Monday, January 28, 2019

Deer Hunting in February.

         Again this year I got a call from a representative of the Missouri Department of Conservation asking me to hunt deer on my place because they want to thin down the population and check more deer for transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, which they and most deer hunters call chronic wasting disease.

         Whether you call it CWD or TSE, the possibility of controlling the disease by killing more deer is not very realistic. They have tried that in Wisconsin. The result…some parts of that state have 50% of the deer population infected with those TSE prions in the brain. In time Missouri’s whitetail deer will show similar numbers.

         I am going to select a buck from my place, not because I think I have any kin of population there, I don’t. I’m going to shoot one because a nearby family with five kids can sure use the meat.

         I didn’t hunt deer this year during the regular season. I am just not as excited about hunting deer with a gun nowadays, but I do like shooting them with a camera.

         I will kill a buck or mature doe because young deer are far less likely to have CWD or TSE than older ones. Research in other states has shown this to be true. If I were betting, I would bet that few deer under the age of two years are found to have prions in their system. In fact tests done in selected deer farming operations seems to show that it is three and four year old deer that are more likely to be infected than younger deer and bucks seem to be more likely to have the disease than does by about a three to two ratio.

         When I kill a deer I will use rubber gloves to gut it, and an MDC representative will come and take lymph nodes from the neck and within a week or so they will know if it is free of prions. Then I will give the meat to the family nearby.

         At my place there is no heavy population of deer but they don’t know that. Anyone who spends as much time in the woods as I do can easily gauge deer numbers in the winter by the number of rubs and scrapes, and just by seeing the number of does and young deer which herd together in bad weather.

         To the northwest of my place, which lies in the southeast corner of St. Clair county, I can see evidence of too many deer, but in the 200 acres or so around me there has been a great deal of illegal hunting in the past and numbers are where they should be.  The old man who owned the land before me killed four or five deer each year and traded them to some Amish folks living a few miles away for firewood-cutting labor.  He turned in a neighbor who had arranged several tree-stands over active corn feeders for friends and family. Together they likely accounted for a kill of 20 or so deer each year.

         It’s different though with wild turkey.  Their numbers have declined everywhere I go, for the last five or six years, to a point where I think it is a serious problem. I think needs to be addressed right now, perhaps by cutting the legal limit from two per spring season to only one.
         Ten years ago here on Lightnin’ Ridge in central Polk County, I photographed seven mature gobblers at my corn feeder in February.  A year or so later there were 3.  This year there are none.  And I haven’t killed a gobbler on this wooded ridge-top in the last 15 years.

         The biggest enemies of the wild turkey are great horned owls and bobcats. Both of those have increased substantially in ten years, but not enough to be responsible for the wild turkey’s problems. You can blame heavy spring rains which kill young poults, but not a factor for consecutive years like this.  It is possible that a disease could be responsible, as ever-increasing big poultry operations springing up everywhere have seen thousands of chickens die almost overnight from one disease or another.  But I figure what is responsible for this alarming decrease in wild turkey numbers is the same dilemma faced by quail, woodcock and whippoorwills--- overwhelming numbers of ground-foraging egg-eaters… raccoons, skunks, possums and snakes, and something unseen here 30 years ago….armadillos.

         Whatever it is, I don’t see anyway to change things.  Any ground nester is going to be hard pressed to exist in the future in the numbers we want.  Landowners need to declare war on armadillos especially.  And if you get feral hogs on your land, set a pair of chicken eggs out in a protected area where they thrive and see how long those eggs last.

         I read this recently from a study being done in Minnesota.  Notice what they say is of the biggest concern here.

----“CWD, caused by mutated proteins called prions, already has crossed species to macaque monkeys that were fed infected meat in laboratory tests. Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and an expert on infectious diseases, puts the human danger bluntly.
"I do believe that it is not a matter of if, but when, CWD crosses to humans,'' Osterholm said.
To which Michelle Carstensen, wildlife health program group leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, replied, "That's the biggest scare with this disease — what that would do to deer hunting and wildlife management!”

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