Disease Outbreak In North Dakota Causes Refunds For 30,000 Deer Hunters

A large brown animal swimming in water

Bad news for deer hunters in North Dakota. 

For the second straight year, a horrible outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) in white-tailed deer has caused the North Dakota Game and Fish Department (NDGFD) to offer refunds for hunters in areas where reduced deer populations are to be expected. 

The same disease killed off more than 700 deer in New York earlier this year as well. 

The offer reportedly extends to roughly 30,000 hunters licensed in 22 management units across the western and central parts of the state. 

Casey Anderson, the Wildlife Chief with NDGFD, indicated the decision was based on continuing reports of high mortality in white-tailed deer in those management units. 

“Compared to previous years, a much larger portion of the state seems to be affected. Unfortunately, substantial mortality has been documented in some areas.”

EHD is typically fatal to deer, but there is no need to worry about the disease being transmitted to humans. It is caused by biting midge bugs usually too small to be seen or noticed. 

Once midge bites infect a deer, they typically perish within 36 hours. EHD is most common in late summer and early fall, when the midges are most abundant. Infected deer will display fever, hemorrhage in muscles or organs, and swelling of the head, neck, tongue, and lips. In addition, the animals may appear lame, dehydrated, and lethargic and also stop eating and salivating excessively. EHD-infected deer often go to water sources and die nearby or even in them. 

Charlie Bahonson, a Wildlife Veterinarian with the NDGFD, told the Bismark Tribune that prolonged drought and record-breaking heat that has stretched deep into October this year is likely to blame.

“A theory would be the outbreak is a result of the drought and very warm temperatures that we’ve had into October. That lends itself to more midges and more viral spread outside of our traditionally affected areas.”

Hunters are encouraged to do some homework about localized hunting conditions in their areas before turning in their hunting licenses. NDGFD staff will continue to monitor EHD reports and inform the public if it impacts hunting conditions or additional refunds are offered. 

“Consistent with previous EHD outbreaks, the impact can at times be severe in localized areas while other areas within the unit have little to no impact, and a good deer harvest may still be needed.”

For more information on EHD, and on Chronic Wasting Disease (another disease effecting deer in the state) check out this video from NDGFD.


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A beer bottle on a dock