COLUMBUS — Area hunters were more on the mark after a slow opening weekend of firearm season, upping their deer harvest substantially during the final seven days of the season.

Hunters checked in 695 deer at Columbus during this year’s nine-day season ending Sunday, slightly more than 61 percent of the 1,135 deer taken during 2011’s record harvest.

That figure was an increase from the season’s opening weekend, when the Columbus check-in rate was off nearly 59 percent from last year, said Tom Welstead, district manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Hunters shot 185 deer in the opening two days of this season, down from 460 deer checked in at T-Bone Truck Stop in 2011.

“Hunters knew what to expect this year,’’ Welstead said.

The Game and Parks official attributed this year’s numbers slide to a combination of a record deer harvest during 2011 and the prevalence of a viral disease that killed thousands of white-tailed deer across the state this year.

Cari Davis at the T-Bone check-in station agreed that hunters had a good grasp on what to expect when they headed out to area fields this season.

“Hunters who came in weren’t disappointed this year, they knew they wouldn’t be seeing as many deer,’’ Davis said. “This year’s numbers were way down (compared to last year).”

The thinning of this year’s deer herd won’t keep Davis from getting out and trying to fill her permit in the next couple of months. She has a season choice permit, which allows her to hunter during December’s muzzleloader and January’s late firearm seasons.

“I’ll be OK if I don’t get one this year,’’ Davis said. “I got one last year.”

Other area check-in stations also reported the numbers of deer tailing off for the season but posted better figures than the northeast region overall.

The 2011 and 2012 deer numbers with this year’s percentage of the 2011 record numbers: Norfolk, 783 and 1,475, 53 percent; Fullerton, 384 and 584, 66 percent; Neligh, 659 and 1,012, 65 percent; and Schuyler, 275 and 428, 64 percent.

The overall average for 19 check-in stations in northeast Nebraska was 57 percent of the 2011 deer harvest.

Welstead said the commission’s Earn A Buck program, which urged hunters who shot a buck to reduce the deer population by also taking a doe, sought to trim the whitetail numbers by 25 percent last year.

“That was the heavy hand we used to lower the deer population last year,’’ Welstead said, adding it wasn’t quite fair to compare 2011’s record harvest to this year.

This year’s harvest is more comparable to the good harvests of 2006 or 2007, not the records set the last couple of years because of deer over-population, he said.

Meanwhile, a viral disease has been fatal for more than 2,000 white-tailed deer across the state this year.

This is the worst outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, which is spread to deer through midge bites, since 1976, Welstead said. The midges, a small knat-like insect, prefer to breed on mud flats and exposed soil near low water lines.

The disease causes hemorrhaging in the deer’s body and often a high fever, which is why many deer killed by it are found in or near water.

Last summer’s historic heat and dry conditions were a prime breeding ground for midges, Welstead said.

“It was a significant disease event,’’ he said.