Early EHD reports, public-land hunting opportunities, regulation changes and more
Fall is still months away, but it's on the horizon. Whitetail news is slowly ramping up as we creep closer to the 2020 deer season, and a lot happened this month. From new public-land opportunities to one of the earliest potential cases of EHD on record, we have the latest.
The Earliest EHD Reports … Ever?
Southern Iowa was hit hard by epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) in 2019. Some locations — such as Warren County — were devastated. They could relive that nightmare in 2020.
After hearing rumors of possible cases in southern Iowa, I contacted Iowa DNR Conservation and Recreation Division administrator Dr. Dale Garner to confirm. He told me that authorities believe several dead deer in and around Warren County could be EHD victims. We are hoping to get a fresh sample to run diagnostic tests, he says.
During the 2019 southern Iowa outbreak, initial cases weren't discovered until mid-July. If tests come back positive, this year's bout will have started three weeks sooner. That spells trouble for whitetails, as EHD tends to progressively worsen until first frost, which is months away.
Public-Land Hunting Opportunities
On a brighter note, perhaps the public-land news of the century rocked airwaves this month. The U.S. Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act, according to The Realblog. It's the largest commitment to increase public-land access of the 21st century, and it would provide $9.5 billion for access and conservation throughout the next five years. The bill now goes on to the House of Representatives.
There's at least one thing all hunters have in common: wanting more public lands. Rhode Island hunters (and many others) could get it. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal would allow hunting on all five of the state's national wildlife refuges. Fortunately for hunters nationwide, it's part of a much larger initiative to open hunting on 97 national wildlife refuges and nine fish hatcheries, totaling 2.3 million acres.
This plan is receiving pushback from animal rights groups and other special interest organizations, however. Rhode Island is at the heart of the battle, and the Chafee Wildlife Refuge is one of the most heavily contested chunks of ground enrolled in this proposal.
For those looking for a controlled hunt, the online application period for Missouri's managed public-land hunts is open July 1-30. These cover an array of season types (youth, disabled, regular) and weapon options (archery, muzzleloader, modern firearm).
It's a similar story in Arkansas, except the deadline is sooner. Hunters have until July 1 to apply for numerous wildlife management area (WMA) hunts. These are very popular in the Natural State, with excellent deer populations and trophy potential.
Deer Hunting Regulation Changes
States are still making changes to hunting regulations. The Missouri Conservation Commission recently revised its definition of handguns and pistols to clarify what qualifies as a handgun during the alternative-methods season. The distinguishing characteristic is the ability to operate the gun with one hand; it must have a barrel length of less than 16 inches and must be less than 26 inches in total length. The change does not prohibit the use of an AR-15 pistol, as long as it falls within these parameters, according to KTVO News.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency just wrapped up 2020 deer hunting regs. Among the most notable changes is the expansion of the CWD zone to include Crockett, Gibson, and Lauderdale counties (11 total). The commission also approved unlimited Earn-a-Bucks in Unit CWD.
In Mississippi, the wildlife commission voted to ease baiting restrictions. The practice is still banned in the four CWD management zones, but it's now legal in CWD surveillance areas. Also, expect an increase in mandatory CWD testing in dozens of counties.
Another potential change could finally allow Magnolia State hunters to use an air bow. The original bill would have permitted these bows for disabled hunters only, but the version currently working its way through the legislature would allow all hunters to use them.
In Maine, deer biologists want a 61% increase in any-deer permits, bringing the total to nearly 110,000. Their goal is to harvest more does and suppress population growth, which according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has increased exponentially, thanks to a very mild 2019-20 winter season.
Deer Harvest Totals
The last of the 2019 deer harvest totals are in, and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) reported a 1% year-over-year decrease. Approximately 193,000 deer were bagged in 2019, down from nearly 195,000 in 2018. Both seasons contribute to a decades-long downward trend. The SCDNR attributes harvest decline to drought, changing habitat, historically aggressive doe harvests, and the rise of predator populations.
Obviously, there's a lot going on in the world of whitetails, and things are happening faster every day. Filtering through the noise can be difficult. We'll sort through it and keep you posted. Until next time.