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Louisa-Lawrence Co, KY

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October 19, 2017

We have recently received several inquiries about the Low number of squirrel in the Louisa-Lawrence county area this year so we sent a message to the Ky. Fish and Wildlife Resources center in Frankfort.

 

Ky. F&W,

I have been getting calls to my website (thelevisalazer.com) asking about why there doesn’t seem to be many squirrel in our county this year. Is it related to the Blue Tongue disease in deer?

Also, I would like to have the name and contact info for the Conservation officer for Lawrence County.

Thanks in advance,

Mark

Eastern Grey Squirrel Eastern Grey Squirrel

The following message came back today explaining what the state F&W folks think may be the problem; 

 

Dr. Grayson,

We have also had some reports of locally low squirrel populations in E KY, and some of those were as early as last fall. It’s not unusual to go through highs and lows of small game species like squirrels. There is no known connection between EHD (blue-tongue) in deer and squirrel populations.

At this time, we don’t believe there is reason for great concern, but we will be monitoring the situation. Last fall was exceedingly dry (spurring all the wildfires), and this likely had a negative impact on squirrel survival (drought not the fire). The drought likely aborted hard mast production which is a critical component of a squirrel’s diet in the fall and winter.

For those that survived, their reproductive success was likely adversely affected. So, you can see a multi-year carryover from unfavorable weather conditions. Please don’t hesitate to send any additional questions my way. If you are receiving reports of observations of dead squirrels, then please send them my way as well.

Thanks for the inquiry!

John J. Morgan, Certified Wildlife Biologist
Small Game Program Coordinator
KY Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources
#1 Sportsman's Lane
Frankfort, KY 40601

 

(NOTE: BTW, there is no Conservation Officer stationed in Lawrence County at the present time.)

 

Date: 10-18-2017

The biologist overseeing the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife’s deer and elk program said the Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, or EHD, outbreak could possibly result in more hunting restrictions next year in Floyd County.

Fish and Wildlife Biologist Gabe Jenkins said the outbreak has slowed down recently and he expects it to end soon, but officials won’t know exactly how it has impacted the county’s deer population until later this winter.

“The end is in sight,” he said. “We were getting reports of 700 to 800 a week. But for the past couple of weeks, it slowed down to half of that statewide.” 

Floyd County has been at the top of the list of counties statewide in the number of deer that have been reported to have EHD. When the outbreak started in July, officials described several Floyd County
communities as the “epicenter” of the outbreak. The number of cases in Floyd Country doubled and tripled almost weekly since the department started issuing reports, but the number has increased only by four since Oct. 3. 

As of Oct. 10, there were 429 reports of the disease in Floyd County, and the county had the second highest number of cases reported, with Pike County having 563. 

Jenkins said Fish and Wildlife officials take these EHD reports with a “grain of salt” because they do not have the staff to “ground truth” them, and it’s likely some deer with EHD have been reported more than once while others have not been reported at all. Because of that, he said the number of EHD cases are likely higher than reported. 

As of Oct. 10, there have been 4,288 EHD reports statewide — around the same number of cases reported during the state’s last significant EHD outbreak in 2007. Jenkins said there were only 12 reports of EHD in Floyd County that year, which is why the outbreak is so devastating to the county’s deer herd this year. 

Deer can survive EHD, and when they do, they can pass that genetic resistance to their offspring. Jenkins said since Floyd County did not have a large number of EHD cases previously, the county’s deer herd is more susceptible to contracting it now. 

The EHD outbreak has spawned several conspiracy theories from residents and hunters, including allegations about the outbreak being purposely caused to reduce the number of vehicle crashes caused by deer or to make more room for elk to roam in Eastern Kentucky.

“I read it all over the Internet. It cracks me up, but there are conspiracy theories,” Jenkins said. “I guess the odd thing for folks there who are in the know of EHD is that we really weren’t in drought conditions this year in the eastern part of the state, and that’s usually how EHD gets started.”

The midge, or gnat, that transports EHD lives near shallow water, and drought conditions that leave muddy areas around water holes create a good breeding ground for the insects. Jenkins compared EHD to the flu virus, explaining that people can take a flu shot for one strain of the flu, but still get another type of flu that season, at the same time that they are resistant to the strain in flu shot they received. 

