Even with two daunting problems to overcome during the 2011-12 deer season, North Carolina hunters tagged the third-highest overall harvest on record, 173,553 whitetails, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

The harvest was one percent below the previous season, the second-highest on record, and two percent below the all-time high from 2008-09.

"It wasn't statistically significant," said biologist Evin Stanford, the Commission's big-game coordinator.


The two problems that hunters overcame were an explosion of coyotes in the state and an outbreak of Epizootic Hemoraghic Disease (EHD), an illness that whose symptoms include high fever, emaciation and sloughed hooves. The virus that causes the disease is caused by flying, biting insects called midges. An outbreak usually signals a large drop in the harvest.


"We did have reported cases of EHD in 42 counties, but it likely was in every county," Stanford said.


North Carolina, which has a cyclical problem with EHD every four or five years, is lucky in two respects. Because the local deer herd has built up some immunity - Stanford said only a maximum of 30 percent of a herd in a given county contracts the ailment - it doesn't devastate the entire state.


"It was probably higher last season than 30 percent in some counties, but that's the average," he said. "We've had years when it was much higher. Plus, it was much worse in some states (where it's uncommon). North Dakota lost 90 percent of its whitetail herd last year and had to close its deer season."


EHD usually occurs after a wet, late summer and early fall, when plenty of standing ground water allows midges to breed more easily.


On the other hand, coyotes have become such a problem that the Commission is fine-tuning a proposal that would allow night hunting of these omnivores by shining lights and baiting.


"The only disappointing thing was a drop in the harvest from five to six percent in certain districts and that included the Central, Northern Coastal and Northern Piedmont," he said.


No extremely unusual statistics emerged from Stanford's deer-harvest report. Most of the state's traditional top-harvest counties remained the same. The top-three counties were in identical order to 2010-11, with Northampton, Halifax and Bertie – three counties along the Roanoke River – finished in that order.


Northampton topped the state with a reported harvest of 5,289, followed by Halifax at 5,229, and Bertie with 4,348.


However, Wilkes County in the state's northwestern corner, made a huge jump from out of the top 10 last season to fourth place in 2011-12 with 4,222 recorded deer kills. Pender County dropped from fourth to fifth. Anson County moved from ninth to sixth, and Duplin rose from 10th to seventh. Bladen County cracked the top 10 in ninth. Going in the other direction were Beaufort County, which fell from fifth to eighth, and Franklin, which dropped from seventh to 10th.


Stanford said Northampton, Halifax and Bertie remain North Carolina's top destinations for deer hunters because of several natural factors.


"They have fertile soil, the highest deer densities in the state, and a lot of people hunt deer up there," he said. "It doesn't hurt that those counties are in the Roanoke River drainage, plus the (Roanoke River Wetlands Game and National Wildlife Refuge) are in that area."


Stanford saw another positive trend; North Carolina hunters continue to approach a 50-50 harvest ratio for bucks and does.


"Last season, hunters killed 45-percent does and 55-percent antlered deer, but the 55 percent included button bucks," he said.