PLAINWELL, Mich. (WZZM) - Early Thursday, roughly 750,000 hunters will head out to the woods hoping to "bag-a-buck" as firearm deer season opens.
This year the DNR has made some changes because of the outbreak of a lethal disease in the deer population. The disease, Epizootic Hemorrahagic Disease, also know as EHD, is responsible for killing more than 12,000 deer, in 30 counties, over the past few months.
EHD is a virus caused by a midge bite to the deer. "Essentially, it enters their blood stream and causes vascular damage and internal bleeding and they solely die from that disease," said Steve Chadwick, Wildlife Division Regional Supervisor for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Chadwick says humans cannot get the disease and the lethality of the disease on deer varies.
"Some deer get bit and don't show any signs of the disease. Some deer get bit, get sick and then recover from the disease and others will actually die from the disease," he said.
While the fate of infected deer cannot be predicted, the same can't be same for the effect EHD will likely have on deer hunting this season.
In response to the outbreak, the DNR has changed the rules limiting the number of antlerless licenses a hunter can buy. Chadwick says the state used to allow hunters to purchase 10 licenses. Now, the number licenses allowed are limited to 5 for private land and 2 for public land.
"The measure was taken to illustrate the message that we would like hunters to exercise restraint in some areas," said Chadwick.
The reason for that restraint is because the outbreak of EHD caused some areas to suffer heavier deer loss than others. That fact, also means the hunting experience itself may be a little different for hunters.
"Hunters should know in some areas deer numbers are significantly reduced because of EHD. Their expectation should be they will see fewer deer than they are used to seeing. Some areas won't be affected at all and you will be able to experience the same type of hunting you have experienced in the past. It is just a very varied disease in terms of how it hits," he said. "Certainly hunters are going to have to change their expectations, especially if you have heard of neighbors finding dead deer on their properties. I wouldn't let it stop you from hunting. You may be pleasantly surprised."
The midge that causes it has likely been killed by the cold weather. So, any deer that was affected has either died off or recovered. And, because officials say EHD poses no threat to human health, the meat is safe to eat.
The DNR has also made a reduction in check stations this year. During archery season there were only two in the region. However, several more will open starting Thursday. A list of check station locations and hours can be found on the Department of Natural Resources website.