Reports were solid on big bucks, smaller bucks and doe, and Mississippi still ranks as one of the states with the largest population per capita in the United States.
But what about diseases such as chronic wasting disease and blue tongue?
“Healthwise, we are in good shape,” said Larry Castle, chief of wildlife for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “We are monitoring CWD, and we have not found any nor do we expect to find any CWD in our deer herd. We have a good sample coverage across the state, and we are on top of monitoring the disease.
“We do have a lot of blue tongue disease, but that is nothing new or anything to be alarmed about.”
Chronic wasting disease is related to mad cow disease, and there is no cure. It’s a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). It’s caused by a little-understood protein known as prion, which sets off a chain reaction in brain tissue, causing some of the brain’s own proteins to change into an aberrant form. It’s ultimately fatal to infected animals. Diseased animals will show changes in their normal behavior, exhibit excessive weight loss, salivation, stumbling and tremors. Cervids, which are members of the deer family and consist of whitetail deer, elk and red deer, are susceptible. Experts say there is no scientific evidence that CWD can infect humans, but the World Health Organization advises people not to eat any part of a deer with the infection.
Bluetongue is an insect-borne, viral disease primarily of sheep, occasionally goats and deer. The disease is not contagious and is transmitted only by insect vectors. Humans are not infected.
The disease is characterized by fever, widespread hemorrhages of the oral and nasal tissue, excessive salivation, and nasal discharge. In acute cases, the lips and tongue become swollen, and this swelling may extend below the lower jaw. Lameness, due to swelling of the cuticle above the hoofs, and emaciation, due to reduced feed consumption because of painful inflamed mouths, may also be symptoms of this disease. The blue tongue that gives the disease its name occurs only in a small number of cases.
“I want to stress that we have not found any CWD in Mississippi,” Castle said. “Blue tongue has taken some of our deer and that causes us to see fewer deer. A lot of things are blamed when we see fewer deer when it could be habitat.”
Regardless, Castle said the herd in Mississippi still ranges between 1.5 million and 1.7 million. He expects that Mississippi hunters will kill 300,000 deer on a 1-to-1 ratio between bucks and doe. The average age of bucks in Mississippi is still around three years.
“Deer quality was good this year,” Castle said. “Deer numbers may be average, though. I’ve talked with some hunters who say they had the best year yet. Then some will tell me that is was their worst year. I think when the numbers are in, we’ll be somewhere in the middle.
“We are nowhere near being out of deer. Sure, there are places where deer observations were down, and that could be due to habitat. The state of the union is in good shape, and when you look at the whole state, our deer herd is in good shape.”