By Montana Grant

Posted: May 23, 2020

Recently a new case of CWD was found in a white-tailed deer in Gallatin County. Every deer hunter needs to pay attention to this disease. The issues of CWD are not entirely clear. The Science does not completely understand the disease.

Chronic Wasting Disease is the biggest threat to wild deer hunting. No one can agree on the source or solution. Montana is becoming more infested with this terrible disease. It has been found in elk, moose, and deer.

Are captive deer farms the source or solution of the problem? Wildlife officials describe CWD as the most important disease threatening American cervids/elk/moose/deer. This disease eats the brains of deer. These infectious proteins called prions, are easily passed onto other deer. Areas where baiting or confining deer are common, seem to be hotspots. Deer can touch nose to nose and lick potential contaminated sources.

Prions can stay active on an infected site for years! No evidence has showed up that this disease can infect humans, but it has not been ruled out. Other similar diseases like Mad Cow disease can. Most Centers for Diseases recommend that humans not eat venison from CWD infected deer.

There is no cure for CWD. If a hunter plans to feed their families, the BEST wild game possible deer may not be n the list. CWD is always fatal. It can’t be detected until it is in its final stages.

Deer first displayed this disease in the late 1960’s, in Colorado. A captive mule deer was the source. Deer living in close proximity, or farms seem to be the most at risk. Game farms exchange deer seeking certain genetics to produce the biggest and best deer.

Free ranging Cervids in 23 states now are affected. Once infected, few options are available. Wisconsin has aggressively harvested counties in their state with few positive results. Vaccinations on a farm are one thing but vaccinating wild herds is another.

If left unchecked, deer hunting will change. No hunter wants to feed their loved ones a potentially harmful meal. Using natural deer scents could be a part of the problem. Urine scents could have been a vector for spreading CWD. Deer can be infected for years without showing symptoms.

Montana already has enough problems with our Cervid hunting. Blue tongue is already a seasonal concern when deer populations rise. Insects spread the disease. EHD typically happens at the end of a dry summer. Infected deer die quickly and seem to end up near water sources. I once pheasant hunted along the Musselshell after an infestation and saw hundreds of dead deer.

CWD infected deer often die from other reasons. Car strikes or predation are typical causes of death. Deer can carry the prions for years and are affected physically. No infected deer develop a resistance.

It costs $80 a deer to test a dead deer’s brain to see if they are infected. If a game Farm has an infection, the government will spend over half a million dollars over 3 years to monitor the farm. Money comes from hunting and fishing license fees. Containing this disease currently seems to be impossible.

To control CWD within or deer herds, landowners need to be encouraged to allow harvests of deer/ cervids on their land. Game farms must tighten up their operations. Many landowners have been leasing property to outfitters which targets only trophy harvests. Harvested Deer need to be tested. Hot spots need to be identified and managed. In the short term, the landowners will make a few bucks. In the long term the deer population will disappear.

Hunters are waiting to hear how to select and process animals for healthy consumption. No news is not good news here.

Hunters need to be a student of this issue!

Montana Grant

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