How Will the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse Affect Deer?

eclipse map

On Monday August 21 a total solar eclipse will arc across the United States for the first time in 99 years, providing a rare sight for tens of millions of people from Oregon to South Carolina.

We humans are prepared for this event and looking forward to it. But what will the deer and other animals do when the moon blocks the sun and darkness descends and the temperature drops in the middle of just another day in their lives?

Truth is, nobody, even the scientists who live for a 100-year event like this, really knows.

While there is scant scientific info from eclipses in past years and decades, there are a lot of anecdotal stories—monkeys flipping out in the sudden darkness, birds flying around wildly, snakes going berserk…. Most of this is probably hyperbole and rumor.

But I did see where some hospitals are stocking up on anti-venom for Monday’s event, so maybe there is something to the snake thing. This makes me nervous, as I plan to view the eclipse while hiking in Shenandoah National Park, which has its share of timber rattlers. In fact I damn near stepped on a yellow-phase rattler thick as your forearm the other day; I saw it and ran like hell and never looked back.

But I digress. I found some info from MNN that says crepuscular animals—creatures that typically move the most during the low-light conditions of dawn and dusk, like deer—often mistake a solar eclipse in the middle of the day for an early twilight. Crickets and frogs may jump into a dusk chorus, and mosquitoes and midges may start their evening swarms. And in the midst of a total solar eclipse, it can be dark enough not only to quiet down diurnal animals, but also to lure out the night shift. There are many reports of nocturnal animals being active during totality, including bats and owls.

While I don’t expect deer to freak out, it will be interesting to see if there is a flurry of moment as the sky goes dark at 2:00 or 3:00 PM. I expect that the animals might move at least some, and I’ll monitoring it on a phone app that is linked to 6 Spartan wireless cameras that just happen to be situated within the eclipse arc from Oregon to Kansas to Virginia. Will be fun to watch and see what happens.

This Total Eclipse tracker is very cool, click here to see what it will look like in your zip code on Monday.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD): Rules for Transporting Deer Across State Lines

I recently attended the National Deer Summit and was struck by the dire reports of CWD that came from the country’s top deer scientists.

cwd map 2017

Map Source: Tennessee WRA

To a man and woman, all the experts agreed that CWD is the most serious threat to our deer herds and hunting that we’ve faced in decades, and possibly ever. To a person they said the thing we must do to stop the spread of CWD is to immediately monitor and restrict the movement of deer and deer parts across state lines.

First is to immediately stop the interstate transport of live deer to penned facilities, something that does not affect the 99.9% of us that hunt wild deer.

Second is to monitor and restrict the interstate transport of deer shot and killed by hunters, something that will directly affect millions of us who hunt deer in different states this fall.

This 2017 information on CWD Carcass Import Restrictions from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is timely. While it pertains to Tennessee, the import restrictions are virtually the same for every state in the nation.

If you harvest a deer, elk or moose from a CWD positive area (highlighted yellow map) it must be properly processed before bringing it back into Tennessee. This rule is in effect to protect the state from the unintentional introduction of Chronic Wasting Disease.

How do you properly process a deer (or elk) that you shoot in, say, Wyoming or Saskatchewan for legal transport back to Tennessee, New York, Georgia or (insert your state here)?

Two big things to remember: You cannot throw a whole field-dressed deer into your truck and drive home across state lines like you did in the old days. Nor can you cut off a buck’s head with antlers attached and take it home.

You must:

Skin the animal and bone out the meat. Quartering a deer is not good enough. All bones should be removed. Pack the deboned meat in coolers.

As for antlers, if you saw them off an animal you plan to mount with the cape, you must thoroughly clean all meat and tissue from the skull cap.

If you want a European mount, that’s trickier. You must thoroughly clean off and clean out the entire skull so that no meat or tissues are attached to it. The Tennessee WRA also tells you to clean the teeth, something I never knew.

While state laws on this issue are similar, there are variations, so check your CWD transport regulations carefully.

What is CWD?

