I have recently covered the basics of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) and the impact that the fatal virus has on deer herds. EHD is most prevalent in years that experience a drought followed by a sudden increase in precipitation. This causes a literal breeding ground for the biting midges that spread the disease. The midges usually die out after the first or second frost of the year. The tricky part isn’t discovering that your herd was hit by EHD, it’s figuring out how to adjust your harvest quotas to allow for the fatalities that occurred earlier.
You may be wondering why I am just now posting a blog entry about harvest quotas this late in the deer hunting season. The reason is, while many hunters understand that taking antlerless deer earlier in the year is a better way to manage your herd, many hunters spend more time in the woods during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons than during the early season. For this reason, the majority of antlerless deer harvest have yet to occur. Sometimes the outbreak isn’t severe enough to disrupt harvest quotas and hunters carry on as usual. On the other hand, if the fatalities are more substantial than usual, you should rethink your harvest quotas.
EHD can hinder even the best deer management. I have found that while most hunters stick to their guns after a disease outbreak, some hunters do not. If you have a personal goal to only harvest a certain size or age buck, don’t let the fact that deer sightings are down tempt you into harvesting a great young buck with potential. The deer herd has already taken a hit, why would you do anything else to hinder its ability to bounce back in the following years? Now is not the time to become lackadaisical on your antler/age restrictions.
If you have a management plan designed or have consulted a local biologist, you have a basic understanding of how many deer you need to harvest. If deer sightings are low, you do not need to harvest as many deer as seasons past. In most cases, I would recommend cutting your harvests in half. Unfortunately, that includes does and bucks! EHD doesn’t discriminate, so you shouldn’t either. Sticking to your original harvest quotas coupled with increased deer deaths by disease may not be the best management technique for your particular tract of land.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can use an EHD outbreak to deal with high density problem. Eastern North Carolina is flirting with a whitetail overpopulation problem and we have the vehicle accidents and crop damages to prove it. If this is the case, remember that overpopulation problems are handled by harvesting antlerless deer. Therefore it may still be necessary to back down on the buck harvest but continue the antlerless deer harvest. A trail camera survey is the deer manager’s best tool, and this is no exception. By examining trail camera photos, you can get a basic idea of the herd’s sex ratio and this will assist you in determining how many deer to harvest.
Every property is different and should have a different approach when determining deer harvest after an EHD outbreak. There is no clear-cut tactic, and what works on one property may not work on another. Simply put, cutting the harvests in half is probably the best practice. If you are in a high-density area, continue the antlerless deer harvest but back down on the buck harvest.