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About 70,000 Hunters Expected

Lincoln, Neb. - Nearly 70,000 deer hunters will take to the field in Nebraskas nine- day firearm season Saturday through Nov. 20, and game managers expect a success rate of around 50 percent.

"It should be a good season," said Kit Hams, big game program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. "The number of permits sold will be very similar to last year, and the deer herd has stabilized the last six or seven years at about 50,000 mule deer and 250,000 whitetails. We anticipate the success rate going up in the west and going down in the east."

Of the 52,000 permits authorized for units with permit limits, 48,000 have been sold. With landowner, youth and 10,000 season-choice permits already sold, the number of hunters should be similar to the 2004 total. Twenty-one units still have permits open, including some 11,000 season choice permits, which allow hunters to take an antlerless deer by bow, rifle or muzzleloader during the proper season.

"The wild card this year is the number of dead and dying deer in eastern Nebraska. Its very likely that we have had significant disease outbreaks, probably EHD (epizoodic hemorrhagic disease) or bluetongue, which are similar viruses, in eastern Nebraska. Were getting more calls about dead or dying deer, and were doing a lot of testing, but we havent quantified the results yet," Hams said.

While EHD or bluetongue might reduce hunter opportunities in the heavily populated zones in the east, hunters should not be worried about being infected by handling or eating meat from affected deer. "Its not a disease of people; its a disease of deer," Hams said. Deer that develop bacterial infections or abscesses secondary to hemorrhagic disease, however may not be suitable for consumption.

"The rule of thumb," Hams said, " is if it appears sick, dont eat it."

The apparent EHD or bluetongue outbreak will likely have run its course by the time the firearm season opens. The deer that are going to die will have died, and those that are going to survive will have recovered, Hams said.

Weather is the major factor in the development and the conclusion of such outbreaks. Drought, which has plagued the eastern half of the state, produces warm, still water, which is fertile breeding habitat for midges, tiny biting flies, which transmit the diseases. The onset of freezing temperatures, eliminates the midges, and the outbreaks quickly end, Hams said.

Similar outbreaks occurred in western Nebraska in 2002 and 2003, and the herds, and hunter success, rebounded sharply last year. "EHD and bluetongue have been around for 30 years. Deer get it and recover. One thing were positive of, its not CWD (chronic wasting disease)." Hams said.

This season the Commission will continue to test and monitor the eastern movement of CWD, which has been a major health issue with deer and elk herds in Wyoming and Colorado since the 1960s. Nebraska game biologists will test the lymph nodes of some 6,000 harvested deer at check stations across the state. Similar testing last year turned up 29 new confirmed cases, raising the total to 79 since testing began in 1997.

The confirmed cases have occurred in all Panhandle counties and in Arthur, Cherry and Hall counties. Testing will be expanded in the central and eastern units this year, Hams said.

If unseasonably warm weather continues through the firearm deer season, a greater concern to hunters should be the danger of spoilage to meat, Hams said. "If its warm, hunters need to get deer processed quicker because the deer will start decomposing sooner, spoiling the meat. It needs to be cool and dry-down to at least 40 degrees at night--for a deer to be hung up and allowed to cool for several hours before processing," he said.

Game and Parks Commission officials are also reminding the thousands of hunters who will be in the fields with firearms to always think safety first, particularly when hunting from tree stands; remember the requirement to wear at least 400 square inches of hunter orange on the head, chest and back; to respect the rights of landowners and seek permission to hunt, and to obey all game laws, including the prohibition of shooting from the road
 
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