OUTDOORS: Activities reach ups and downs

Dec. 31—What a wild ride we have had with weather the past ten days or so. It's been like a roller coaster ride; up and down and all around!

We got ice fairly quickly after the big storm came through a little over a week ago but I sure wouldn't venture out on the ice this weekend. It is never an easy task to predict the weather in Illinois but give it a day or two and it will change.

December was often called "the month of death" by Native Americans and this month, more than any I can remember, sure did live up to its name. Any animal that was sick, weak, or wounded just didn't have a chance in the conditions presented to them a week ago Thursday and Friday. Many mammals and birds died during those days; it was awful and we will see the results of this in the future.

Deer are dropping their antlers now and will be for quite some time. Those that hunt these "sheds" need to remember that, to be legal the antlers must not be attached to the skull cap. Many a weak buck or wounded buck may have died and the antlers will still be attached to the skull cap. If you find such a deer you need to get permission from the state to remove the antlers or you could be fined for having a set of untagged antlers even though you found them on a dead deer carcass.

A discussion Thursday with our local Conservation Police Officer brought up the conversation about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in deer populations.

We do not have CWD in our area but it is fairly common in northern counties in Illinois. What we deal with in our area is Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease caused by a tiny insect called a midge.

Most area deer hunters can tell you horror stories about this EHD as it strikes a deer herd much harder and faster that CWD, wiping a good percentage of a local herd and then being gone after the first hard frost.

CWD, on the other hand, is a neurological disease that simply causes the deer to stop feeding as all its major organ systems begin to shut down. Some deer survive CWD, especially if they are healthy and the end result on the herd is not nearly as devastating as that of EHD.

Combine the devastation of EHD and the severe winter weather of our area this year and it will be interesting in just how the deer herd will look next season!

Driving home from Indiana on Thursday of this week, I spotted several groups of deer along the way so some deer did make it through the wind and cold. However, I'll just bet that a good number didn't!

Sam Van Camp writes about the outdoors on Saturdays. Fax: 446-6648. E-mail: pamnsam70@aol.com