By Erik Barber
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a transmissible neurological disease that affects deer with always-fatal results, is arguably the biggest challenge the deer hunting community faces today. Although fish and game agencies are working tirelessly to study the disease, there’s still much to learn. As a result, many states are taking measures that make it easy for hunters to test their deer for CWD. Whether you hunt in an area affected by CWD or not, you should consider testing your deer for the disease.
About two years ago, I shot a deer in a southwestern Wisconsin county that, at the time, yielded few CWD samples. The deer behaved normally and didn’t show any signs that suggested it was sick. In fact, it’s round potbelly and heavy, symmetrical rack suggested the deer was healthy and thriving. Despite passing the visual cues test, I left the head and neck at one of the many drop-off locations for CWD testing. To my surprise, I later received confirmation that the animal tested positive for CWD. From that moment, my outlook on CWD and submitting samples to state agencies changed dramatically.
Biologists need samples to learn more about CWD. The more samples biologists have, the easier it is for them to track disease movement, identify new hot spots, and manipulate management practices to combat it. Thanks to the effort of fish and game agencies around the country, it’s never been easier to submit a sample. By doing so, you‘re helping biologists learn more to help protect the longevity of bowhunting whitetail deer for many years to come.
State agencies employ CWD management plans that vary by county and disease prevalence. Because CWD affects some areas more than others, bowhunters need to stay informed about management practices found in the areas they bowhunt. In most cases, this information is readily available online or by contacting your state’s agency.
In Wisconsin, for example, hunters can participate in CWD research in a few ways. From self-service drop-off locations to taxidermist and meat processor co-ops that gather the sample for you, it’s never been easier to submit a sample. Simply fill out the necessary information, and leave the head and lymph nodes behind to be tested. Even if you want to mount your deer, your taxidermist can still retrieve the lymph nodes and submit the sample without affecting the integrity of your shoulder mount. Upon submission, most hunters receive their results within two weeks. Because testing methods vary from state to state and even county to county, contact your state’s natural resource agency to learn more about the testing protocol, carcass movement laws, or any other implications that could dictate your next steps after you harvest a deer.
Although there haven’t been any tests that suggest CWD can jump the species barrier from cervids to humans, it’s best to err on the side of caution. When you receive negative CWD test results, you can share the harvest with friends and family with peace of mind, knowing you’re indulging in delicious, free-range, and healthy venison. On the other hand, meat from CWD-positive deer can be disposed of and, depending on where you hunt, your tag may be reallocated. You may be able to shoot an additional deer to make up for the meat loss affiliated with the positive test result. While some hunters choose to consume CWD positive venison, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests disposing of it.
In addition, when you submit a CWD sample, you play an integral part in your hunting community’s management plan. The best way to get ahead of CWD is by proactively submitting samples, which, frankly, isn’t too difficult. With minimal effort, you can support a healthy future for bowhunting whitetail deer.
Hunters are the greatest resource state agencies have at their disposal. Together, we harvest more deer and provide more CWD samples than any other method. The current state of CWD across North America is fluid and rather unknown. By doing your part and encouraging your hunting partners to submit a CWD sample this fall, we can ensure a healthy and fruitful future of bowhunting our favorite game animal.
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