BELLE FOURCHE | More than 100 dead whitetail deer found in and near streams in southern Butte County brought South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks to hold back unsold licenses in the county and some other deer hunting units.
Bill Eastman, the Belle Fourche-based state game warden, said that since his first call about a sick deer Aug. 14, he has seen a minimum of 100 whitetail carcasses in the southern part of Butte County.
He said he certainly hasn't seen all the deer struck down by an insect-carried virus.
"It has gotten significantly worse in southern Butte County on a localized level," he said.
Once an infected insect bites a whitetail deer, Eastman said, "Those deer could be dead within hours to a few days."
"It's internal hemorrhaging as well as severe fever," Eastman said. "A lot of these dead whitetail deer can be found near or in water … because of high fever and trying to cool off."
He added, "A lot of the calls that I have taken have been in Spearfish Creek, the Redwater River drainage, Hay Creek and the Belle Fourche River."
Eastman said research shows the viruses do not infect humans. Humans are not at risk by handling infected deer, eating venison from infected deer or even by being bitten by insects carrying the virus.
But, he said, hunters should be aware that an infected deer could develop bacterial infections or abscesses that make them unsuitable for consumption.
Drought conditions probably contributed to the EHD disease outbreak disease in what had been large whitetail herds, Eastman said. Outbreaks have been spotty and local.
EHD - officially "epizootic hemorrhagic disease," is in the deer population most years, Eastman said. "The extent of it depends on the year, and this year is just playing to be a significant EHD year for our area."
The disease is similar in symptoms to the bluetongue virus, but studies so far have not seen it cause problems in domestic livestock. Bluetongue has affected domestic animals.
"All blood samples that have been tested, are tested for EHD and bluetongue," Eastman said. "All deer tested in Butte County are EHD and not bluetongue."
The disease can affect all wild ruminants, but don't seem to be fatal in mule deer, wild sheep or elk.
Frost kills the flies that carry the virus, Eastman said, so usually the disease has run its course by the first hard frost and opening of hunting season.
"Exposure to people has not become a concern," he said, "But some cattle in eastern South Dakota have shown signs of EHD. It does not kill cattle; they just show signs of the virus."
Dry weather and drying stream banks may have brought deer herds together where the small insect carrier breeds.
The midge lays eggs in receded mud banks, Eastman said. "This year there obviously are a lot of receded mud banks."
Eastman said hunters who believe whitetail populations are reduced enough that they would like a refund, that option is available before the season.
"Hunters desiring a refund should send their license, their tags, to the GFP licensing office: 20641 S.D. Highway 1806, Ft. Pierre, SD 57521," he said. They may call GFP for more information on the program.
To report a deer that appears to be sick, he said, "We encourage you to contact your local game and fish office because we are documenting as many of these as we can."
Butte County office is 605-892-4968; callers may leave a message.
The West River deer season runs Nov. 10 through Nov. 25, Eastman said.
Mule deer and antelope populations also appear down in Northwest South Dakota, Eastman said, but that appears to be from drought conditions rather than disease.