss of adult deer. Fewer hunting permits for mule deer and antelope will be issued this fall in western Wyoming.


5 Summer Work Projects for Deer Hunting Land

mow plotGet out and put in a little sweat equity this weekend and for the next few months to improve your hunting this fall.

If you’ve got a good-sized pasture or overgrown field on the property, one of the best things you can do is mow 5 or 6 strips through the weeds, maybe 100 yards long and 20 yards wide. Leave strips of the larger and taller vegetation, like blackberries and greenbrier, between the mowed rows.

This simple task creates diversity of food and edge that whitetails love. When late-summer rains come in time for bow season, weeds and forbs pop up in the mowed strips, and deer love the new and succulent food source.

While you’re at it, hang a tree stand or two where the mowed strips intersect a wood line corner or funnel. Great spots to set up and shoot a buck feeding in the mowed strips early in the season.

Mow Some More: The natural order of does and bucks on a property will generally keep small food plots browsed down, but larger clover fields should be mowed at least once a summer with a tractor or an ATV. Cutting helps to control weeds, and the plant tops re-grow more tender and palatable.

Mow when the clover and grasses reach 10 to 12 inches tall. Mow everything down to 5 to 6 inches high.

In a year of normal temperature and rain, you’re okay to mow anytime as needed. But in a particularly hot and dry summer, don’t cut your plots too much or too short and burn them out.

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Double Down on Attractants: If you’re like me, you’ve had some mineral sites scattered across your land for a couple of months, and deer are hitting them regularly. Now, with the bucks’ antlers growing fast, it’s time to double down on attractants.

One day soon, make the rounds to all your sites and refresh them with a good dose o minerals or a corn-based attractant. Hook a camera on a tree at every site and pop in a new card.

Over the next 8 weeks, return to the sites every so often, dump out more minerals and swap cards. Biologists say mid-July until the first acorns start to fall in late August is the best time to conduct a camera survey of the bucks on your land.

From the mineral sites you’ll get hundreds if not thousands of images that, when combined, give you a good idea of how many deer live on the property, and the buck-to-doe ratio. Best of all, you’ll see the older bucks and immediately know what kind of rack year it will be.

Compile and sort the images of bucks, and note the times and locations of their travels. Cross-reference this info with aerial images of the property, and the patterns of the big deer, and where to hunt them, begin to come into focus.

Prep Fall Plots: If you are planning to put in a few cool-season food plots of, say, chicory or wheat, in August or September, here are a couple of things to do now.

Disk areas where you’ll plant several times in two-week intervals prior to when you’ll sow the seeds. This will not only work the soil, but also help to reduce weeds and grass that come up later. Gather some of the fresh dirt and have it soil tested to see if you need to lime the plots. The sooner you lime, the better your fall plants will grow.

Keep a Chainsaw Handy: As you move around your property and work, keep a chainsaw gassed, oiled and ready in your truck or ATV. “It’s one of your most important tools,” says Big Deer blogger and Illinois land-management expert Matt Cheever, who recommends a saw in the 40-45 cc range with an 18-inch bar. “Buy a quality saw and it will last about 25 years of hard use on your deer land.”

You never know when you’ll need it—to remove a tree that fell into a food plot in the last wind storm, or across a logging road or ATV trail that you use to access plots. You might need to cut a rotting, dangerous tree that stands near one of your ladders or blinds.

“Every dead and fallen tree that you remove now will let you move around and hunt easier, quieter and safer when the season opens in a few months,” says Matt.

2017 Deer Update: How Are Mule Deer Doing?

mule deerAt the 2017 North American Deer Summit last week, Jim Heffelfinger of the Arizona Game and Fish Department reported on the status of the mule deer across the American West.

Mule deer went through tough times in the 1990s, and populations declined in many areas. More than 20 years later most people still think mule deer numbers are down, “but actually there’s good news,” said Jim. “Mule deer populations have been trending up, and are stable or increasing slightly in most states.”

Jim pointed to Utah, Idaho and California as bright spots, with herds on the slight rise. But he did acknowledge that the winter of 2016 was brutal in parts of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, where there should be a “little dip” in deer numbers this year.

In the West, mule deer face unique challenges, such as expanded housing, energy and road development in herds’ migration routes and wintering areas; limited and changing water supplies; and changes in habitat and food sources. Major predators of the mule deer are the coyote (on fawns) and mountain lion.

Jim is particularly positive about the herds and the number of big, mature bucks in his home state of Arizona. “The big bucks are here in any given year.” Arizona manages their mule deer so conservatively—drawing a tag is tough—that there are always big deer on public ground. Also expect lots of huge public-land bucks this fall next door in New Mexico, where again pulling a tag is the biggest challenge.