What are EHD and Bluetongue and What Should You Do if you Encounter it – Foundry Outdoors
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What are EHD and Bluetongue and What Should You Do if you Encounter it?

Both EHD and Bluetongue are realities of life these days. This brief guide offers some basic information on the causes, spread, and what this means for hunters.

No matter where you are, or what time of year it is, imagine the following scene. You are walking through your favorite creek bottom in the middle of August. Although the heat and bugs are bad, you push through the dense foliage. You’ve been seeing a nice buck on your trail cams over the summer, and now is the time to hang some stands and clear your shooting lanes. This particular buck travels off the beaten path, so you’ve got some bushwhacking to do before you get on location. Sweat runs down your face due to the combined heat, humidity, and physical strain of lugging your stuff though the mess. “It’ll all be worth it if I get just 1 shot,’ you think to yourself.

Picking your way forward, you come upon a particularly dense thicket, and decide to bypass it by skirting the edge of the creek. You round the edge walking on damp soil and it opens up into a small clearing. Your eyes spot something up ahead that freezes you in your tracks. Ducking down you focus on the shiney tines protruding through the grass. “Is that him?” you wonder to yourself.

A few minutes tick by and you start to realize something isn’t quite right. The angle of the antlers isn’t normal, and with the light breeze swirling around, surely he should have winded you by now. Slowly you stand erect, and begin to cautiously walk forward. As you move closer your heart begins to sink in your chest. The beautiful deer you came out here to hunt is lying motionless on the ground before you. HIs black eyes have glazed over and his once robust body is now nothing but skin and bones. “He must have lost 80 pounds,” you think, the thought half analytical and half compassion. You stand for a few minutes in the sweltering heat, swat a biting bug at your neck, and start to rethink what you’ll be doing this fall.

The preceding story is fiction, but the reality of it is something hunters know all too well. We can do all the scouting we want, all the deer management we can think of, and Mother Nature still gets the last word in all of it. Deer die for lots of reasons, but one reason hunters are growing more aware of are two of the more prevalent hemorrhagic diseases, EHD and bluetongue. While a thorough dissertation of the causes, impacts, and life of the virus is best left to a wildlife biologist, there are a few basic things all hunters can know.

The Disease

First off, EHD and bluetongue are both viral diseases that impact deer herds across the United States every year. The virus is transmitted by biting midges and can impact a host of species. Though most folks notice it in their whitetail herd, it can also impact species like mule deer, bighorn sheep, and pronghorns as well. Once infected the animal begins to display a variety of symptoms. These can include fever, swelling of the head neck, tongue, and eyelids, as well as ulcers forming on the deer’s body. Due to the fever deer often head for water for some respite, resulting in many of their bodies found near these sources. After their exposure to the disease, animals can die in as short a period as from 1-3 days. Oftentimes the deer will live for longer periods of time, losing their appetite and becoming lame. This can result in an extended and slow death for the animal. Although most infected deer will succumbed to the virus, there are cases where animals infected with a mild strain of the disease will survive and develop immunity, though those cases are rare.

Where Does it Occur?

Geographically EHD and bluetongue affect nearly the whole country, though it is most prevalent in the southeast. Due to the constant exposure those animals have to the diseases, the massive outbreaks are rare. As you move further west however, the animals are exposed less, and thus don’t have as much immunity. The result can be massive outbreaks that can strike devastating blows to deer herds. In fact in 2007 the Milk River in Montana lost 80% of their whitetail herd as a result of EHD. Although deer herds have been bouncing back from this disease since it was first reported in 1955, it is safe to say that big outbreaks can take years to come back from.

What Does it Mean for Hunters?

Finally, if you are out on an early season bow hunt and bring down an animal you think might be infected what should you do? Fortunately for us the disease is not transmittable to humans. You could potentially safely handle the meat and actually eat it without a problem. That being said eating sick deer is not advisable, and if the deer would happen to have another bacterial infection caused by the HD you could potentially get sick from that. More than anything it should add some comfort in knowing that if if accidentally consumed an infected animal (ie, one that had been infected for less than 24 hours) and wasn’t yet showing symptoms, you wouldn’t be in danger of contracting the disease.  

Unfortunately both EHD and bluetongue are realities of life. As of now there is no real cure for the diseases and deer herds are, for the moment, still in annual jeopardy. It is just another added component to the complex challenge of trying to manage our deer herds in a sustainable way that is best for deer and for hunters.


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