Chronic Wasting Disease – Is It Panic Time for Hunters?

On May 26th, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources reported that a free-ranging deer in Meridian Township (Ingham County) had tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD). Michigan joins 19 other states and 2 Canadian provinces to report CWD in wild deer.Michigan online hunter educaiton

Many hunters are rightfully concerned about the possibility of harvesting a whitetail or mule deer, elk or moose infected with CWD. As a hunter residing in the state where CWD was first found, I too was concerned about whether I should harvest and consume an animal in an area where CWD was detected. The Colorado Division of Wildlife provided hunters like me with a great deal of safety information and offered every hunter an option to have their animal tested for CWD. What I learned is that if a hunter who harvests a CWD positive animal is cautious, there is no need to panic. Undoubtedly if you hunt in a state where Chronic Wasting Disease has been detected, the State Department of Natural Resource will also have information online or publications available to guide you through the process of safely handling an animal taken in a CWD positive area.

CWD is a neurological disease that to-date has only been found in the cervid (deer) family, white-tailed and mule deer, along with elk and moose. The disease damages portions of the animal’s brain and typically causes rapid weight loss, behavioral changes, excessive salivation and death. Not every animal found in a CWD positive area will have the ailment, as only a relatively small number of animals are infected. However, caution is urged for all hunters harvesting animals in an area where CWD has been detected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that there have been no verified cases of humans contracting CWD by coming in contact or consuming an infected animal. The Center of Disease Control has thoroughly investigated any connection between CWD and stated “the risk of infection with the CWD agent among hunters is extremely small, if it exists at all” and “it is extremely unlikely that CWD would be a food borne hazard.”

Even with the assurance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hunters should still be cautious and avoid shooting animals that appear sick and do not eat meat from animals known to be infected with CWD. As noted in Chapter 12 Lesson 2 of the online hunter education course, when field dressing any game animal, not just those suspected of being infected with CWD, a hunter should always wear latex or rubber gloves. If handling a deer that may be suspect, avoid contact with the eyes, spinal cord, brain, spleen and lymph nodes. If you are like me and don’t know where all of the lymph nodes are, normal field dressing along with cutting away all fatty tissue and boning out a carcass will remove all of the lymph nodes.

Hunters harvesting animals in any state or province where CWD has been found should also be aware of any carcass handling and transportation advisories or regulations required by their state or province. These might include mandatory carcass inspection, prohibition against moving whole carcasses with the spinal cord and brain intact, and disposal of carcasses.

With the proper amount of caution rather than panic, a hunter can still have an enjoyable hunt.

About the Author

Gary Berlin is a Partner of, the leading provider of online hunter education as required in all 50 states for most new hunters. Gary spent twenty-five years with the Colorado Division of Wildlife in positions ranging from District Wildlife Manager to Investigator to Human Resource Manager and Training Director.  Gary has been a certified hunter education instructor for 34 years achieving the Master Instructor level.

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