The dry climate has definitely impacted everyone’s hunting this
year. Big game nutrition isn't the same, which has had an effect on the animals
and their annual habits. It is what it is, though. Mother Nature will do as she
pleases. All wildlife has instincts to adapt to the conditions. The animals
adapt and we, as hunters, adapt with them.
In my home state of Nebraska, the drought has caused severe damage
to the whitetail herds along the Missouri River. The Blue Tongue virus, or EHD,
has taken its toll. Transferred via a Culicoides biting fly or midge,
Blue Tongue takes about 7 days from infection before deer show symptoms. The
disease causes internal hemorrhaging and lack of oxygen in the blood which results in
a blue appearance of the oral mucosa, hence the name "blue tongue." Once
the deer shows initial signs of weakness, death is only 8-36 hours away. Deer
will seek refuge any place they might think is cool in temperature. Near water,
deep valleys and meadows are generally common places the deer will go when they
start to feel the effects.
I’d always been aware of the disease and had found a few deer in the
past that most likely had been victims. But this year was catastrophic. It was
by far the hardest I’d seen it in my home grounds.
This summer we had numerous good, mature bucks on our hit list that, by the looks of our trail
camera photos were showing great potential. That all changed in mid July.
One by one, we started to find deer that had dropped from Blue Tongue. Not just
any deer either; plenty of solid, mature deer between the ages of three and
five. Like all animals, a deer’s immune system is strongest when it’s young.
Therefore, the middle-aged and older deer get hit the hardest. Some deer get
the disease and are able to power through it. Infected fawns that survive
should now be immune and have a better chance of living if infected in the
After finding a few good deer I got a hold of Game and Parks to
report the cases. I wasn't the only one calling. They were receiving multiple
calls per day and told me that I should expect to find more as the year
progressed. It really hit home when I found deer that I had history with.
I got a call from my dad in August. He just finished walking a creek
bottom near our home property and turned up a dozen nice bucks and multiple
mature does on his short half mile walk, including one I was very fond of: Saw.
Three years ago a buddy and I had our first encounter with this buck. When we
found him he was literally stuck to a tree. There was wire that got between his
antlers and a tree he decided to rub. By the time we discovered him he wrapped
his antlers so tight he was unable free himself. I immediately did what I
thought was best to help him out. I grabbed a spare jacket from my truck and a
handsaw. I approached him slowly and covered his eyes with the coat. Though he
was uncomfortable with my presence, the darkness of the coat relaxed him. This
allowed me to take the handsaw and quickly cut his left antler free. He shot
away from me immediately and I didn't know if I would ever see the handsome 5x5
Turns out I would. We ended up finding Saw’s sheds that winter and
following him on trail camera for the next couple years. He was approaching his
prime this year at 6 years old and was at the top of my hit list. It was as
real shame to see Blue Tongue put an end to him prematurely.
Dad and I estimate that we lost close to a third or more of our deer herd in
eastern Nebraska. Our area has been over populated for about 6 years now.
The disease took a lot of our deer, but this may be what was needed to reduce
the numbers and build a stronger,
It’s officially fall now and frosty nights have killed off
the bug. We adapted to the loss and still have deer on our hit list. I was
lucky enough to take a nice buck in late September with my compound. I didn't
have history with him like I did with Saw, but I was more than pleased with
him. My plan for the rest of the year is to try and harvest my first mature
buck with a recurve. Hopefully, the odds will lean my way. Good luck to all my
friends, the rut will be here soon.