Deer hunting is a treasured tradition in Missouri, valued by families and friends afield, and a boon to motels, cafes, sporting goods stores, and many other businesses across the state. The Missouri Department of Conservation, in partnership with hunters, landowners, and businesses, will protect that tradition Nov. 12 and 13, opening weekend of fall firearms deer season, as staff test harvested deer. This effort harkens back to the days of check stations where, until 2005, hunters presented their harvest to Department staff.
New this year, the Department is requiring hunters in a 29-county region, known as the CWD Management Zone, to bring their harvested deer to sampling sites for testing for chronic wasting disease (CWD). The goal is to limit the deadly degenerative brain disease, currently found in a few areas of northeast, central, and east-central Missouri. Nearly 1,000 Department employees will be staffing 75 sampling sites in these counties at businesses, conservation areas, on private land, and other locations.
“Early detection of chronic wasting disease is critical because once the disease is well established in an area, it is impossible to eradicate,” said Jason Sumners, wildlife division chief for the Conservation Department. “Increased testing in and around areas where the disease has been found will greatly improve our ability to find cases early and limit its spread to more deer in more areas.”
Mandatory sampling during this year’s opening weekend of the fall firearms season will place a comprehensive focus on counties within approximately 25 miles of CWD detection sites. The Department started testing sick and suspect deer for CWD in 2001. The first case in Missouri was found in 2011. Voluntary sampling was increased in following years in counties where new cases arose. This year’s sampling in the CWD Management Zone is a strategic effort to halt the disease.
“Firearms opening weekend is the most popular hunting time for most deer hunters,” Sumners said. “Focusing our efforts on this key weekend gives us the best opportunity to collect the most tissue samples during a very concentrated time period.”
Science-Based Disease ManagementThe Department bases deer management on both sound science and benefits for people, including Missouri’s 520,000 deer hunters and 2 million wildlife watchers. Science is based on data. Mandatory sampling in the 29-county region may provide up to 20,000 samples, enough for an accurate gauge of how widespread CWD is in the region. This will guide future deer-management decisions.
“We want our kids and grandkids to grow up being able to hunt and watch a healthy and strong deer population,” Sumners said. “Chronic wasting disease threatens that. The simplest thing deer hunters can do to help protect our state’s white-tailed deer is to get their harvested deer tested.”
CWD testing involves Department staff cutting an incision across the throat of a harvested deer to remove its lymph nodes. The process takes only a few minutes. The tissue samples are then sent to an independent laboratory that specializes in animal-disease testing. It takes several weeks for the Department to receive the test results, which hunters can access online at mdc.mo.gov/CWD.
“Hunters bringing nice bucks should know we will make accommodations to ensure the cape is maintained in a manner that does not jeopardize the taxidermy value,” said Danny Hartwig, incident commander of the Department’s mandatory CWD sampling efforts.
Department staff will greet hunters at testing sites and explain the process and the program. Hunters will be asked to identify the location within the county the deer was harvested.
“It should take under five minutes to take the sample and gather the appropriate information,” Hartwig said. “Staff has been trained, and our goal is to make this as quick as possible for hunters.”
Sampling stations will be open from 7:30 a.m. to at least 8 p.m. on both days. Hunters can either bring the entire deer or present just the head with 6 inches of the neck in place.
While presenting deer for testing is mandatory during firearms opening weekend, staff will be available to remove tissue samples from deer harvested in the CWD Management Zone throughout the season. Hunters can contact their regional Conservation Department office for voluntary testing information.
CWD is Challenging
Department biologists chose the 29 counties for the mandatory sampling zone because all or a portion of each county fell within 25 miles of a detection site. Some harvested deer will come from a portion of a county beyond that 25-mile circle, but thoroughness is guiding the process.
“We selected a 25-mile radius around a CWD detection site because that is generally the greatest distance a young buck will move,” Sumners said.
