When you set out on a hunting expedition in Missouri, you are going to be on the lookout for a healthy, robust whitetail deer to bring home. While an animal in good flesh that appears to be in overall good condition is the goal, there is a chance that you might see something else entirely while out in the field. One such example of a diseased, unhealthy deer is one that has Chronic Wasting Disease.
Photo: Country Captures
Chronic Wasting Disease, also referred to as CWD, is fatal to infected deer. It belongs in a classification of illnesses known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) and it affects cervids, or deer and members of the same family of species. CWD is transmitted through abnormal proteins known as prions and once acquired, attacks the brain, spinal cord, lymph nodes, tonsils, spleen, and eyes, causing degeneration. CWD is often mistaken for hemorrhagic disease, or HD, but infected deer may not die of HD, whereas CWD has a 100% fatality rate. There is no vaccine or known cure.
Photo: Gina Sanders
Though deer with CWD may live with it for many years, death is close once they become symptomatic. Positive identification of deer infected with CWD can only be done through examination of brain stem or lymphatic tissue, but they present a telltale physical appearance. Infected deer tend to be severely underweight, salivate excessively, and they can appear disoriented. Also seen are tremors, stumbling, grinding of teeth, and walking in repetitive patterns. Infected deer pose a great threat to others as CWD can be spread from deer to deer both directly and indirectly, via contaminated soil and other surfaces.
Once CWD makes an appearance in an area, getting rid of it is quite difficult. It has been found in 21 states to date, including Missouri. Thus far it has remained only in the areas of Linn and Macon counties, but a containment zone has been established that includes those two counties as well as Chariton, Randolph, Adair, and Sullivan. Placing feed, salt, or mineral for deer is prohibited in these areas. Hunting in this area allows for the taking of yearling bucks without antler restriction as CWD is more prevalent in yearling and adult male deer than female deer. Efforts at control and containment include keeping deer numbers low and moving carcasses as little as possible. At any time the presence of this disease in a given area can change, which is why it is necessary for deer hunters to be aware of this disease and how to limit its impact.
Photo: Salt Creek Life
One of the most significant ways to limit CWD spread is through the proper handling of carcasses. Since the disease is known to reside in the brain, spinal cord, lymph nodes, spleen, and eyes, care needs to be taken in handling these parts, which may include not travelling with them at all. In the case of deer harvested in the containment zone, it is requested that those parts be left behind. Instead take with you only parts that are free of the aforementioned tissues. This includes boned out meat, cut and wrapped meat, or hides that are free of excess tissue. If you wish to mount antlers, take with you no more than you must, that being skull plates or skulls that have been painstakingly cleaned until free of tissue. Leave behind the excess, ideally burying it if possible. It is also acceptable to bag excess parts and dispose of them via landfill, through a taxidermist, or a commercial processor.
If you bag a deer that appears to be ill upon closer inspection, consuming the meat is not advised, but contacting the Missouri Department of Conservation is. Although there has been no documented evidence of a spread of CWD to humans, a 'better safe than sorry' approach is advised. What meat you do take, be sure to bone out rather than cutting through bone as to avoid the risk of exposing meat to the CWD that could be contained. Also avoid cutting through brain, spleen, etc. handling those parts as little as possible and definitely not consuming them. Don't forget to remove fatty tissue in order to eliminate the presence of lymph nodes. Wrap and bag that which you plan to keep.
Photo: The DIY Hunter
Should you do some hunting out of state, it will be essential that bring your meat home in an acceptable manner. This includes importing and transporting cervid carcasses that have been cut, wrapped, boned out, antlers attached to fully cleaned skull plates, etc. If you plan to bring potentially infected portions, such as a spinal column or head, you must call MDC within 24 hours (8778535665) to notify them and then have the deer at a processor or taxidermist within 72 hours for further processing and proper disposal. In the event that you require more information about Chronic Wasting Disease, visit the MDC website for more resources and contact information.
Have you experienced a deer with signs of CWD? If so, in what area and what precautions did you take to prevent the spread and/or further contamination? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments!