LANSING (AP) - A disease has killed more than 8,000 Michigan deer this year, causing some hunters to possibly skip the season and dealing a blow to shops that sell hunting gear.
The number of dead whitetails has climbed significantly since summer when hundreds were reported in just a handful of counties. Deaths now have occurred in much of the southern Lower Peninsula, west of Interstate 75, the result of a disease transmitted by a biting fly, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.
"Something has changed that has allowed this virus to persist in the environment," Brent Rudolph, head of the DNR's deer program, told The Detroit News.
The disease is not a threat to humans. It is transmitted by a midge fly and causes internal bleeding, high fever, loss of appetite and weakness. Summer drought and high temperatures are contributing to the high number of deaths, which stood at 8,671 as of Oct. 8.
Michigan has more than 1 million deer. Officials believe the number of deaths is certain to climb as farmers harvest corn and discover more carcasses. Brian Bouwkamp said nine were found on his family's 60 acres of hunting ground near Muskegon.
"You can smell more dead deer out there," he said. "But you just can't get in to investigate. For every one we've found, there are probably a lot more."
At Al and Pete's Sport Shop in Hastings, employee Jeff Schantz said purchases of guns, arrows and crossbows are down. The traditional deer season starts Nov. 15.
"Some people aren't even going to hunt this year," Schantz said.
Steve Hall, who processes deer killed by hunters, said he has not seen many during the archery season.
"Everyone I talk to has bad news - people not seeing any deer or people coming across dead ones on their property," he said. "The upcoming season is basically my Christmas. Sometimes it starts slow but never this slow."
Bouwkamp said he may hold his fire next month.
"We want to give whatever deer are left a chance to repopulate," he said.
Information from: The Detroit News, detnews.com/