Deer in East Tennessee are being ravaged by a virus weeks before firearm hunting season opens.
The recent outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, which is transmitted by small flies, is concerning hunters in Tennessee because of the damage it is doing to the white-tailed deer population.
"Usually we mow a lot of crops down there at night so the deer come out into the fields when they get used to the tractor. There weren't any deer, so I just made the dreaded walk one day and just found them dead everywhere," sportsman and farmer Ben Gamble told USA Today.
"I walked the creek one day and found about a dozen in a 300 yard walk, and that answered all my questions. That was all I needed to see,” he continued.
The disease, which is spread through biting midges and other tiny biting insects, is common for deer to get, says Mime Barnes, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency information and education officer. What isn’t common is the number of deer the virus has killed this year – the highest number since 2007.
"The disease has always been around and it kind up pops up here and there, and there's no predictor of when it's going to be an outbreak or how big the outbreak will be," Barnes said to USA Today.
At the beginning of October, the wildlife agency received 158 deer reported death in Morgan County alone.
Gamble and a group of over 20 other hunters lease land in the county to hunt.
"We get on our side-by-sides and take a ride across the farms we own and lease and sometimes we'd count 100 deer. This time this year we'd be lucky if we saw one deer," Gamble said.
The disease does have an expiration date, though – the first frost of the season. The midge, or “No-see-ums” as they are commonly called, cannot survive the cold temperatures.
"The midge that carries disease, in its larval form, is in waters and the midge actually will die with the onset of cold weather," Barnes said. "We do tend to see it in the late summer and early fall and as soon as cold weather hits, it literally will drop off the landscape again."
Though unfortunate for hunters, Barnes says the outbreak is no cause for alarm and should not lead to “huge negative impacts on deer herds."