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal neurological disease of deer and elk, including white-tailed deer, moose, mule deer, and Rocky Mountain elk. The disease causes degeneration of the brain and eventual death. In the early stages of the disease, an infected animal may not show any signs that it is sick. As the disease progresses, animals will show signs of weight loss, generally accompanied by behavioral changes. In later stages, affected animals may show emaciation, excessive drooling, increased drinking and urination, listlessness, stumbling, trembling, loss of fear of humans and nervousness. CWD is not caused by a bacteria or virus. It is classified as a prion disease. For more, read here.

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.

Summer Whitetail Fun: 10,000 Trail-Cam Pictures, 30 Bucks!

MD bachelor bucks 2017 1

I have been swapping emails with one of our bloggers who has a very unique situation going on with his local whitetail herd. So unusual that even super deer biologist Grant Woods is impressed.

From our hunter, who has 2 cameras out:

I got more than 5,000 pictures in the month of June alone and most of them were bucks. This leads me to believe that our property is the summer home for the majority of the bucks in the area.

There are easily over 30 different bucks that I am getting pictures of every day. I only have 2 cameras up, and they are only 250 yards apart. I checked them again recently, and one camera had another 1,066 pictures and the other camera had 3,227 pictures since July 1. 

I clarify that all of the bucks aren’t in one big group. They are typically in groups of 3-6 bucks. But there are just so many small bachelor groups.

I know it’s normal for bucks to form bachelor groups in the summer, but is it normal for this many bucks to stick together in a 30-acre spot?  The property is larger, but they stay in this 30-acre area all summer, every summer.

Thirty bucks in 30 acres is unusual, so I ran it by Grant Woods to see if he’d heard of a similar situation:

This all sounds normal, except for the number of bucks.  Is there a habitat feature in or near the 30 acres that’s unique for the area?  Maybe a water source, reason bugs aren’t as bad in this area, less disturbance from two or four-legged predators compared to other areas?

There’s some reason the bucks are spending a lot of time in this area.  Bucks almost always disperse about the time they shed velvet. During past years have you noticed most of these bucks using a different portion of their range?  Do the dominant bucks continue using this area?  If so, that’s a great sign that there’s a limited resource there that bucks need year round like a natural mineral lick, etc.

If only bucks would act like that during hunting season!—Grant

Grant’s observations spurred thought in our blogger/hunter, who emailed me back:

It just dawned on me a possible reason for so many more bucks this year. It might not be that much of a phenomena and more that they were pushed to find a new home.  

There is a place about 1 mile away from our property where they recently bulldozed all of the woods, put up a tall fence and have been blasting away on the construction site.  I bet that is what has pushed more deer onto our land this summer.  They lost their bedding area.

By the way, I think the number one reason that bucks congregate here in the 30 acres every summer is that they are protected.  It is basically a sanctuary.  They have thick cover, plenty of food and there is a stream.  Our property butts against a place that doesn’t allow hunting or trespassing.  And that property butts against the interstate so there is no access at all from that side. 

If you were to look at a topo map you would see several hundred acres of farm fields and then a 30-40 acre patch of thick woods that butts up to the interstate.  This is their summer sanctuary.  The only humans they might see the entire summer are either the farmers or me checking my cameras. That would be the only thing about our property that is different from the surrounding area. The bucks  are undisturbed.

And, yes, Mr. Woods is correct.  Every year around mid-September, once the velvet comes off, the bucks disperse. And, no, the dominant bucks never stick around.  We are generally always left with a handful of smaller bucks. But maybe with the change in habitat, one the bigger bucks will stay on our land this fall, I hope so.

Fascinating story. And I’ve written and blogged many times over the years that what goes on lands surrounding where you hunt is just as important as what is happening on your land. I wrote this in an Outdoor Life article on summer scouting one time:

It’s easy to get so wrapped up in scouting your land that you neglect the adjacent properties. That’s a mistake because what happens across the fences dictates 50 percent or more of the deer movements in your area. Maybe a new crop of soybeans was planted a mile away, or new construction has leveled a big chunk of woods. Many things on adjacent lands can change the deer patterns from year to year, and you need to know that…

MD dan

Finally, our blogger asks: This is one of the bigger bucks I have on camera. Do you think those brows are going to split?  I hope so.

Yes, I see a big split brow (both sides!), hope he hangs around your spot in September bow season. Good luck.

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.