There is a pretty serious disease going through our deer herd here in Nebraska this year. A very popular discussion topic throughout the state, as it has led to thousands of dead deer. It seems as though the Western part of the state was not hit quite as hard and hunters are having pretty good success over there. The Eastern half though, is hurting really bad. The disease is called Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) and is closely related to another disease known as blue tongue. EHD is caused by a biting midge, and symptoms include internal hemorrhage, weakness, high fever, bruising, and dyspnea. Once the disease fully establishes itself, the animal dies within 8 to 36 hours. In NE we have some deer death each year due to EHD, but this year it sky rocketed. Normally this disease doesn’t occur until we get into our hot weather, usually August. And the midge dies with our first frost, so there’s not a long time frame for a lot of death to occur. But this year we had really hot weather starting in mid June and it stayed hot for a long time. This is what unfortunately caused such a massive kill off. Some reports have stated that we have lost over 6,000 deer.
I had recently wrote an email to the Nebraska Game & Parks (NGPC) to discuss the EHD problem and a few other topics. A genuine friendly email, as my intentions were not to come across as though I had great knowledge or that I had answers for them. To my surprise I received a phone call from the NGPC, which resulted in a great conversation and I gained some knowledge and understanding from the commissions side of things. I will not include here which official from the NGPC called me, as I didn’t discuss sharing his comments here. I’m also paraphrasing our conversation, and will not be using direct quotes.
We discussed the numbers that are coming across for the amount of deer that have been found dead. The latest number that I had heard was roughly 6,000 dead deer. We both, during the phone call, believe that number is only a fraction of how many actually died. But it’s almost impossible to figure out precisely. NGPC must wait until all of the numbers come in from hunters checking in their deer to get a better feel, and also for the hunters, and especially the upland game hunters to report dead deer that they find. One problem they are having is that not all hunters are reporting their findings. So please, if you come across any dead deer while out in the field, give the NGPC a call. We both agreed that because of such a large kill off, that it is directly effecting the rut. But it is going to be just opinions and not scientific as to how the rut is effected.
My next topic to NGPC was directed towards moving rifle season away from the rut season. I was curious as to their stance on moving the rifle season to the first week of December. The main reason I have the opinion that this needs to be done is to help get NE more along the lines of seeing a healthier herd of big mature bucks. I mentioned both KS and IA being known for a large number of big trophy bucks and that they have their firearms seasons in December, and not during the rut. I also mentioned that maybe having such a drastic amount of deer dying this year, it perhaps gave them a reason, or an “excuse” as to why they would make such a change in regulations. The answer I received was that there will probably be no effort in changing the rifle season away from the rut. In hearing the reason behind that, you have to take the EHD problem out of the equation. In the last few years, NE has actually been going up in the number of mature bucks being harvested. In fact, every unit except Keyapaha, they have seen a growing number of mature bucks being checked in. Although we were in agreeance that KS and IA have much better numbers in this category and that having firearms not involved with the rut helped those states achieve that, they see no reason in changing our rifle season. Another reason for this, and I admit that I see their point and kind of agree, is this: For the most part, it is the bow hunters that want this change, and in actuality the bow hunters are a small community to make such a change for. Rifle season in NE is a deeply rooted tradition, and they believe that there would be a massive uproar if they were to make such a drastic change. Although 95% of my big game hunting is done with a bow these days, rifle season is how I was brought into big game hunting and know that specifically in my family, it’s very much a big deal. So I can see where they are coming from in this assessment. But the biggest key to this conversation was of the farmers. The farmers are the ones that have a loud voice in all of this as well, and they want to see deer numbers drawn down. They believe that if they were to change rifle season away from the rut, the farmers would go above the NGPC and get legislation involved. I think we can all agree that if hunting and fishing regulations were decided by the states politicians, instead of the NGPC, there would be a lot of UN-happy people.
Another topic I brought up was implementing antler restrictions and/or earn a buck regulation. It is in their opinion that those two things do not work for NE. I believe there was one or two units that they did implement the earn a buck rule, which they did so per request from hunters. In the end, they don’t feel as though it was the right move. If I understood the answer correctly, they believe those type of regulations only work in areas that are very over populated or that the deer herd is underfed. Neither of which is the case here in NE.
In the end of this conversation we both agreed on one very important concept. That is, we need to let the little bucks walk, and we need to keep a good balance with our doe/buck ratios. Meaning, it is the hunters that can make this happen by instilling these concepts on their own hunting land as well as talking to neighboring landowners and educate them to get on board with those concepts as well. I for one think that many hunters are already doing this, and we need to keep promoting it. I think the fact that the growing number of mature bucks getting checked in the last few years, is a testament to hunters going along with this idea. We also agreed that with the EHD epidemic, it’s going to take several years before we start seeing the herd numbers coming back, and seeing numerous mature bucks again. That’s just mother nature doing her thing, and there’s nothing we can do about it. I just hope that in the next few years, hunters do a good job of letting the does get a pass in order to help build the herd, and practice letting those little bucks grow.
I want to thank the NGPC for taking the time to make this phone call to me. It was a very respectful and informational conversation, and I wasn’t expecting it. Thank you! Although we didn’t 100% agree on a few things, for the most part we shared the same opinions.
I recently joined up with a new grass-roots organization here in NE called the Nebraska Big Game Association. Here is their mission statement: “Our mission is to ensure the future of big game (Big Horn Sheep, Elk, Mule Deer, Whitetail Deer, Turkey, Antelope), their habitat and our hunting heritage in the State of Nebraska at the grass-roots level through targeted education, research and management partnerships. Membership is open to anyone with an interest in the wise management and conservation of our big game resources.“ Along with that, 10% of what they raise or bring in will be donated to the Hunters Helping the Hungry Program. You can join this organization here http://fs11.formsite.com/NBGA/form1/index.html and you can find them on Facebook here https://www.facebook.com/nebraskabiggameassociation