As many hunters in the Midwest know, a disease called blue tongue (BTV) has overwhelming swept in to their favorite hunting spots. Southern Indiana, Kentucky, Southern Illinois, and parts of Tennessee have been the hardest hit this year.
Blue Tongue otherwise known as catarrhal fever, is a viral disease carried by biting insects that is transferred to sheep, deer and possibly other animals. Biologists have been trying to figure out the dynamic behind this depressing disease. There are some conclusions biologists have reached. A biting insect called a “midge” is responsible for carrying the disease. Once the midge infects a deer, the deer begin to have noticeable symptoms. Some of these symptoms are high fever, hemorrhaging of the brain, and inflammation of muscles. The deer literally go crazy due to the high temperatures of their bodies. In the above Midwestern states (and possibly others), numerous sightings of deer standing in pools of water, ponds, lakes and rivers have been reported. The deer get overwhelmingly hot and travel to the nearest source of water to cool themselves down. Unfortunately in many cases, this does not happen and the deer die near these sources of water.
There are literally thousands of reports of deer carcasses being found near these water sources. Some hunters are reporting deer actually floating in the middle of these ponds. The reports continue to come in as hunters take to their stands this fall to find their monster buck from a previous hunting season lying dead in the nearest watering hole. The hunters’ dreams of seeing that buck this year and possibly having another chance at harvesting him are now nil in some cases as the Blue Tongue Virus spreads across the Midwest.
What causes blue tongue? This is the million dollar question everybody, hunters and biologists alike, want to know. There are several theories. First, many are of the same opinion that the drier the weather, the more noticeable the disease is. Many regions of the country are suffering from their worst droughts in years. The Midwest is one of these regions. The lack of rainfall is one of the main contributing factors in the spread of this disease. Second, just like any other animal or bug, “midges” need the right conditions to thrive. A harsh winter will be less productive for a turkey hatch. A light winter will not kill a lot of the ticks and mosquitoes. In the same respect, only certain regions have a climate conducive to midges.
One source, wbelieves that only areas between latitudinal lines of 40 degrees north and 35 degrees south are conducive to these BTV carrying insects. A third theory is that blue tongue has always been here but hunters and wildlife watchers have not noticed the effects until this year. Generally, biologists believe on common ground that BTV has always been here. The agreement is that the deer populations in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee are growing so quickly that many don’t notice a change from year to year due to BTV. This year is completely different however. BTV can be very specifically located within these regions. Some of your favorite hunting spots may not have been affected as much as others. Some are seeing close to an 80% reduction in their deer herds, while others a few miles down the road are not noticing any change at all.
I am in agreement with the biologists who believe BTV has been around forever. I will admit that until the last couple of years, I was unaware of what this disease was. In hindsight, I know that I have seen deer that have suffered from this disease. Approximately 8 years ago, my mother and her rottweiller were taking a walk during the early summer months on our farm. As they were walking across the levee of our one acre pond, Shaq (our dog) began to get nosy, pawing at the ground. My mother walked over and there was a skull and rack of a 140 class ten point with velvet still on. Of course it took some cleaning up but we sent it to the taxidermist and now have a great skull mount of what I have convinced myself is a victim of the blue tongue virus in southern Indiana.
I personally have seen several deer this year lying in dry creek beds that once held water. Many friends of mine have seen deer acting “out of the ordinary,” (jumping around like a bucking bronco and violently thrashing their heads) while standing in water holes or ponds. Others in Kentucky have been dragging deer out of their ponds with tractors and tow ropes. In any case, it goes without being said that many hunters are singing the blues this year due to the blue tongue disease’s affect on one particular buck or the entire herd.
On a good note, however, some deer are lucky enough to survive this disease. A common sign of a deer that has previously been infected with BTV is cracked hooves. Most biologist are in agreement that a deer that has or had blue tongue is still safe to eat, noting that the disease is not like “mad cow” and cannot be spread to humans. If you would like to read more about the BTV disease and its affects in the Midwest, you can check out these links: