Hunting Seasons Should not be Affect by Deer Hair-Loss Syndrome

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Recent news reports on deer hair-loss syndrome (DHLS) have caused many hunters to ask questions about the status of deer and deer hunting in Oregon this fall. Hunters are not likely to observe deer with DHLS during deer hunting season.

Very few deer experience DHLS during the summer and early fall months. The syndrome is not normally observed until December, and is most obvious in April. DHLS typically is observed at elevations below 1,000 feet in western Oregon in both black-tailed and white-tailed deer. DHLS has not been confirmed in wild mule deer or in eastern Oregon.

“In the four years that deer hair loss syndrome has been observed in the mid-coast area, I have had only two hunters bring in harvested deer that had the syndrome,” said Doug Cottam, district wildlife biologist in Newport . DHLS does not affect the quality of deer meat.

Deer put on their winter coats beginning in September and can look “patchy” while growing new coats, according to Cottam. Although this patchiness can be mistaken for DHLS, it is a normal part of the deer life cycle.

DHLS is thought to be caused by an exotic species of lice. As the lice numbers slowly increase during late fall and winter, noted Cottam, deer respond by scratching and biting at their hair and skin, which causes hair loss. In cases where the hair loss is severe enough to prevent deer from developing full winter coats, they become more susceptible to dying from the stresses of hypothermia. Some deer, but it is unknown how many, do survive DHLS and re-grow their hair in summer.

ODFW, in conjunction with Oregon State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is conducting research to better understand DHLS and its potential impacts on deer populations.