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The beginning of firearm deer season marks next phase in Chronic Wasting Disease probe

Nov 15, 2015

Firearm deer season is underway today in Michigan.

Deer check stations are busy today as firearm deer season begins
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The hunt is giving state wildlife officials a chance to expand the search for more cases of chronic wasting disease.

In April, a 6 year old doe tested positive for CWD, a fatal neurological disease. It was the first case of a free ranging deer coming down with the disease. Since then, two more deer have tested positive. All three deer were from Ingham County and were related.    

Last week, state officials reported another suspected case in Eaton County.

CWD affects deer, elk and moose, but does not affect humans.

The Department of Natural Resources has tested the brains of more than 1.800 deer since April.   The samples have been collected from road kill, deer killed by sharpshooters and a growing number killed by hunters. 

Firearm deer season presents the DNR with an opportunity to greater expand its sample size.

“We’re looking for about 3,000 to 4,000 deer,” says Chad Stewart, the DNR’s point man on deer.

Stewart says doubling the number of samples will give state wildlife officials a higher confidence level in the CWD infection rate in mid-Michigan.

Stewart says hunters in the CWD management zone in Ingham, Clinton and Shiawassee counties are required to take their deer to one of three inspection stations. The animal’s head will be removed and taken for testing.

Stewart admits some hunters might be reluctant to have this done if they bag a trophy buck. But he says those prized deer are also desired by the DNR.

“With older deer, and especially older males, the disease is more likely to be found,” says Stewart.

The DNR will work with hunters to insure they will be able to take their prized trophy to a taxidermist once the testing is complete. 

Chronic wasting disease first was identified in 1967 as a clinical disease in captive mule deer at the Colorado Division of Wildlife Foothills Wildlife Research Facility in Fort Collins, Colorado. Since then, most CWD cases have occurred in western states, but in the past 15 years it has spread to some Midwestern and eastern states.

In all, CWD has been detected in 23 states and two Canadian provinces. There was a case in Michigan in 2008.  A white-tailed deer from a privately owned facility in Kent County tested positive for CWD.