Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) 2019 Update

cwd map 2019

On this just released CWD tracking map focus on the light-gray blocks, which show the current confirmation of the disease in wild populations of deer. Cases in north Mississippi and west Tennessee are relatively new, as is the gray block in north-central Virginia (Culpeper County), 20 miles from where I hunt.

There are CWD deniers in the hunting industry, but I am not one of them. The scientists and organizations I work with and believe in regard CWD as a real threat with the real potential to disrupt if not decimate deer populations and hunting in the future.

Every year that I look at an updated CWD map, I see the expansion of the nasty disease, and we all must take the threat seriously.

Some of the latest development you need to know:

The Quality Deer Management Association supports ending all transportation of live deer to lower the risk of spreading CWD. This includes deer breeders (no more shipping live deer from one state or region to another) and state wildlife agencies (no more capturing deer, say, in an urban area and moving them to more rural counties).

All states have enacted some version of this law: If you kill a deer in or around a known CWD area, you cannot transport the whole carcass across state lines. At a minimum you must de-bone the meat, and saw off the antlers and clean the skull cap of brain matter before you take it home.

Basically, know that the days of loading a deer in your pickup and driving home will soon be gone. The new normal will be quartering and de-boning your deer, so plan on that.

All health professionals and deer scientists say that if you shoot a deer in or near a known CWD area, have the meat tested before you eat it. Gut and clean the deer, bone out the meat, freeze it and send a sample to a lab as recommended by your state wildlife agency. Don’t consume until you get the word back that it’s CDW free.

Go online and get CWD testing info specific to your state/region and know how to have the meat tested before the 2019 season.

Virginia: CWD Confirmed In Buck Shot In Culpeper County

cwd deer

The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) in my home state of Virginia has confirmed Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in a buck legally harvested in Culpeper County during the November 2018 rut.

CWD has been documented in northwest Virginia (Frederick and Shenandoah counties) for some 9 years, and we hunters in the Northern Piedmont have been holding our collective breath that it would not spread.

But it has. The latest infected buck was killed in Culpeper County, 40 miles south of the original CWD zone.

Officials discovered this CWD from a sample submitted by a local taxidermist in January 2019. At the time this deer was harvested, the hunter did not notice any outward signs of disease, and the buck appeared to be in good condition.

In a press release, DGIF said it is too early to characterize the geographic spread of the disease in Culpeper or to determine how many deer in the area are infected. Because CWD was not confirmed in Culpeper until after the 2018 deer season closed, DGIF did not have the opportunity to work with local hunters to test large numbers of deer from the area.

DGIF will conduct preliminary disease surveillance in Culpeper and surrounding counties this spring and summer to make preliminary assessments about the occurrence of the disease. Methods of sample collection include working with road-kill collection contractors, responding to calls from the public about sick deer, and working with farmers and other landowners who have experienced damage from deer.

Experience in Virginia and other states has shown that it can take several years before the true extent of a CWD “outbreak” becomes clear. That is one of the most troubling aspects of CWD.

The Virginia DGIF is in the process of determining appropriate measures moving forward for Culpeper and surrounding counties, including neighboring Fauquier where I do most of my local deer hunting. These measures may include the delineation of a Disease Management Area, carcass transport restrictions, feeding restrictions, and the like.

I predict there will be changes coming to hunting in our region. The days of loading a deer in a pickup and driving over the county line are likely over (hunters will have to quarter and de-bone the meat).

Currently in summer, we can use mineral sites and bait in front of trail cameras OUTSIDE of hunting season to scout for bucks and monitor herds, but that could change. Virginia already mandates the use of synthetic deer scents, so no change there.

Most certainly hunters will be encouraged to have their deer meat tested for CWD before eating it.

DGIF officials will notify hunters of any changes to the regulations in the area this summer and a public meeting will be scheduled in Culpeper County to address questions and concerns about the Department’s planned management approach to CWD in this area.

I would like to give a big shout-out to the Virginia DGIF for their efforts to monitor this disease. Last season, the DGIF worked with 50 taxidermists statewide to enhance Virginia’s CWD surveillance. Participating taxidermists submitted more than 1,600 samples from harvested deer, including the one from Culpeper that tested positive.

ABOUT CWD: This incurable disease has been detected in 26 states and 3 Canadian provinces. It is a slow and progressive neurological disease that ultimately results in death of the deer. The disease-causing agent is spread through the urine, feces, and saliva of infected animals. Noticeable symptoms include staggering, abnormal posture, lowered head, drooling, confusion, and marked weight loss.

There is no conclusive evidence that CWD can be transmitted naturally to humans, livestock, or pets, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instructs hunters to test all deer harvested from known CWD-positive areas and to not consume any animals that test positive for the disease.

For more information about CWD: www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/disease/cwd.

More CWD Confusion: Is Deer Meat Safe To Eat?

deer meatAs if we needed more confusion about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and its impacts on deer populations and the future of hunting, not to mention the gathering of venison to feed our families, a PhD and public-health scientist has thrown gasoline on the fire by stating, “I think the risk is very high” that CWD could be transmitted to humans that consume infected deer meat.

Mainstream media outlets, including U.S. News & World Reports, have picked up these recent statements and run with it, using terms like “death, dying and zombie  deer” that have stoked yet more confusion and fright about the disease. 

