By Larry Dablemont
A lady sent me an email about finding a dead buck deer in her pond, and another reader called to say he had found one in his pond, too. Both were afraid the deer had Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy, which is the real name of what is commonly referred by a common term, chronic wasting disease, or CWD. But deer found in or next to ponds, creeks or rivers this time of year are dying of something entirely different, a virus known as Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease.
Now you have some big medical names to remember. You can go into the pool hall this week and say, “fellers, the Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease is really getting bad,” and some of the guy sitting on the bench will look at each other and think, “boy he is a lot smarter than I thought!” What will make you look even smarter is explaining that EHD is commonly called “blue tongue” by wildlife professionals and veterinarians. It can affect all ruminants, but it is especially bad on deer in August and September. Ruminants have four stomachs and eat grass, like cows and sheep and elk. But it is strange to me, that while I have seen many deer die of the blue-tongue virus, I have never seen a cow or sheep dead from that virus.
But anyhow, this is a virus that hits deer hard some summers and not so much in other summers. Many states with lots of deer do not seem to have a problem with it, but most southern and midwestern states do. It is spread by a little flying insect we call midges. There are several kinds of midges and they bite like flying piranhas. You have no doubt heard country folks speak of “no-see-ums.” Those tiny little flying biters are just some of many types of midges. Bigger ones carry the virus to deer, and then the deer will die within a few hours to a couple of days…but they seek water to drink and provide cooling relief from the fever.
Find one dead in the water and he usually will have a swollen, bluish colored tongue. Humans can’t get the virus because we aren’t ruminants. You might be interested in knowing that you can eat the meat of a deer that has just died from blue tongue and not have to worry about contracting the virus. But even if you don’t intend to eat a deer which obviously comes to water this time of year with the symptoms…shoot it to end its misery. None recover.
You do not have to worry about game wardens writing you a citation for ending the misery of a suffering animal. If they aren’t able to see you do it from their pickup, you won’t be bothered by them. The new breed of agents doesn’t walk through the woods in August, hot or not hot. I don’t do it myself much, because the darn spider webs are everywhere and those webs, while not built by spiders that will bite or hurt you, are something that drives me crazy.
If I am walking a trail to a good fishing pond, or looking for mushrooms or taking photos, I get so discombobulated by getting spider webs on my face or arms I just can hardly stand it. August and September are bad about spider webs in the woods. These two are the two months when a man needs to stay on the water in a boat of some kind. In a week or so I am going to write about hot weather, late summer fishing which can really be good.
Remember, too, that for the next couple of months, poison snakes are at a peak of activity, especially copperheads. Some of the problem this time of year stems from molting, but that’s only part of it. They start to enjoy the summer heat during the day and then when it cools at night, they seek the rock outcrops, pavement and cement where the warmth lingers.
I kill copperheads every year here on Lightnin’ Ridge which seek out my gravel driveway and cement basement. In October down in the Arkansas Mountains I have had some close calls with timber rattlesnakes up to four feet long. And when floating and camping on Midwest rivers in the fall, I am especially aware that cottonmouths like the warmth of sand bars and gravel bars at night where I like to camp.
Occasionally a copperhead comes down to the warmth of such places too. I know you have heard the words of some foolhardy suburban naturalists telling you that poisonous snakes are not to be worried about, but a couple of years ago a man died from the bite of a copperhead that got in his tent. He likely had read the leaflet saying that copperhead bites are never fatal.
The guy picked it up, it bit him. He didn’t go to a medical center because he thought he didn’t have to. He died. In the early part of the last century, hundreds of people in Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas died of snakebite. At night for the next three months, be aware and use a flashlight. If you are foolhardy enough to let poisonous snakes live around people, they may in time account for dogs or people being bitten.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Larry Dablemont is an outdoor writer from Bolivar, Mo.