He then talked about EHD in Harlan County, which, on Oct. 3 and Oct. 10, only had nine reported EHD cases and is the only Eastern Kentucky county with fewer than 10 EHD cases. 

“For the longest time we had no reports in Harlan County,” he said. “So I looked into it. I wanted to know why Harlan County was its own island down there. I called the staff there and nobody had reports. Then I went back through our data and I saw that Harlan County had an outbreak in 2015 as well. So, some of the deer there died in 2015 with EHD, but a lot of them were exposed and survived. So, that group of deer in Harlan County is less susceptible to EHD than those in Floyd County.” 

He doesn’t yet know how the EHD outbreak has impacted the overall number of deer in Floyd County. He said the number of deer harvests reported during archery season, which is already underway, are usually lower than gun harvest reports, so the archery harvest data is not a good indicator of how many deer have been killed. Fish & Wildlife will compile data from the gun season harvest, as well as data from the EHD reports if changes need to be made to Floyd County’s hunting season next year.

“It is possible,” he said, when asked if EHD will cause more hunting restrictions for Floyd County next year. “We’re not going to change anything that is in place for this season ... We’ll let the outbreak run its course and, if we need to make restrictions or reduce the hunting season, then we’ll make that decision.” 

He said he will analyze the number of deer harvested and the deer deaths related to EHD while also comparing the number of does and bucks impacted. He’s most concerned about the number of does that have died because “they drive the population.” He said the decision about next year’s hunting season won’t come until later this winter after gun season is over. 

He said outbreak is heartbreaking, particular because state officials were considering increasing the deer hunting opportunities in Floyd County.

“That area has been growing significantly in deer population,” he said. “We were hoping to increase hunter opportunities by moving the hunt up, but now, we don’t know if that is possible ... You went from, 20 years ago, harvesting a couple of hundred deer to harvesting almost 1,000, so the herd has grown significantly.” 

Floyd County’s herd is estimated at 9,000 deer. 

Jenkins also confirmed reports that scavengers like coyotes won’t eat deer that have died of EHD. 

“It’s something that’s ingrained in nature,” he said. “They know that this thing died from a sickness, so it’s something they will not eat, so the deer just lie there and rot.”

He reiterated comments the department previously made about deer that have survived EHD being safe to eat, talking about a deer that survived EHD in 2015 that he harvested the following year. 

“In 2015, I had a deer that definitely had EHD, but he survived. He had it pretty rough, but he survived,” he said. “I harvested that deer in 2016 and I never thought twice about feeding it to my family.” 

He encourages hunters not to harvest deer that appear to be sick and asked them to be mindful of the EHD outbreak if they chose to hunt this year, particularly in areas like Floyd County that have had large numbers of EHD cases.

He said, “The biggest thing I’m trying to tell, especially to our hunters, if you’re in area that has a bad EHD outbreak, I would say if you’re feeding your family with venison, then by all means, take a deer, but if you’re shooting deer for antlers or a trophy and don’t need it, then practice little self-restraint and hold back, especially on those does. The bucks will be okay, but the does, they’re the ones that drive the population.” 

Local residents are encourage to report suspected EHD cases by visiting the department’s website, fw.ky.gov.


By Mary Meadows
Floyd County Chronicle

 

Oct 13th, 2017

Most bow hunters will tell you the most difficult time to hunt deer during Kentucky’s 136-day archery season may be the so-called October Lull

In early-to-mid October deer seem to disappear into thin air. Early season stands where hunters saw lots of deer suddenly go cold, as if some mythical switch has been flipped.

In fact, there’s no drop off in deer activity. The October Lull can be explained by changing patterns — where deer feed, bed, the trails they use, and how they associate with one another.

Deer still eat, drink water, and escape hot or cold on a daily basis. Hunters just have to figure out where the deer are, and what’s going on.

In October, bucks move to heavy cover where they feel safe. They spent less time on their feet during daylight hours, and enter fields later, usually at dark to scent check does as the rut approaches. (Photo by Mark Wallner)In October, bucks move to heavy cover where they feel safe. They spent less time on their feet during daylight hours, and enter fields later, usually at dark to scent check does as the rut approaches. (Photo by Mark Wallner)


That means heading into the heavy cover, scouting trails and looking for fresh sign. Rainy days are good scouting weather because a hunter’s scent is washed away.

