So you harvested a deer. Congratulations!
Before you dive too far into processing all of that delicious meat, it’s important that you get your deer tested for Chronic Wasting Disease, also known as CWD.
This always fatal ailment, with no known cure, affects deer in at least 38 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties and is highly transmissible, although it hasn’t been able to infect humans yet.
Deer can spread this disease through saliva, feces, blood, or urine, among other things.
Even dead deer can spread CWD to other deer because the prions of this disease can live in soil for extended periods of time while decomposition takes place.
CWD is a serious threat to our state’s deer herd, the demise of which could send conservation into a spiral.
You see, the more impactful CWD is the fewer deer there will be. Fewer deer means fewer hunters and fewer hunters means less funds for conservation initiatives and deer hunting is one of the primary sources of revenue for such activities in Wisconsin.
If not handled correctly, CWD can severely diminish the ability of Wisconsinites to participate in an activity that is woven into the very fabric of our culture.
If that’s not enough, let’s explore some other reasons you should get your deer harvest tested for CWD.
CWD is spreading
Wisconsin’s first case of CWD was reported back in 2001. Since then, the disease has run rampant through our state’s deer herd.
That’s the problem. We don’t know for sure. Most deer that have CWD do not present symptoms, leaving testing as the only sure way to know if a deer is infected.
The issue is: testing rates in most counties are abysmally low most years. Last year, only 5.6 percent of all deer harvested in Wisconsin were tested and that’s rounding up.
This has left scientists, DNR officials, and hunters alike relatively in the dark regarding the true impact of this disease on one of our state’s most precious natural resources.
What we do know is that the prevalence of CWD in our deer herd is rising. In 2020, over 8 percent of the deer sampled tested positive, more than double the positivity rate from a decade prior.
So far, in 2022, that number is greater than 10 percent, which would be a new record by a significant margin.
Now, 10 percent may not seem like a scary scary number, especially given the relatively small sample size so far this year. But considering this disease didn’t even exist in Wisconsin two decades ago, the fact that roughly one in every 10 deer in our state is afflicted with the disease is cause for considerable concern. At the current trajectory, half of all deer in Wisconsin will have CWD in the next 25 years or so.
Southern Wisconsin is giving us a preview of what the future of our state as a whole could look like. Dane County, where CWD was first detected in Wisconsin, had a positivity rate of over 16.2 percent last year. Neighboring Iowa and Sauk Counties saw positivity rates of 30.9 and 25.1 percent, respectively.
The steady increase in positivity rates since 2001 would suggest we haven’t even put a dent in the problem. Part of that is due to a lack of data.
In order to try to get a grip on this situation, we need a more complete picture of what is going on. The only way to do that is through increased testing and that requires the cooperation of hunters like us.
Educated consumption decisions
While there are no confirmed cases of humans falling ill with CWD after consuming a deer that tested positive for the disease, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, World Health Organization, and Centers for Disease Control all advise against eating CWD-positive deer.
It is important to know what you’re dealing with so you can make your own educated decisions before you sit down at the dinner table.
Testing is free and easy
You can drop off a sample for testing at one of the DNR’s numerous sites throughout the state. All of the self-service locations are open 24 hours a day.
All you need to do is submit your deer head, with at least five inches of neck attached, at one of the sites and fill out a short piece of paperwork. This process won’t cost you anything other than a few minutes of your time.
You can find more information on this process here.
You have options
Want to keep your deer head for a mount, no problem. Your deer can still be tested for CWD.
The DNR also provides instructions for this process at the link above.
If you are so inclined, you can even extract the lymph nodes yourself and submit those for testing. Just follow these steps.
To hear more about the state of CWD in Wisconsin, check out Episode 24 of The Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast with special guest Patrick Durkin. You can listen with the player below or wherever you get your podcasts.