This photo taken in Monroe County by a trail camera on Dec. 17. It shows an emaciated white tailed deer with a large swelling on its throat. The cause of its condition remains a mystery.

This photo taken in Monroe County by a trail camera on Dec. 17. It shows an emaciated white tailed deer with a large swelling on its throat. The cause of its condition remains a mystery.

Recently I received a call from Ricky Worth. Like many Monroe Countians, Ricky and his wife, Tami Gossett, use trail cameras to photograph the wild animals that roam their property.  

During the time the camera has been in use, they have photographed everything from coyotes to white-tailed deer. However, when they reviewed the pictures taken on night of Dec. 17 they were surprised to see the ghost-like image of an emaciated white-tailed deer displaying a huge swollen area on its neck.  This prompted Ricky to call and ask me to look at the photos and see if I could tell them what was wrong with the animal.

After looking at the pictures I quickly realized that, in spite of having examined a few thousand deer during my career as a wildlife biologist, I had never seen a deer in this condition.  This prompted me to share the photos with three other veteran biologists; they too advised they had never encountered a deer like this.

In an effort to get to the bottom of this mystery, I contacted some of the most renowned wildlife disease specialists in the Southeast. These veterinarians work for the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Center in Athens. These men and women are involved in a myriad of research and detection projects dealing with Southeastern wildlife ranging from songbirds to bald eagles, white-tailed deer, and other mammals.

 They also assess the livestock and human health implications of wildlife diseases. The SCWDS works closely with state and federal wildlife agencies in Georgia and elsewhere throughout the Southeastern United States.

Dr. Gregory Ruder and Dr. Nicole Marie Nemeth closely scrutinized Ricky’s photos.  Both of these experts indicated, that due to the grainy nature of the pictures and not being able to examine the deer, it was impossible to know for certain what was wrong with the animal. They went on to say they had never seen anything quite like it in a white-tailed deer.

Meanwhile, they were of the opinion that it appeared the animal has been suffering with this problem for quite some time.  They also suggested the mass on the neck might be a large tumor or that the swelling might be due to a traumatic injury.  Dr. Ruder went on to say, “A persistent impaction would eventually result in a breakdown of tissues and a lot of swelling, infection, etc.”  He also stated, “An impaction of the esophagus (which is secondary to trauma) may also be involved.”  Both agreed that the only way sure way to diagnose the problem is to perform a necropsy on it.

The Georgia Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) realizes that the health of the state’s white-tailed deer population plays an integral role in the management of the state’s deer herd. In an effort to bolster monitoring the health status of Georgia’s deer herd, the WRD is encouraging all of us to be on the lookout for sick-looking deer. Specifically they are seeking reports of deer displaying any of the following five symptoms: 

1.  Dead deer in or near a stream, lake, pond with an apparent injury.

2.  Emaciated deer, which are so thin that their backbone, pelvic bone and all ribs are showing.

3.  Deer walking in circles, a loss of coordination, or with difficulty standing or walking.

4.  Deer with no apparent injuries with drooping ears, abnormal posture, or drooling heavily.

5.  Deer that are excessively coughing, sneezing, or have yellow bumps on the lungs and inside the rib cage.

If you find such an animal in Monroe County, call the Monroe County game warden or the WRD’s Region III Regional Game Management Office in Thomson at 706-595-4222.

Georgia’s white-tailed deer management initiative is recognized as being one of the best in the nation. If we were all as conscientious as Ricky and Tami, Georgia’s deer management efforts would be even better.


Terry Johnson is retired Program Manager of the Georgia Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program. He has written the informative column ‘Monroe Outdoors’ for the Reporter for many years. His book, “A Journey to Discovery,” is available at The Reporter. Email him at