Mitchell: We Should Thank Deer Breeders

Years ago, it seemed that deer lived forever. Not true—seeing all the research and studies that were being conducted but we never knew about.

Growing up in a rural setting as most people did here in Chilton County in the 1960s and 70s, we saw things live and die. We could never understand sometimes why things died.

We never had a lot of money, and the last thing that got to see the vet was the family dog. We just doctored him the best we knew how and with all the TLC we could give.

Most of the time, we could get him through, but there were those others that we had to place in the family pet cemetery. Well, this holds true for wild animals as well. Not until here lately have I taken an interest in the health of deer and their struggle to survive.

An estimated 1.23 million deer-vehicle collisions occurred in the U.S. between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012, costing more than $4 billion in vehicle damage, according to State Farm. The Institute for Highway Safety noted that deer- vehicle collisions in the U.S. cause about 200 fatalities annually.

The next biggest killer for fawns is coyotes. Some estimates have coyotes taking up to 80 percent of the yearly fawn population. They also take down a lot of mature deer.

Bobcats, believe it or not, take their fair share of deer as well. The numbers may not be as high as coyotes, but where there is a large population of bobcats, they will capture their portion of the deer.

Let’s take a look at diseases that affect deer and which ones affect us here within our state. There are numerous articles about chronic wasting disease. CWD is a brain disease that will eventually kill the deer.

Some experts say that within 18 to 20 months, the deer will die. Researchers are monitoring a mule deer herd out west that they know has the disease.

Random animals are taken each year and tested. All animals test positive, but the herd continues to live. Even the biologists are still learning so it may be years before we know.

What I do know is that there are no known cases of CWD in the state of Alabama. You can do a search on the web, and there will be enough reading to last you several months.

The next is EHD and blue tongue. EHD, as it is known, is short for epizootic hemorrhagic disease. This is also called bluetongue virus, or BT for short.

They are one in the same, but there are two subtypes of the EHD virus and five subtypes of bluetongue in North America.

EHD is transmitted by a tiny biting fly known as a culicoides. These flies are commonly known as biting midges but are also called local names such as sand gnats, sand flies, no-see-ums and punkies.

We as humans do not get the disease, but deer do. EHD is not a contact disease, which means the deer cannot pass it from one deer to another. EHD typically occurs from mid-August through October. A good killing frost will end the midge’s reign of terror.

Outward signs in live deer depend partly on the virulence (potency) of the virus and duration of infection. Many affected deer appear normal or show only mild signs of illness. When illness occurs, the signs change as the disease progresses.

Initially, animals may be depressed, feverish, have a swollen head, neck, tongue, or eyelids, or have difficulty breathing. With highly virulent strains of the virus, deer may die within one to three days.

More often, deer survive longer and may become lame, lose their appetite, or reduce their activity. Deer found near pools of water are common for EHD outbreaks. EHD is one of the largest, if not the largest, killers of deer in the U.S.

You can read more on these diseases online, and there is a very good YouTube video at, or just search for the confusion about CWD deer and wildlife stories.

For EHD information, go to or search for “EHD Research Documentary-Texas Tech Deer Research Facility.”

SOURCE: Gary Mitchell, Clanton Advertiser