091913 deer disease kw.jpg

Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Jay Kolbe drags a deer carcass from a backwater of the Clark Fork River in September to confirm signs of internal hemorrhaging caused by a virus spread among deer by biting gnats. Dozens of deer have died west of Missoula in recent days in what appears to be the first documented case of epizootic hemorrhage disease west of the Continental Divide in Montana.

KURT WILSON/Missoulian

GREAT FALLS — Deer hunters in five north-central Montana hunting districts between Great Falls and the Canadian border won't be allowed to use their general deer license to take antlerless deer.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission made the decision Thursday.

Officials said an outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease has taken a toll on the whitetail population. Wildlife biologists said the disease hits whitetail deer populations harder.

But biologists are concerned the drop in whitetail numbers could cause an overharvest of mule deer. The hunting districts are 400, 401, 403, 404 and 406.

"The concern is with fewer whitetail, there would be hunters who would move to antlerless mule deer," said Ron Aasheim, spokesman for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Experts say epizootic hemorrhagic disease is a viral disease spread by biting midges. It usually spreads in late summer and fall and occurs in some parts of the state almost every year. The first killing frost usually stops the disease.

Sportsman and landowners have reported dead whitetail deer since late July.

In other action, the commission approved the preliminary acquisition of two parcels of land of about 3 acres near Lewistown for about $150,000.

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