Every Deer Hunter Can Take These Steps to Fight CWD.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer is a serious matter. While the long-term implications are concerning to QDMA, to other wildlife conservation organizations, and to the majority of wildlife disease experts, the situation is not hopeless. Each day we learn more about this fatal disease, and this knowledge will ultimately help us find solutions that are not yet in our grasp. To buy time, we must prevent the further spread of CWD, and the good news is there are many steps that every hunter can take now, whether or not they are already affected by the disease.

We have divided our recommended action items into two sections. The first section is for the largest group: hunters who are not yet directly affected by CWD who do not live or hunt in a CWD management zone where the disease has been found in whitetails, mule deer or elk. The actions of this group are critical because these hunters can do the most to help ensure their regions stay CWD-free. There are 3,137 counties (including “parishes,” “boroughs” and other designations) in the continental United States that are home to native deer or elk species susceptible to CWD, and the disease has only been found in 240 of them – just over 8 percent. The hunters in 2,897 CWD-free counties can begin working today to ensure those areas remain disease free.

The second section is for hunters who already live and/or hunt in an active CWD management zone. These hunters also play a critical role by slowing the spread of CWD while helping scientists monitor and study the disease where it exists, adding to the knowledge that will one day help defeat it.

Step One for All Hunters

If you do not know which of these groups you fall into, then you can immediately take a very important first step toward fighting CWD: call or visit the website of your state wildlife agency, the CWD Alliance, or view the CWD map layer in the onX Hunt App, to find out if this disease has been found in your state and county.

Step Two for All Hunters

No matter which group you are in, learn the facts about CWD, its impact on whitetail populations, how it is spread, and how it differs from other diseases. Reliable, science-based sources that focus on protection of wild deer include: 1) QDMA’s CWD information page, 2) your own state wildlife agency’s website information on CWD, 3) the website of the CWD Alliance, and 4) the USGS National Wildlife Heath Center CWD fact sheet. To learn about CWD relative to human health concerns, also visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web page on CWD.

Let’s dive straight in to the rest of the steps. No matter which group you are in, the more of these steps you take, the more you are contributing to the battle.

For Hunters in Non-CWD Areas

> If you see or harvest a deer that behaves strangely or appears sick, or if you find the fresh carcass of a deer that appeared to die of an illness, quickly report it to your state wildlife agency. The sooner CWD is discovered in a new outbreak area, the higher the chance it can be prevented from becoming established at that site. Once it is established, it is difficult to manage given our current options. Report sick deer quickly!

> If you travel out of state to hunt, or even to an unfamiliar corner of your own state, check to see if the area you are visiting is a CWD Management Zone. If it is, visit that state’s wildlife agency website to learn about special regulations in the zone covering harvest and testing of deer or elk and disposal of carcasses. Disease-causing prions can be spread to new areas in deer carcasses, especially in high-risk parts such as the brain, eyes, spleen and spinal cord, so it’s important to dispose of them appropriately inside the CWD Management Zone. Many states supply disposal sites or methods.

> If you travel out of state to hunt within a CWD Management Zone, submit every deer or elk you harvest for CWD testing. Do not eat the venison until you receive results of the test. Though there’s no evidence CWD has infected humans, experts recommend you avoid eating venison that is known to come from a CWD-positive animal. Deer can carry CWD for up to two years before they show symptoms. You cannot look at a deer and determine whether it should be tested for CWD. If you killed it in a CWD zone, get it tested.

> If you travel out-of-state and harvest a deer or elk within a CWD Management Zone, and test results show your animal had CWD, safely dispose of the frozen venison. Contact your home state’s wildlife agency to ask for their recommended disposal method. Do not discard the venison in the woods.

> Know your home state’s rules for importation of deer/elk carcass parts from other states. To be sure you’re in compliance with all states’ rules, never cross state lines with anything more than deboned venison, antlers attached to a thoroughly cleaned skull plate, a cleaned hide free of attached flesh, and cleaned canine teeth (elk ivory).

Most states have banned the importation of whole deer carcasses and certain deer carcass parts to prevent the spread of CWD. If you see traveling hunters heading for or having just crossed a state line with whole deer carcasses, notify law enforcement and provide a description of the vehicle and license plate number if possible. Depending on the states and the circumstances, no violation may have occurred, but it is best to be safe and report the information.

> If a friend is traveling out of state to hunt, ask them if they know whether they are traveling to a CWD management zone. Encourage them to find out and follow the rules and guidelines.

> Know the name and contact information of your state wildlife agency’s local wildlife biologist and wildlife law enforcement officer. Save their numbers in your phone for rapid reporting of sick deer, unlawful movements of live deer, or unlawful importation of deer carcasses or high-risk parts.

> If you hear of anyone planning to import captive deer from another state for release into the wild, try to stop this from happening. This is not only illegal in all states, it is a good way to import CWD. If you see deer harvest photos or dead deer in your area that have ear tags or other signs of being escaped or released from a captive facility, report the information immediately to wildlife law enforcement.

> Read QDMA’s article 10 Reasons You Don’t Want CWD In Your Woods so you understand what’s at stake for you and why it’s critical to prevent the spread of this disease.

