Deer Dying in the Dakotas – Is Maine Next?

During my annual pheasant hunt in North Dakota, I usually see lots of whitetail and mule deer. But two years ago, most of our whitetail deer sightings were of dead deer. On one farm, I saw eight freshly dead deer in four days, including the biggest whitetail I’ve ever seen in North Dakota.

I learned that the deer died of HD, hemorrhagic disease. Whitetails die within 96 hours of being bitten by a midge. The virus doesn’t impact mule deer.

North Dakota HD dead deerDr. Dan Grove of North Dakota’s Game and Fish Department told me the virus is present throughout the United States, is especially prevalent in southern states, and flares up in North Dakota every four to seven years. That year there were HD outbreaks in many states including South Dakota, Kansas, and Montana.

“The whole (whitetail) population is at risk,” Grove told me in a telephone interview. “There can be large-scale die-offs.”

I wrote a column about this late in 2012 and thought little about it afterward. Until now. Now, HD may be getting close to home.

In the National Wildlife Federation’s recent report, “Nowhere To Run: Big Game Wildlife in a Warming World,” I learned that the warming climate is expanding the reach of HD.

“In 2011 Melissa Clark, a wildlife biologist with Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, prophetically stated, ‘As climate change occurs, the midge is capable of translocation and adaptation to new geographic areas. More frequent outbreaks of HD may occur in Wisconsin as a consequence of climate changes that favor the northward spread of the biting flies that spread the disease.’ Just a year later, when the severe drought and extreme heat of 2012 plagued much of the country, Wisconsin experienced its second known outbreak ever. The first was in 2002.”

The NWF reported, “There is no effective treatment for HD. Researchers are concerned that climate change could have serious impacts on wildlife due to extreme weather and changes in the dynamics of transmission of HD and other wildlife diseases. Because insect-killing frost in the fall typically ends an HD outbreak, longer summers are likely to expose whitetailed deer to disease-carrying midges for longer periods of time.”

I can only hope that we will address climate changes in time to save Maine’s deer herd from this devastating virus. Having seen it up close in North Dakota, I am worried!

NOTE: You can read the entire National Wildlife Federation report online at


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.