Bluetongue may be hurting deer harvest

Published 9:21 am Friday, December 23, 2011

FRANKLIN—A slightly elevated occurrence of hemorrhagic disease, or bluetongue virus, is partially responsible for a decrease in deer harvests this year in Western Tidewater and other areas of Virginia, experts say.

Aaron Procter, a district wildlife biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said 2 percent to 3 percent of deer in the Tidewater area are affected by bluetongue.

“We’ve had pockets of the disease in Isle of Wight and Southampton counties,” he said. “Some hunters are crediting low deer counts with (bluetongue) and in pockets of Tidewater that may be the case.”

However, Procter added that warmer temperatures and the occurrence of full moons during the deer mating season, known as the rut, could also be contributing to a 10 percent to 15 percent decrease in harvests statewide this year.

Procter said warmer weather means less herd activity during the day and more activity at night, when hunters aren’t out.

“There’s not a lot of deer activity during the day,” Procter said.

He added that the decrease could also be the result of hunters finally getting “on top of the deer herd in southeastern Virginia.”

Bluetongue virus is a naturally occurring disease in deer, with outbreaks happening almost every year.

The disease is spread by biting midges, or biting flies, and there are no direct health effects on humans, Procter said.

“There are no consumption concerns, but we advise people that if something doesn’t look right, you shouldn’t eat it,” Procter said.

The disease typically occurs from mid-August through October.

Many affected deer appear normal or show only mild signs of illness, but the signs change as the illness progresses. Initially, animals may seem depressed, feverish and have a swollen neck, according to the department’s website.

All deer appearing to be ill should be reported to the department at 804-367-1258.