> Pay attention to the sources behind information you see on social media about CWD. Check to confirm that the information has a basis in valid science. The more sources, more studies mentioned, and more people interviewed, the better. Determine whether the information is someone’s opinion or whether it is a fact-based presentation that shares the sources of facts and statistics.

> Stay informed on all hunting issues by signing up for your state wildlife agency’s e-mail alerts, text alerts, e-newsletters or other digital communications. Follow them on social media. This allows you to learn quickly if your state’s disease status changes.

If you see a sick deer, report it immediately to your state wildlife agency. It is possible to prevent CWD from becoming established in a new area if it is discovered quickly enough. Rapid reporting of sick deer is critical!

> Be vocal in support of efforts to keep CWD out of your state or county, such as stopping the transportation of live deer or high-risk parts of dead deer. Attend public meetings, write letters, and call legislators when bills are introduced to help fight CWD. If you are not already a member, join QDMA to help support our educational and research efforts. Sign up for the free newsletters of the National Deer Alliance to stay informed of policy initiatives.

> Reconsider use of natural deer urine products as research suggests a risk of CWD transmission, albeit very low. As an alternative, use synthetic deer urine products. If synthetics are unavailable, buy only products with the ATA blue check mark. This is the Archery Trade Association’s Deer Protection Program, which requires urine producers to adhere to more stringent measures intended to prevent the spread of CWD through infected urine.

> Get a printed copy of your state’s annual hunting regulations booklet, be thoroughly familiar with it, and keep it in your hunting gear or vehicle. Supply copies to your hunting partners.

> Know and follow your state’s regulations on baiting, feeding, mineral supplementation and use of natural deer urine products. If CWD is discovered in your area, expect to see changes in the regulations regarding these practices.

> If your state asks you to voluntarily submit the heads of harvested deer for testing at free check stations or drop-off locations near you, participate in such monitoring programs whenever possible. Early detection of CWD is critical!

> Join or form a QDM Cooperative to help increase communication between you and your hunting neighbors, which can enhance your hunting enjoyment and success in more ways than just fighting CWD.

> Share this article and information like it with every hunter you know.

For Hunters in CWD Zones (Affected Areas)

> Learn how and where to get CWD testing done in your area before you go hunting, and submit every harvested deer for testing. This is not only helpful in monitoring the scope of the outbreak, you should also take the precaution of waiting for results before eating the venison. Though there’s no evidence CWD has infected humans, experts recommend you minimize your risk. Avoid eating venison that is known to come from a CWD-positive deer.

> Follow your state’s guidelines for transportation and proper disposal of deer carcasses. Disease-causing prions can be spread to new areas in carcasses, so it’s important to dispose of them appropriately inside the CWD management zone. Many states supply disposal sites or methods.

Most deer that carry CWD will appear to be healthy, so you cannot look at a deer and tell whether it needs to be tested. If you killed it in a CWD zone, get it tested. Here, a hunter uses a free, self-service, drop-off container in Arkansas. Photo courtesy of the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission.

> If test results show your deer had CWD, dispose of the frozen venison at an approved disposal site or use a disposal method recommended by your state agency just as you would a deer carcass.

> Follow your state’s regulations on baiting, feeding, mineral supplementation and use of natural deer urine products. These rules are intended to help slow the spread of CWD within an existing outbreak area.

> Support your state agency in achieving their antlerless harvest goals in the CWD zone. Maintaining a moderate to low deer density is critical to slowing the spread of CWD in outbreak zones and maintaining low prevalence rates.

> If you see a deer that behaves strangely and appears sick, or if you find the fresh carcass of a deer that appeared to die of an illness, quickly report it to your state wildlife agency.

> Continue protecting some yearling bucks if you prefer, but it is important to intensify harvest pressure on all bucks 3½ years of age or older in the CWD zone. CWD prevalence rates are two to four times higher in adult bucks than any other segment of a deer population.

> Read QDMA’s Recommended Practices for Hunters in CWD Zones, a free download.

> Share what you learn about CWD with friends, family and neighbors who also hunt in the affected area. Encourage them to take these actions along with you.

> Support efforts to stop the transportation of live deer into, within or out of the CWD zone. Stopping the spread of the disease while researchers seek new solutions is the most important thing we can do to buy time in the war on CWD.

> Join or form a QDM Cooperative to help increase communication between you and your hunting neighbors, which can enhance your hunting enjoyment and success in more ways than just fighting CWD.

> Invite local wildlife agency staff to attend gatherings of hunters to provide information, answer questions and respond to hunter concerns. This could include Cooperative meetings, church game dinners, conservation banquets, and hunting expos.

Finally, keep a positive outlook. Wildlife conservation has faced and overcome difficult challenges before, and we will find a way to defeat CWD as well. Today’s fight is to contain the disease to the known outbreak zones until new solutions are found, a fight we can win if every hunter joins the battle.


About Lindsay Thomas Jr.

Lindsay Thomas Jr. is the editor of Quality Whitetails magazine, the journal of QDMA, and he is QDMA's Director of Communications. He has been a member of the QDMA staff since 2003. Prior to joining the staff of QDMA, Lindsay was an editor at a Georgia hunting and fishing news magazine for nine years. Throughout his career as an editor, he has written and published numerous articles on deer management and hunting. He earned his journalism degree at the University of Georgia.