The National Deer Alliance (NDA) responds in an editorial from its president and CEO, Nick Pinizzotto:

The NDA reminds hunters…that there remains no scientific evidence that chronic wasting disease (CWD) is transmissible to humans….

“Recent statements by Dr. Michael Osterholm from the University of Minnesota regarding the likelihood that human cases of CWD are probable and possibly substantial in number are speculative and sensational, and are not supported by current scientific evidence,” said Nick Pinizzotto, president and CEO of NDA.“Mr. Osterholm’s predictions have created needless confusion in a situation that is already rife with contradictory opinions regarding CWD impacts on the conservation of wild deer and those who enjoy deer as a natural source of protein….”

…it is important that words are chosen wisely, and that the focus is on what is known about the disease, as opposed to speculating on what is not known. Actions taken in response to CWD must be based on the best available science. After more than 50 years of history with CWD, undoubtedly thousands, if not tens of thousands, of infected animals have been eaten, yet there remains no human case of the disease.

The NDA points out that The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to state there is no strong evidence for the occurrence of CWD transmission in humans.

But, and this is what you as a deer hunter need to remember right now, the CDC still recommends that humans not eat deer that test positive for the disease out of an abundance of caution. If you hunt in or near an area where CDW has been detected in deer, you must have the meat tested before eating it.

The NDA agrees with the guidance from CDC but reiterates that the agency does not state transmission to humans is either likely or inevitable.

“The last thing we need to do is scare people away from consuming deer meat…,” said Pinizzotto. “Further research is needed to answer the many important questions we have about CWD and how to manage it, but until science tells us more, we have to move forward armed with the best information available, and nothing more.”

CWD Changing The Way We Process And Eat Venison

Starting out the new year with this guest blog from our friend Luke Strommen, who lives and hunts with his wife, Tara, and daughters out on the Milk River in northeastern Montana. Luke is one of the most ethical and responsible deer hunters I know:  

It was a tough year to get out and hunt with our girls because they were so busy with school stuff and extracurricular activities, etc. I’m sure you parents can relate.

MT summer strommen 1

My oldest daughter, Summer, got to go the second to last day of the 2018 season. We hit the rattling sheds and made a ruckus with some leaves and low branches. After two close encounters on rack bucks, when an ethical shot wouldn’t present, I talked Summer into taking hike to warm up before letting her call it quits.

It doesn’t look cold in these photos, but high humidity and low temps got Summer’s fingers and toes pretty cold when we were sitting on the ground in the tall grass.  Summer’s tough, though, and loves to hunt, so we hiked a few hundred yards downriver.

We came up off the riverbank and saw this buck was coming straight at us from 50 yards, with no idea we were there! We quickly belly crawled to a small ash tree that Summer tried to use to steady her .308, but the buck was on a mission and not wasting any time. When she got the rifle up he was at 30 yards!  He saw us and stepped sideways for a quick moment, but continued on his way while giving us a sideways glance. He didn’t care about us…he was seeking and seeking hard as the final phase of the rut was on.

Summer was ready when I was able to get the buck to stop and look at us…at 23 steps!  She raised her .308 and made a great off-hand shot (I use a 2.5-10X scope on that rifle, and it was set at 2.5X). The buck staggered 30 yards before he fell over and she got to see it go down. It was really exciting, because she thought she had missed him!

MT summer 2

After recovering the buck, I started a small fire to warm us up. That wasn’t a small task because with the melting snow, the past days of sleet, and the foggy morning, everything was wet.  Summer knew we always kept a fire kit with us in our survival pack. We whittled some dead limbs to the drier core, built a tepee of them and the trimmings, tucked some of our dryer lint up inside the tepee and lit it with a waterproof match. A little pampering and feeding and Summer had the fire going well. She pulled off her socks, and I gave her a new pair from our pack (100% wool, old surplus army issue) to put on her damp, cold feet, and she was warm again by the time we cleaned her buck. (BTW, we have built fires before while out hiking and shed hunting, and I think it’s a great skill for all kids to learn…a necessity in my book, really.)

It was the best buck we had seen all year, and it just happened to be drawn by in Summer’s rabbit foot. This was the first year that she could choose whether or not to shoot or pass on a buck. I let my girls be picky only after their first two bucks; for the first two bucks they shoot, I make them take the first buck that gives them an ethical shot opportunity.

We took Summer’s buck to a CWD check station, where the fellas there removed glands from the throat, a piece of tissue, and a tooth from her buck. They gave us a card with a number and told us to check back in 2 to 3 weeks for the results, as they were sending the samples to Colorado State University for testing.  Authorities had found 2 mule deer in Valley County with Chronic Wasting Disease, so I was concerned.  The counties on both sides of us were positive for CWD deer also. I want to teach my girls the “new” way to take care of your harvest and how to be safe cleaning and processing it.

MT summer 3

After checking the results online, Summer’s buck was good to go on our plates. This was one of the rare years where we didn’t BBQ up a back strap or loin the same day we killed the deer. Since I intend to have every deer we shoot tested for CWD before we eat it, that is now a thing of the past for us…sadly enough. CWD has me concerned about consuming our game meat, and I am not taking any chances with my girls,  at least until science shows us there is positively no threat that CWD infected deer can pass the disease or any illness on to humans that consume it.  

As for now, we are thawing out some back strap from Summer’s deer for dinner.

Here’s a helpful link about CWD and the precautions you can take.—Thanks, your friend Luke.