Deer health and wild game bird outlooks for the fall hunting season

By: - September 29, 2021 6:02 am
white tailed deer buck with antlers

White tailed deer (photo by skeeze from Pixabay)

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has confirmed that a tissue sample from a La Crosse County deer tested positive for the virus that causes Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease. It was confirmed after a landowner reported eight dead deer across a 200-acre property south of La Crosse.

This particular virus is carried by midges, a kind of small fly sometimes called biting gnats or no-see-ums. According to a DNR press release, the virus is not known to infect humans even if a person handles or consumes infected deer. Being bitten by infected midges is also not known to pass  the virus to  humans.

Infected deer can be spotted by a slew of symptoms. Excessive salivation, or foaming around the mouth and nose are noticeable indicators. So too are if the deer appears to be weak, or can be approached by humans with ease. Their carcasses are often found in or near water because infected deer will often lie in the water to cool down and drink. Epizootic hemorrhagic disease is common across the southern and western United States, and occasionally occurs in the Midwest. It’s a short-lived disease, since infected flies die after the first  winter and deer die within seven days of infection.

Last fall, Wisconsin saw small outbreaks of less than 50 deer each in Oconto and Buffalo counties. The year before, epizootic hemorrhagic disease was detected in Crawford and six surrounding counties, affecting about 300 deer. Just one case was confirmed in 2017. Despite the scarcity, it’s important to remain aware of such disease alerts, particularly as fall sets in and hunters across the state prepare for various game, the DNR advises.

The DNR is also asking hunters to help monitor Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in deer. The  fatal infectious nervous system disease in deer, moose, elk, and reindeer/caribou was first detected in the state in 2002. Wisconsin  law forbids  feeding or baiting deer within 10 miles of wild or farm-raised deer that have tested positive for CWD or tuberculosis.

“We especially encourage hunters in northeast Wisconsin and around our other CWD surveillance areas to get their adult deer tested this season,” said Amanda Kamps, a DNR Wildlife Health Conservation Specialist. “Each test result helps us better understand CWD distribution.” The DNR provides a map  of  sampling locations, with kiosks open 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The department will hold a CWD Response Plan Committee meeting, which will be broadcast on  on the DNR’s YouTube channel.

The DNR has also released the outlook for the wild turkey, woodcock and ruffed grouse hunting seasons. The grouse season opened Sept. 18 and  continues until Jan 9. A statewide survey found  a 6% decrease in breeding grouse compared to 2019, which a DNR press release said may simply reflect a down-phase of a 10-year population cycle for the grouse.

The woodcock season opened Sept. 25, and will run until Nov. 8. Hunters must  register annually with the Harvest Information Program to hunt woodcock as well as waterfowl and mourning doves. Wild turkey season opened on Sept. 18. It will close on Nov. 19 or Jan. 9, depending on the hunting zone. The DNR notes that wild turkey currently have a strong population statewide, but researchers continue to monitor the hen population to ensure that it isn’t reduced by  excessive hunting.

“Last winter was relatively mild with low snow levels statewide and few long-lasting cold snaps,” said DNR Marinette County Wildlife Biologist Alaina Gerrits. “Mild winter conditions paired with an early spring green-up and dry weather point to favorable brooding conditions for 2021. All field reports suggest a healthy and robust turkey population providing many opportunities for fall hunting.”


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.