Chronic wasting disease is difficult to battle because deer are wild animals on the move, and the causes and transmission methods for the disease are still being studied. Research indicates the disease is caused by misshapen protein, called a prion. Scientists are conducting research on the ways the disease is transmitted. CWD is a brain disease that infects only deer and other members of the deer family, called “cervids.” The disease has no vaccine or cure and is 100 percent fatal to all cervids it infects. There have been no documented cases that the disease infects people.
The Department has been conducting statewide CWD surveillance of free-ranging deer since 2002. The disease was first detected in Missouri in 11 captive deer in 2011 and 2012 in Macon and Linn counties. The Conservation Department has confirmed a total of 33 free-ranging deer with CWD since then with 21 in Macon County, nine in Adair, one in Cole, one in Franklin, and one in Linn.
“In the Department’s 79-year history, never before has a situation required as much time and dedication from staff,” Hartwig said. “The monumental opening-weekend sampling effort this November would not be possible without the cooperation of deer hunters, local landowners, private businesses, and other partners who have opened up their places to the Department. We greatly appreciate their help!”
Hunters who harvest deer in any of the 29 counties of the state’s CWD Management Zone (orange counties) during the opening weekend of the fall firearms season (Nov. 12 and 13) must present their harvested deer for sampling at one of 75 locations.
For a list of the 75 sampling locations, visit mdc.mo.gov/CWD or check out the 2016 Fall Deer & Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information booklet at Department regional offices or wherever permits are sold.
Time-Saving Tips for Testing
Hunters can help reduce their wait times at CWD sampling locations by:
- Telechecking their deer before going to a sampling location,
- Having their completed permit information ready,
- Being prepared to locate their harvest location on a map,
- Positioning their deer in the vehicle so the head is easily accessible for staff to take tissue samples from the neck, or
- Having the detached head and neck ready.
Hunter Help Also Needed in Southwest Missouri
The Conservation Department encourages hunters who harvest deer in Barry, Christian, Douglas, McDonald, Ozark, Stone, and Taney counties to have their animals tested for CWD. The free testing is available throughout the entire deer season, and hunters can access the results online.
The Department is increasing CWD testing in these seven southwest Missouri counties in response to more than 100 cases of the disease recently found in deer and elk in northwest Arkansas. No cases of CWD have been found in southern Missouri.
Hunters can take their harvested deer for CWD testing to either the Department’s Ozark Regional Office in West Plains or the Southwest Regional Office in Springfield. Testing can be done during regular business hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday–Friday.
The Department is also working with taxidermists and meat processors in the area to have testing available at those locations. Call the Southwest Regional Office at 417-895-6880 or the Ozark Regional Office at 417-256-7161 for testing locations and other details or visit mdc.mo.gov/CWD.
The Department will continue to test road-killed and sick-looking deer in the region. The Department encourages people to report deer that appear sick to their local Department office or conservation agent.
The Conservation Department encourages hunters who harvest deer in Barry, Christian, Douglas, McDonald, Ozark, Stone, and Taney counties to have their animals tested for CWD. The free testing is happening throughout the entire deer season.
Out of State Harvests
The Department reminds hunters who harvest deer, elk, or moose outside of Missouri that they must report the animal’s entry into the state within 24 hours by calling 877-853-5665 or reporting it online at mdc.mo.gov/carcass. Reporting is required by law. The carcass must be taken to a licensed meat processor or taxidermist within 72 hours of entry.
The reporting requirement is only for whole carcasses and carcasses that have the head and spinal column attached. Parts that do not require reporting and are at lower risk for harboring CWD include meat that is cut and wrapped, boned-out-meat, quarters or other portions of meat with no parts of the spine or head attached, hides or capes from which excess tissue has been removed, and antlers, including those attached to skull plates or skulls where all muscle and brain tissue has been removed.
Hunters just passing through Missouri on their way to another state are exempt from this requirement as long as they are not in Missouri for longer than 24 hours.
For more information on chronic wasting disease, visit mdc.mo.gov/CWD.