Keep Your Eyes Open for EHD in Deer

September 6, 2019 By: Ben Westfall

Three years ago in my native Missouri, I was headed toward my favorite stand when I stumbled upon a dead doe. She looked as if she had died in the last day or two, and there was no evidence of gunshot wounds or broken bones. She was lying next to a small watering hole on the edge of a clover patch. At this moment, a dirty three-letter abbreviation that deer hunters dread stood out in my mind like blaze orange on a snowy morning. I know what you’re thinking: “He’s going to say CWD.” And I did. At first. As I further examined the deer and her surroundings, these particular circumstances made me utter a different acronym: EHD.

What is EHD?

Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) is a viral infection spread by midges, gnats, or “no-see-ums.” Because of the symptoms, EHD is often mistaken with other deer diseases, including “bluetongue,” which is actually a closely related yet different strain of virus, and CWD. All deer are equally susceptible to EHD but may develop a resistance due to historical exposure, and populations tend to rebound after outbreaks.

EHD is prevalent during the late summer months due to excessive heat and drought, which enhances conditions for midge reproduction, as they thrive in shallow, stagnant water. High temperatures lead to increased water consumption in wildlife, offering those troublesome bugs greater opportunity to bag a deer. EHD causes high fever and thirst in deer, thus victims are often found near or in water, like the dead doe in the photo above. Thankfully, unlike CWD, deer cannot transmit EHD to one another. Most importantly, EHD has never been shown to affect humans, either through direct contact with a midge or venison consumption. Still, it is best not to eat any deer that was visibly unhealthy or disoriented at the time of harvest. 

If the scorching heat and the abundance of ticks in August aren’t frustrating enough, the prevalence of EHD this time of year adds another level of concern to the scouting hunter.

How Do You Know?

So, you happen upon a dead deer and think to yourself, “Now what? Was it shot? Is it disease?” If you’re like me, you’ve probably asked these questions before and want to know exactly what is going on with the herd that helps feed your family. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to better understand what may have happened.

To answer these questions, QDMA is currently working on a system that provides folks the opportunity to get involved and contribute on a large scale to help biologists and managers build an accurate representation of deer mortality. Meanwhile, you should immediately report sick deer to the nearest regional office of your state wildlife agency. Be ready to provide the date, sex, and location where the deer was found and any descriptive information of the deer’s condition that will help agency staff decide how they want to respond. Use this form created by QDMA to help you record all the details, then submit the form to your state wildlife agency and/or retain for your own records.

Monitoring for deer losses to disease or other factors is just another part of Herd Monitoring. As a biologist, gathering and tracking data is one of my favorite aspects of QDM. It allows us the opportunity to observe how our management practices are affecting the herd, and determine areas of focus for the future. Recording data about dead deer is a vital part of deer management, and will help you better understand what’s happening on your property.

If you’re reading this, I can say with some certainty that you have likely dabbled in data collection before. It is a great way to keep hunters involved (and awake in the stand), as well as a means for determining the health of the local herd. The property I hunt requires everyone to record observation data at the conclusion of each hunt. We also keep detailed records of any dead deer that are found. Not only did this contribute greatly to the success of our program, but to the education of our hunters as well. We grew more precise in aging bucks on the hoof, identifying button bucks, and understanding how deer died. It is uplifting knowing that I contributed something that allowed us to improve as hunters and stewards of the land. As one of the four cornerstones of the QDMA, herd monitoring is essential in helping hunters, managers, and biologists understand the dynamics and health of deer populations. 

What Can You Do?

True in many aspects of life, success is greater when you and those around you work together, and deer management is no different. There are steps you can take to prevent EHD on your property, including manipulating water supplies on the land you hunt and involvement with neighbors. QDM cooperatives have proven advantageous in the journey of wildlife management, including the mitigation of disease.

We aim to assist hunters in reporting dead deer, encourage year-round involvement, and teach youngsters the importance of working together. So, next time you go out to tidy up your stands, don’t forget to grab a notebook, be a part of something great, and help preserve the beloved whitetail for generations to come.

About Ben Westfall:

Ben Westfall is NDA's Conservation Coordinator. Ben received both his bachelor of science and master of science degrees from Southeast Missouri State University with an emphasis on wildlife conservation.