May 12, 2014
By Mark Kenyon
Seemingly straight out of an episode of the popular show The Walking Dead, recent sightings of hairless, scabbed over and decrepit looking whitetails in Minnesota has local residents and officials concerned. After the recent epidemic of EHD across the Midwest, whitetail hunters are growing increasingly worried about the impacts of disease on deer.
At the recent North American Whitetail Summit deer disease ranked as one of the top six issues impacting whitetails. That said, the first assumption many have jumped to regarding the cause of these "zombie deer" in Minnesota is mange. So, could whitetails in Minnesota be contracting mange? And, if so, what does that mean for whitetails and us?
While most often seen in coyotes, mange can, in fact, be found in whitetails. According to a report from the University of Missouri School of Natural Resources and Missouri Department of Conservation, "Although most deer will not show symptoms of mange, those that do will exhibit hair loss and skin thickening with small pus-filled lesions." Luckily, however, "mange does not cause a herd health issue and is not a concern for humans."
This description of mange seems to fit the symptoms seen in Minnesota, but Tom Rusch, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Manager working on this case, states that preliminary test results have come back without any sign of the mite that causes mange. One of the affected deer was put down last month and sent to the lab for testing. Results have been inconclusive thus far.
According to the wildlife health program supervisor handling the analysis, "the pathologist was not able to come up with anything to explain the hair loss. No infection, no microscopic parasites, nothing to go on."
While there currently isn't much evidence, several theories have emerged. One theory offered by the same wildlife health program manager is that the combination of a harsh winter and allergic reactions are to blame.
"Perhaps the hard winter and poor body condition (post-winter) had intensified the allergic reactions of some deer to external parasites (mites or lice), and the hair loss is due to self-grooming from this irritation."
Another theory that Rusch shared was that this hair loss and skin irritation could be caused by dietary factors. It has been found that dogs on a diet too heavy in corn have displayed similar symptoms. Supporting this theory is the fact that affected deer were sighted at emergency feeding areas this winter, where residents had been providing corn as supplemental food for deer struggling in the harsh conditions.
With the lack of a solid answer, it seems that this mystery is far from over. The Minnesota DNR is still investigating, while more impacted deer have been sighted in several counties. If you're in Minnesota and see deer with these symptoms, please contact your DNR representative as soon as possible.
First time shed hunter Amber found these impressive racks. Just goes to show that it doesn't matter if it's your first or tenth time, success is all about getting afield.
A Winter Shed Head
Ben Williams found this massive 173-inch gross, 3.5 mainframe set in New York. Nice find, Ben!
Central Illinois' Finest
Rain, snow, or shine, sheds are out there for you and Brian Gauge to find. Brian found this nice set in west central Illinois.
Shed Hunter in Training
Shed hunting is a great way to get your kids out in the field while providing an excellent opportunity to teach them a thing or two. Casey Charlton's 4-year-old son looks like he's going to be a full-time shed hunter before long.
Shed Hunting Like a Pro
Craig Bell shows off his impressive 10-pointer set.
A Shed Head
Shed Head's Craig Bell with yet another impressive set of sheds.
Ethan Bailey's Rack Room
Ethan Bailey certainly knows his whitetails.
The Great Anticipation
Jeff Schoeps with a great set he picked up. This buck carried match for eight days and had Jeff walking with great anticipation.
Collect Your Thoughts
Joe Kelly with the biggest set from his collection. Found on his private property, 214 1/8 in.
Jason Bethel: "First ones of the year here in Kansas, what a find! Match set." Awesome!
Start 'Em Young
Kelly Lynn starting out the little one right! Now that's parenting!
Matt Davis: "It's a shame when you find quality dead heads on your farm."
All Grins Here
A happy Ryan Dreher poses with his matching 7-point set.
Breaking the Ice
An 8-point set like this is enough to bring a smile to any shed hunter's face.
Know Where to Look
Often times bucks will bed just off the edges of food sources, such as corn, bean or other agricultural fields during the night while feeding and drop their antlers.
A Needle in a Haystack
Sometimes the best place to find sheds is near the bedding area of a buck. Look for thick cover, cedars and other conifers, or south facing hillsides. All of these types of areas can be popular bedding areas during the winter. This shed hunter obviously did his homework.
The Rack Room
It won't be tough finding room for a giant set like this. Very nice!
The Big Score
Finding matching sheds like this 20-point set is what shed hunting is all about.
Craig Bell shows that with persistence comes great results.
Regardless of the temperature, now is the perfect time to get afield and find those sheds!
The First Set is the Toughest
Nothing breaks the ice quicker than finding your first sheds of the year. For Shelby here, this rack looks to be the first of many in Kansas.
Take a Load Off
Is there anything better than laying down after a hard days work shed hunting? We didn't think so.
Hunting for All Ages
Tyler Treft: "My daughter natalee found this matching set today in Kansas. And found 7 all together." Wonderful to see kids out and about. Great set Natalee!
Fetch the Bone
Zachary Pearson and his lab doing some training with the shed she found last year.
About the Author
Mark Kenyon runs Wired To Hunt, one of the top deer hunting resources online, featuring daily deer hunting news, stories and strategies for the whitetail addict.