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Rogers: There are multiple reasons for thinning whitetail population

If you are a deer hunter, know a deer hunter, or have been talking to anyone that chases whitetails you may have heard them discussing the declining deer numbers throughout the state. I have talked to numerous people that have mentioned it and have theories as to what is happening.

I first was curious about what was going on this last fall and all throughout the winter. Normally, I see a lot of deer on my property and I mean a lot. I would see deer as I travel my driveway over 50 percent of the time. I know most of the time I was seeing the same doe group, but still, I was seeing them.

This past year, I went weeks and weeks without seeing a single whitetail on my property. Not a one. Even after some of the fresh snows we had I would look and not even find a track – anywhere. Something was definitely weird.

I talked to hunters and wildlife watchers alike and they were all reporting the same thing. Hunters were having the worst season they could ever remember. Property owners were starting to limit or stop hunting on their land because they were not observing what they normally do.

I talked to what I would consider an expert on the subject just this week. This individual works in the field and has the resources to be very knowledgeable about what is happening. What he shared with me was insightful and I thought I would pass it along to you.

He believes, and I agree, that it is not one thing that has the deer population in a downward trend, but multiple factors all contributing in their own way. The first, and many would argue the foremost problem, is EHD. If you want the scientific name it is Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease. It is caused by biting midges and infects whitetails with a brutal disease that is most often fatal. It creates horrific internal bleeding.

EHD has spread rapidly, and according to State of Illinois research I found, the last major outbreak was in 2007, though most of the counties battling through this particular outbreak in that year were located south of here. Now we are seeing it right here in our own vicinity. The outbreak is usually worse when the late summer and fall months experience dry or drought-like conditions.

The second factor this individual was telling me about has to do with the popularity bowhunting has seen in the last decade. He is right. Hunting with a bow has become extremely popular and because of it there are more people out in the woods. With more people means more woodlots in which there are human predators sitting.

The last factor he mentioned was the shift in coyote behavior. Coyotes have always scavenged and eaten dead or weak deer. In the past though, the largest portion of their diet was small rodents and rabbits. You could examine their scat and see proof of this because there would be remnants of rodent and rabbit hair in the droppings. The friend of mine was telling me that he is now seeing deer hair in the droppings throughout the year, not just in the spring when fawns are likely targets. That evidence definitely shows that coyotes are becoming more adept at targeting larger prey; such as whitetails.

I think we have all witnessed firsthand, or have heard about, instances where coyotes have become bolder and humans bother them less and less. These same predators are taking that bold attitude toward the game that they hunt.

After hearing about this individual’s ideas, and comparing them to my own experiences, I think that he has a pretty strong case as to why we have seen fewer deer than in years past.

I hope that this current outbreak of EHD ends quickly and it is a long time before we see another one like this. But, no doubt, that the other factors have also played a role in deer numbers as well. It will be very interesting to see if the state agencies in charge of our wildlife will alter game laws or not. Only time will tell.

I know that depending on where you live or where you drive, you might see what seems like a lot of deer. If you spend time in the woods though, it is pretty evident that the numbers are down and lots of people are curious as to why.

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