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Deer kills are lower in area
Monday, January 28, 2013
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
A drop in the number of deer killed this season in Henry and Patrick counties will be discussed during the state Department of Game & Inland Fisheries’s semi-annual review of the length, bag limits and other regulations of the hunting season.
Matt Knox, a coordinator for the department’s deer project, said the agency reexamines those regulations every two years, and so far, no recommendations have been made to change the regulations.
Currently, the season runs from the first Saturday in October to the first Saturday in January, according to online information.
But disease and/or predators, combined with efforts to reduce the size of deer herds in some agricultural areas such as Patrick County, may be behind the preliminary reports of decreases in the number of deer killed in Henry, Patrick and Franklin counties, according to Knox and Tim Belcher of Rolling Meadows Custom Meats.
Belcher said he has seen a decrease in the number of deer brought to his facility for processing.
Preliminary data from the state shows the number of deer harvested in Henry County fell 13 percent, with 1,136 deer harvested in the last season, Knox said. The data represents only kills reported electronically or by phone, he added.
Data from various local check-in stations has not been calculated yet, but Knox said he does not anticipate much change — unless the number of deer killed goes even lower.
In the 2011 season, 1,754 deer were harvested in Henry County, a slight increase from 2010, when 1,434 deer were taken, according to data from the Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (VDGIF).
The preliminary state data shows that 1,090 deer were harvested in Patrick County, a 27 percent decrease over the 1,995 killed last year and 1,759 killed in 2010, according to Knox and the VDGIF website.
The decreased number of deer harvested “is huge in Patrick County” where the DGIF already has a process in place to reduce the deer herd due to agricultural issues, Knox said. It “is a ‘wow’ number, but it is not an unexpected number.”
That is because the conditions were ripe for an outbreak of hemorrahagic disease, which occurs in late summer and fall, according to Knox and a brochure from the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study.
Knox said some reports state that the illness is more prevalent after a mild winter and a drought in early summer, both of which occurred before the most recent hunting season in areas such as Henry and Patrick counties.
The disease, which commonly is called blue tongue, is transmitted when midges (also called sand gnats or flies) and no-see-ums bite deer, Knox said.
Although some deer survive the illness and are safe for consumption, some die within one to three days. Symptoms include a fever, difficulty breathing and a swollen tongue, head, neck and eyelids, according to Knox and the brochure.
Infected deer seek water to relieve the fever discomfort, and carcasses of dead deer most often are found near water, Knox said.
On one occasion during the most recent outbreak, 50 to 70 deer carcasses were found on one property in Patrick County, Knox said.
Belcher said he believes other factors — including coyotes — also are thinning the herd size.
While coyotes most often are thought to live in more rural areas, Martinsville Police Chief Mike Rogers said they are being seen in the city, and “all the experts tell us they are here to stay.”
The VDGIF concurs, according to Michael L. Fies, the furbearer project leader for the agency.
He explained that coyotes are opportunistic hunters that are extremely adaptable to their surroundings and can thrive in virtually any environment. They have few, if any, natural predators and have found the resources needed for survival.
Coyote eat rodents, squirrels, rabbits, skunks and many other animals in the wild, Fies said.
They also devour young fawns, which basically are helpless after birth, according to Fies, Rogers and Belcher.
Martinsville City Council member Mark Stroud recalled that several years ago, many families living on Henry Road began missing their pets.
That was “before all the talk about coyotes. Everybody’s pets started getting gone — cats, dogs ... . And we thought somebody might be doing something with the pets” to harm them, Stroud said.
When grading was done in the area about five years ago, he said the mystery was solved when “a coyote den with several collars” and other signs of pets was found.
Fies said pets, especially small, non-aggressive ones, are easy prey for coyotes. However, removing all outside food sources and ensuring the animals cannot get into trash receptacles can limit the animals’ interaction with people and pets, he said.