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EHD factor as deer hunting season opens



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September 26, 2012 - A series of mild winters have kept local deer populations level over the last few hunting seasons, say Department of Natural Resources officials. But a new factor may be thrown into the mix as the general 2012 Michigan archery deer season opens statewide Oct. 1.

"The deer numbers are creeping up in the northern areas however, in the southeastern region, which includes Oakland and Genesee counties, the real wild card in deer population is EHD (Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease)," said Brent Rudolph, Michigan Department of Natural Resources big game specialist.

EHD is an acute, infectious, viral disease found in wild ruminants like white-tailed deer. EHD is transmitted from deer to deer through the bite of a midge (small fly) called a biological vector. EHD does not affect humans, so edibility of the venison is not impacted by this disease. There is no evidence that humans can contract the EHD virus either from the midge or from handling and eating venison.

"EHD is becoming more of a factor for many hunters in the southeast region," said Rudolph. "Up to 24 counties have reported EHD, including two in Genesee County since this past summer. It's really been a bad year for the outbreak—a very hard frost will kill the midge and slow the outbreak down for this year, but it could be back next spring. Pets and humans are not impacted by the virus."

Despite the EHD issue, hunters should expect pretty decent hunting locally.

According to DNR reports, in 2011 the southeastern region of Michigan, which includes Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Oakland, Macomb Wayne, and Monroe counties, there were about 5,523 antlerless deer and 6,358 bucks taken.

"Those reports are about average compared to other years. We're not expecting a big jump in deer kill for 2012," said Rudolph. "Deer are well adapted to inclement weather, so mid-winter storms have little impact in the fawn population. The warm spring which devastated the apple crop should have little or no impact on the hunting season. The biggest difference will be hunters who have found deer in orchards may have to look elsewhere. A bigger impact will be the lack of standing corn in the southern counties—farmers may start the harvest earlier then planned. In the end that may impact the firearm season in November. Still, the acorn crop is way up, so food sources are there."

In 2011 it had been three years since baiting was allowed in the state, said Rudolph.

"We (the DNR) wanted to keep the ban in effect; however, the Michigan Natural Resources Commission thought otherwise. Perhaps hunters in northern Michigan, where food is a real issue, may notice an improvement regarding seeing deer over bait, but not the southern counties. It's simple—there's plenty to eat down state."

"The baiting was not a big factor in the southeast," he added. "But hunters do use bait to see more deer, not necessarly take more deer."

The number of deer in the southeast have been pretty level over the past six years, while the northern regions have grown.

Another factor, said Rudolph, is the use of a crossbow, which could be used statewide in 2009.

"The success rate is just a few percentage points higher for those that use a crossbow to hunt," he said. "The cost could be a factor and many hunters just prefer the traditional compound bow," he said. "So far there has not been a major change statewide. Still, conditions are very good for deer hunting this October. Hunters need to pay close attention to early and special hunting seasons. The last few years the DNR has provided some early seasons, look for them next year."

Check out www.michigan.gov/deer for more details.

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