State confirms cases of deer with hemorrhagic disease in Roanoke County

Published: Dec. 21, 2016 at 3:26 PM EST
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The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has confirmed multiple cases of hemorrhagic disease (HD) in Roanoke County near Bent Mountain. So far there are four documented reports but the state estimates there's between 5 to 10 more.

"There's no question we had a big HD year," VDGIF biologist Matt Knox said. "It usually doesn't affect Southwest Virginia."

HD is a viral disease transmitted from deer to deer by biting gnats. The deer's body will become swollen and will have a high fever. The deer become so hot inside, they become delirious and invariably go toward water. A lot of deer survive the disease but their hooves will crack. That's what hunters are supposed to look for after harvesting their deer. Every year Virginia experiences HD in its deer population but this year is unique because of the locations of some expected outbreaks.

"The deer kill is going to be down," Knox said. "The where and how much are the unanswered questions."

There has never been a decrease of harvest numbers in Southwest Virginia due to a HD outbreak. There have also been reports of HD this year in Rockingham and Shenandoah Counties. HD hasn't been seen in that area since 1993.

Jeff Phillips, the owner of the popular Star City Whitetails Facebook page, has been hunting deer in Roanoke County for 30 years. He has noticed fewer deer sightings for 2016.

"If you've hunted as long as I have you know there's ups and downs," Phillips said. "This is the most unique season I have ever had with less deer sightings than I have ever had."

HD can play a role in decreasing the number of sightings. The state says infected animals may be disabled for weeks or months. Knox says there could be other factors like weather and mast crops. Many hunters believe the doe kill regulations need to be changed.

"I honestly think we're starting to see a tipping point," Phillips said in regard to the doe regulations. "I think what the department has put in place over the last decade has helped the deer herd but I think we're starting to see less deer."

Knox says the department will look to see if regulations need to be changed after the harvest numbers come in this spring.