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Missouri anticipates EHD affect on deer season

From Missouri Department of Conservation

-- Although there are an estimated 1.4 million deer in Missouri, scientists anticipate a below average harvest this year with local differences in deer number, according to Emily Flinn, a resource scientist with the Department of Conservation.

Flinn says the past 10 years have seen short and long term changes in deer abundance. Hunting regulation changes met goals of reducing deer numbers in northern, western and central Missouri, and during the same period, less liberal harvest regulations allowed deer numbers in the Ozarks, southwest and southeast regions of the state to increase.

Flinn says differences in how deer are distributed across the state occur on much smaller scales than regions. This year, hunters who find fewer deer in their areas should consider taking fewer does.

To illustrate this, Flinn points to the differences in deer population densities that resulted from last year’s unusually severe outbreak of hemorrhagic diseases, called blue tongue or EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease). These diseases occur annually, but are prevalent in drought years.

The 2012 severe drought led to the worst hemorrhagic disease outbreak ever recorded in Missouri. Reports of deer deaths come to the Conservation Department from field staff and citizens topped 10,000.

Regions with the highest prevalence of deer deaths from hemorrhagic disease were northwest, west-central, and east-central Missouri. Southeast Missouri had relatively low rates of hemorrhagic disease reports. A map showing county-by-county hemorrhagic-disease reports is available at mdc.mo.gov/node/16479.

Within counties and regions, the distribution of hemorrhagic disease losses was uneven. “That is the nature of hemorrhagic diseases,” Flinn said. “You can have significant losses in a particular locality, and almost none in another part of the same county. This is one case where hunters and landowners are in the best position to know how deer populations in their areas are doing.”

That, says Flinn, brings up an important point about the challenge of managing deer in the wake of a severe hemorrhagic-disease outbreak. Experience shows deer numbers can continue to decline in a particular area for as long as three years.

Hunters who noticed lots of deer dying from hemorrhagic disease in their area last year should consider the number of deer they are seeing this year and potentially pass up shots at does to allow local populations to recover.

Flinn says Missouri’s deer harvest also is significantly affected by acorn abundance. The severe shortage of acorns last year because of the drought is part of the reason that southern Missouri had a larger-than-usual deer harvest in 2012. Southern Missouri should have higher acorn production this year, so hunters will need to be more active to find deer.

The combined effects of reduced deer movement, a strong deer harvest in 2012, and losses to hemorrhagic diseases in a few Ozarks counties are likely to result in lower harvest totals this year.

The long-term downward trend in deer numbers in some counties prompted the Conservation Commission to reduce availability of antlerless-only deer tags this year in Atchison, Bates, Caldwell, Callaway, Carroll, Dallas, Howard, Laclede, Ray, and Vernon counties, and parts of Boone and Cass counties.

Details are explained on page 28 of the 2013 Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Regulations & Information booklet at mdc.mo.gov/node/3656.

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