Hunters’ actions today protect tomorrow’s deer

A large buck walks through a brown field.

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippi hunters will be on the front lines of the battle to protect deer from spreading a deadly disease throughout their herds. Last February, a 4-year-old buck in Issaquena County tested positive for chronic wasting disease -- or CWD. This contagious, terminal disease affects members of the deer family, ultimately causing holes in their brains. Infected deer lose weight and “just waste away.” Bronson Strickland, a wildlife specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said there are two important actions hunters can take to protect the herds for future generations to hunt. Experts at the MSU Deer Lab are asking hunters to discontinue use of supplemental feeders and to have harvested deer sampled for CWD. “More than a thousand deer were tested in Mississippi and Louisiana since that buck tested positive, and no other cases have been found,” he said. “With hunting season approaching, we are turning to the next line of defense: hunters.” Strickland said efforts are more intense in the CWD management zone, which includes portions of Issaquena, Sharkey and Warren counties. Hunters in or near the zone need to be aware of the zone’s boundaries and the rules for that area. Supplemental feeding is banned throughout the zone, and carcasses may not be moved outside the area. Regardless of their location in Mississippi, Strickland encouraged all wildlife enthusiasts to stop using supplemental feeders to entice deer to an area. Instead, plant food plots between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15 if conditions allow. “Supplemental feeders, such as licks and feeders, can spread illnesses even if CWD is not an issue,” he said. “It is short-sighted to only consider bringing deer closer for a season without considering the potential for long-term damage to population numbers. Once the disease becomes established in an area, research suggests that eradication is unlikely.” The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks will host collection sites for hunters to bring harvested deer for testing on the season’s peak days: Nov. 17, Nov. 23, Dec. 29-30 and Jan. 5-6. The sites will be at Enid, Tupelo, Rosedale, Holcomb, Crawford, Redwood, Forest, Canton, Toomsuba, Magnolia, Purvis, Poplarville, Vancleave and Natchez. To have a deer tested, remove its head at least 6 inches below the jaw, leaving enough of the neck for proper sampling. Freeze it immediately, and take it to the sites on collection days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that people not consume meat from a deer that has tested positive for the disease. “Hunters will feel more confident in the safety of the meat if CWD is not detected in the sampled deer,” Strickland said. “The results also will help wildlife biologists monitor CWD in the state.” At the later stages of the disease, infected deer will show symptoms such as extreme weight loss and excessive salivation, but deer in the early stages of the disease may not have obvious symptoms at the time of harvest. “Don’t trust appearances when determining if a deer has CWD,” he said “Be cautious, and treat every carcass as if it is positive for the disease.” Extension meat scientist Byron Williams said anytime deer are showing signs of CWD, it is safest to harvest but not consume the meat. “Take precautions whenever dressing wild game,” he said. “Wear rubber or latex gloves, and make sure utensils and cutting surfaces are sterilized before and after using them.” Williams recommended hunters err on the side of caution when dressing deer meat. “Remember that some body parts -- spine, nerve endings, small intestine and the head and associated parts -- have higher concentrations of the proteins that cause the disease,” Williams said. “Avoid cutting those body parts, and make head removal the final cut.” There are three recommended disposal methods for unwanted portions of deer carcasses: leave them at the harvest site; double-bag and send them to an approved, lined landfill; or bury them 8 feet deep or more. Never dump them in ditches or waterways.

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