As has been the case for more than a decade, the Missouri Department of Conservation’s ongoing search for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is in the news as hunters prepare for opening weekend of the November firearms deer season.

Missouri’s largest hunting event – November firearms deer season – starts Saturday (Nov. 11) and runs through Nov. 21. Hunters are reminded there are mandatory procedures they need to follow if they harvest a deer on the season’s opening weekend in 25 counties that are part of the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) CWD Management Zone. These counties where mandatory procedures for opening weekend are in effect are listed in the Missouri Department of Conservation’s “2017 Fall Deer & Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information” booklet, a free publication available at all MDC offices and most locations that sell hunting permits.

CWD is a disease that infects deer and other members of the family Cervidae. It is a neurological disease that can be passed from one deer to another. CWD is in the TSE – transmissible spongiform encephalopathy – category of diseases. TSE diseases are progressive diseases affecting the brain and nervous system and are not caused by a bacteria or virus. Therein lies part of the problem why these diseases are difficult to eliminate once they become established. TSE diseases are caused by prions – which are, basically, deformed proteins. Prions can be passed from one deer to another and are incredibly resistant to external environmental conditions. Because of the hardiness of prions, CWD, at present, is 100 percent fatal to cervids – which is the only group of animals it’s known to affect.

To date, 42 cases of CWD have been confirmed in Missouri. These positive tests came from samples collected in counties in northeast, central, eastern and western Missouri – all of which are in the current CWD Management Zone. Additionally, several counties on the Arkansas-Missouri border are included in the CWD Management Zone because of the detection of CWD in northwest Arkansas. CWD has the potential to reduce deer numbers and the quality of deer hunting in Missouri. If the disease becomes established here, it could have serious recreational and economic impacts for the state.

Because of the negative ramifications this disease could have on our state, state-wide vigilance for the disease remains high. Since 2002, more than 76,000 deer have been tested from all areas of the state.

Symptoms of CWD include excessive salivation, drooping head, tremors, emaciation and lack of coordination. However, it can take months (and sometimes more than a year) for a deer infected with CWD to show any symptoms. Thus, an infected deer can spread the disease to other deer and contaminate the environment while appearing healthy.

Thus, early detection is beneficial: applying management actions before that disease becomes widely established may slow or stop the further spread. That’s why mandatory procedures have been established in 25 counties of the CWD Management Zone. If you harvest a deer in those counties on Nov. 11 or 12, hunters must take their deer (or the head with at least six inches of neck in place) on the day of harvest to a designated CWD sampling station. A list of sampling stations can be found at mdc.mo.gov or in the “2017 Fall Deer and Turkey” regulations book, a free publication available at all MDC offices and all locations that sell hunting permits. When presenting their deer, hunters need to know the county where the deer was harvested and provide additional information that can help the tester record the location of the harvest (township, range, section).

Hunters are asked not to move whole deer carcasses, particularly if deer are harvested in the CWD Management Zone. Hunters can also decrease the risk of spreading CWD by moving only these deer parts:

Meat that has been cut and wrapped

Meat that has been boned out

Quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spine or head attached

Hides or capes from which all excess tissue has been removed

Antlers, including antlers attached to skull plates or skulls cleaned of all muscle and brain tissue.

Voluntary sampling of deer harvested outside the management zone continues throughout the remaining firearms and archery seasons. People can contact the MDC Southwest Regional Office in Springfield, 417-895-6880, during regular business hours for a list of sample collection sites in this part of the state. Hunters and non-hunters alike are also urged to report sick deer to their nearest MDC office or to their county conservation agent.

Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call 417-895-6880.