Here’s some observations to mull over, during the lull over, leading up to the onset of the rut, the whitetail’s annual mating season:

* When bow season opens deer are still in their summer pattern. They are primarily feeding on clover, alfalfa, and other green plants. In fact, deer feed on hundreds of grasses, forbs, and mushrooms, even some that are toxic to humans.

They forage in open fields, especially late in the evenings, and are very visible. Usually the best hunting is from a treestand or ground blind at the edge of a field, where deer enter or exit.

All that changes as October approaches.

* When acorns ripen and begin to fall, deer head to the woods to pig out on the hard mast, packing on fat for the coming cold weather.

One key to success in October is deciphering these “in the cover food patterns.” Mast production has a big impact on deer movement, and consequently, hunter success. In years of heavy mast crops, deer move less, “camping” on food sources. In lean years they are forced to look around more to find food.

Gabe Jenkins, deer and elk program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources said the 2017 Mast Survey results showed poor to good mast production across Kentucky. Of the white oak trees observed by biologists in the field, just 31 percent had acorns (poor), as opposed to 63 percent of the red oaks (good).

For bow hunters, now is the time to key on areas where there are white oak trees, since their acorns are the deer’s first food choice. Find a white oak that’s dropping acorns and it’s likely deer will be feeding there at some point during the day.

If you can’t find white oak acorns look for red oak acorns.

A climbing tree stand is ideal for this type of hunting because it’s easy to be highly mobile, moving around from day to day, hunting on the edges of likely feeding areas. Pick a tree to climb based on wind direction and prevailing light (rising or setting sun).

White oak acorns are the deer’s preferred food choice in the fall. The 2017 Statewide Mast Survey results showed poor mast production for white oaks , just 31 percent of oak trees observed by biologists in the field produced nuts.White oak acorns are the deer’s preferred food choice in the fall. The 2017 Statewide Mast Survey results showed poor mast production for white oaks , just 31 percent of oak trees observed by biologists in the field produced nuts.


* Soft mast, what we’ll call fall treats, are also magnets that pull deer away from their normal travel and food patterns.

Apples are a favorite fall food and old trees around abandoned homesteads are a good place to hunt. And don’t overlook persimmon trees. When these tasty and tart fruits begin to ripen and fall to the ground, it’s standing room only. Deer will visit fruit-bearing persimmon trees daily.

* As bachelor groups of bucks break up, individual bucks move to heavy cover where they feel safe.

Increases in foot traffic from hunters alert deer, especially bucks, making them less likely to step into the open. They spent less time on their feet during daylight hours, and enter fields later. In summer, these buck were visible in fields. Now they only visit fields after dark, usually to scent check does as the rut approaches.

A good strategy, if hunting for a buck on a destination food source such as a winter wheat field or cut corn field, is to backtrack the trails that lead to the field. What you are looking for is a staging area that may be 100 to 150 yards from the field. It’s a place where terrain offers security, where a bedded buck can both see and smell any approaching predator (deer hunter or coyote). A bench on a hillside is a prime location.

 

If there is fresh sign, a well-travelled trail, droppings, depressions in the grass or leaves (deer day beds), antler rubs or scrapes in the dirt, you’ve found a good spot to hang a stand.

* As vegetation thins and temperatures fall, deer bedding areas change. In warm weather deer bed in shade, close to water. In the fall and winter they seek out the warm of the sun, bedding on south-facing slopes, or ridgetops where thermals being warm air to them as the sun rises.

* While does and their fawns typically live in the best cover, close to prime bedding and feeding areas, bucks have summer and winter home ranges, that expand or contract throughout the year.

Every hunter has seen a good buck during the summer, and then never again, during the season. Home ranges of different bucks overlap, so the good news is a shooter might appear during the season that’s you’ve never seen before. That’s deer hunting.

Don’t use the October Lull as an excuse not to hunt. Just head for the heavy cover, and hunt on fresh sign.

 

Art landers Jr.Art landers Jr.Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.