Each year, drought ridden areas of whitetail country are watched carefully as waves of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) and Bluetongue can sweep through an area, killing off large numbers of deer. These diseases are associated with drought like conditions, but even as a good portion of the county is dealing with above average rainfall and even flooding this year, there is the potential for EHD and Bluetongue to rear their ugly heads in these areas as well. Why? Gordon says it all comes down to mud. Whether that mud is created by drought situations and the resulting shrinking water sources, or mud created by heavy rains, it is in the mud that midges hatch in late summer and fall. The bites of these tiny midges transmit the diseases to whitetails. The effects of EHD can be devastating for some populations, wiping out large numbers of deer and changing the dynamics of a herd and area for years to come before making a complete comeback. Many people may recall the Milk River region of Montana and the outbreak that occurred there in 2007 where they lost up to 80% of the deer herd. EHD’s detrimental effects can’t be denied. However, the disease isn’t always the kiss of death for deer. Gordon says that there are many different strains of EHD both “native” and “foreign”. In the south, the “native” variety there has been around so long that some of the deer have built up a sort of resistance to it. This resistance helps curb mass die offs as a small amount of EHD exists in the population all the time and that exposure throughout the herd can help tolerance. The “foreign” strains are often more devastating. Unlike the “native” strains of EHD, deer haven’t built up any sort of resistance to these the “foreign” strains. However, when EHD only comes through an area every 5 to 10 years like it often does in the midwest, northern plains and great lakes region, then there are whole generations of deer that haven’t been exposed to it or given a chance to build a resistance. That lack of exposure and resistance makes them extremely susceptible to EHD and more likely to experience mass die offs.
Many people think that a good hard frost will kill midges, and/or a hard winter will kill the larva lying in wait to hatch the following season. Gordon says it does seem as though a hard freeze can make these midges disappear virtually overnight, their life cycle ending when temperatures hover around freezing. However, by then they have already laid their eggs in the mud ensuring the same life cycle will happen the next season. And as it relates to a really hard winter killing the larva, Gordon uses ticks to illustrate his skepticism. Many people say the same thing, a hard winter should mean fewer ticks. However, that reasoning is somewhat flawed, especially when you look at the great lakes region where there are an incredible number of ticks every year, even though it also gets fiercely cold each winter as well. The reality is that some of these pests have evolved to survive Gordon says, and because of that there will always be a certain amount of them that exist.
Sticking around for an extended interview, Gordon talks food plots. Cover, water, food, security – deer need all of these things year-round, not just during the hunting season. There is often a false sense of security in farming country where you can look out at mile after mile of ag fields and assume that there is an endless food source for local deer populations. It’s green, there must be a lot of food out there for them to eat! Because these fields exist, some hunters become complacent thinking there is nothing left to do, nothing they can improve upon and all they need to do is hunt. However, Gordon says looks can be deceiving. Fields of corn, wheat, soybeans, alfalfa and other crops can all be great food sources at different points of the year, however, they aren’t always in their peak. Just because it’s green, doesn’t mean there is something to eat. Gordon stresses the need to look at food sources through a deer’s eyes if you want to be successful. There are stress periods in late summer and late winter where available forage can be scarce and the deer feel that pinch. Gordon says that’s why the browse in wood lots between the big ag fields is often eaten to the ground. When the crops aren’t ripe or available, deer still have to eat so they hit these areas hard. This can be especially true in the winter, post-harvest. Today’s farm equipment is more efficient than it has been in the past so, post-harvest, there just isn’t as much waste grain on the ground for the deer to eat anymore and they have to seek out other food sources. These examples show exactly why a balanced, year-round, nutritional program is important.
With spring upon us, many food plotters are busy in the fields getting their corn, beans, clover and more planted. However, a food plot is something that takes work and if it’s not properly prepared, your results will most likely not meet your expectations. Gordon says that first time food plotters often think that if they plant a particular seed it will make a big difference in their deer season and they’ll start growing massive bucks right off the bat. They scratch up the surface, toss out some seed, wait for a pristine plot to grow and assume that the antlers will start growing, too. However, Gordon says it just doesn’t work like that. Site preparation is incredibly important. If you don’t take the steps to properly establish and prepare the site, the plot will never be what it could have been. Soil testing, adding lime for pH, incorporation of native material back into the soil, spraying/tilling weeds and more – it’s all necessary. Gordon talks weeds and says that there are going to be weed seeds and grass in any piece of ground you turn over that you have to kill before you can start with a clean seed bed. Neglecting to do so can create a mess where your seeds have to compete with the native grass and weeds and end up being pinched out. If you are a food-plotting first timer, Gordon says it’s imperative to do your homework and get the ground ready before you ever plant a single seed.
Listen in as Gordon Whittington schools us in EHD and balanced, healthy whitetail food sources. Be sure to check out the June edition of North American Whitetail magazine and watch “North American Whitetail TV”, Wednesdays at 8:00 pm ET on Sportsman Channel.
Stay midge free and whitetail savvy,