Blue Tongue (or EHD) Leaving a Dark Cloud Over Future of Montana Whitetails

It started with a simple Tweet. Outdoor icon Michael Waddell shot the following to his nearly 20,000 Twitter followers on Sept. 1:

“Headed to MT soon. Bad news EHD hit the river and supposedly killed alot of the deer. I will have a report soon.”

Image shared by Michael Waddell, of a whitetail suspected of being driven to a brutal death by EHD


The “report” he promised wasn’t good. Turns out it continues to get worse in Montana. Call it blue tongue, call it EHD, it doesn’t matter what you call it – its outcome is devastating.

Blue tongue, or epizootic hemorrhagic disease, appears to be the culprit. And the aftermath of it, once complete, appear to be headed toward near disaster for the whitetail deer herd in many areas of the state.

Waddell reported, via Twitter, seeing only “10 to 18 deer where we typically see 100.” That report, coupled with many outfitters accounts along the famous Milk River have numbers pegged at between 80-90 percent decimation. That’s extremely sad for a state that has been quickly becoming a favorite destination for whitetail enthusiasts.

That also puts numbers where there probably should be little hunter harvest for the next several years to allow for rebound. It will take plenty of time, based on what I’m reading.

For those wondering, here is what I’ve learned about EHD:

First Blue Tongue and EHD, by definition, are different. Blue Tongue is really the sister disease that affects livestock. Regardless, in it’s most slang sense, hunters know what it means.

It’s a contagious virus affecting deer and is spread by gnats. It is most found near waterways and standing water encourages its spread. While most biologists recommend you discard the carcass of a dead animal found with questionable symptoms, there are no known spreads of the disease to humans.

You’ll likely be seeing more about the actual outbreak in Montana in the coming months (I’m sure whitetail magazines are gearing up coverage), however the true impact of its destruction will surely be felt by hunters in that region for many, many years to come.

That’s tough – especially for someone who has long dreamed about glassing those endless prairies for a Milk River whitetail to put a strategy to. I wish the herd, and the hunters impacted, the best.

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5 responses to “Blue Tongue (or EHD) Leaving a Dark Cloud Over Future of Montana Whitetails

  • Nick

    I saw Waddell’s tweets too. It was horrifying. We had an EDH outbreak in Pennsylvania in some areas a few years ago. The herd seemed to make a quick comeback, but it was very scary. I too have thought about heading to the Milk River area to hunt, and I imagine the impact on outfitters in that area is going to be significant over the next few years.

  • Jacob Haley

    Blue tongue or EHD is not a contagious disease. The only transmission is through the midge’s(gnats). Itbis not past deer to deer only through the infected bite of a carrying gnat.

  • Mindy reeves

    Can a kid get sick from drinking the water in the river where these deer are dead?

  • jasonelijah

    While I don’t want to get into an argument over the politics of climate change, this is something that should motivate hunters to stop and think about the potentially devastating effects from shorter and/or warmer winters. The threat of Vector-borne pathogens to both humans and animals is going to increase as temperatures do.

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